Over here in the UK we love roundabouts. Actually that’s not totally true but we do have an awful lot of them. From mini-roundabouts just painted on the road right through to these behemoths…
In England there are two roundabouts both known as ‘The Magic Roundabout’ and both named after the famous 1960′s and 1970′s childrens’ television program – more on that later.
The oldest of these is in Swindon, Wiltshire and was constructed in 1972. The roundabout actually consists of five mini-roundabouts arranged in a circle. If you’re wanting to find it, it’s near the County Ground, home of Swindon Town F.C.
Apparently when the roundabout complex was first opened, the mini-roundabouts were not permanently marked out and could be reconfigured while the layout was fine tuned. A police officer was stationed at each mini roundabout during this pilot phase to oversee how drivers coped with the unique arrangement.
The other Magic Roundabout ( correct name ‘The Plough Roundabout’) is in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire and, whilst being one year younger than its Swindon sibling, is actually a larger roundabout comprising of one large central roundabout with 6 mini-roundabouts surrounding it.
When opened in June 1973 a police officer had to be stationed at each of the mini roundabouts to prevent chaos and it was noted many drivers would get ‘lost’ and make repeated reversals of direction between joining the roundabout and eventually leaving it. The picture below was taken on this (in)famous day.
Shortly after the opening the driver of an articulated lorry failed to understand the new junction so tried to drive straight across the middle. As the river Gade passes through the centre, though not visible from the road, his vehicle got stuck in the middle of the roundabout.
Both Magic Roundabouts are bi-directional; at the junction of each road with the roundabout a mini-roundabout is present and subject to the normal clockwise direction of travel for all traffic. Between these mini-roundabouts however traffic is permitted to travel clockwise or anti-clockwise around the larger roundabout.
In a 2005 poll held by an insurance company the roundabouts were voted first (Swindon) and second (Hemel Hempstead) worst roundabouts in the UK!
Having traversed the Hemel Hempstead roundabout many, many times, Tachoblog can report that, if you treat each mini-roundabout as a single roundabout and don’t worry, it’s an easy thing to negotiate.
Finally a little more about where the name ‘Magic Roundabout’ comes from. The Magic Roundabout (known in the original French as Le Manège enchanté) was a children’s television programme created in France in 1963 by Serge Danot. Its English version has attained cult status. Narrated and written by Eric Thompson – who wrote his own scripts for the shows without bothering to read the French ones - was watched as much by adults for its dry humour as by the children for whom it was intended.
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, Tachoblog can bring you this one complete episode – enjoy!