The Westway – Punk Places #5

It’s been named checked by The Clash, used as a backdrop by The Jam, and features in the title of the Don Letts Clash film “Westway to the World”. So why all the fuss about a road?

westway protestsErected in the late 1960s, The Westway was the brutalist’s answer to London’s increasing traffic congestion, and part of a much wider plan to impose similar multi-lane, arterial roads across much of central London. The Westway itself is two and a half miles of concrete supported by giant columns, which were bored into the bedrock of the surrounding neighbourhoods.

The proposed new over-head section of road, was extremely unpopular with local residents who saw no place for a new 6 lane motorway, thundering past and over, their mainly Victorian terrace houses, and they formed a staunch campaign group in an attempt to halt its construction.

Construction-of-the-Westway-protests-28071970PA-8688581-1024x1012The Westway was officially opened on the 28th July 1970 in the presence, of Michael Heseltine MP, London councillors and the protestors. The protestors were still objecting to the additional noise, vibration and air pollution that the road would wreak on their lives, but mainly the general feeling that the architectural vandalism and associated “re-homing” were merely a heartless, soviet-style cleansing of the working class from the area.

we want clean air

A few years later, during the long hot summer of 1976, as the Notting Hill carnival passed under its landscape blotting span, the carnival spiraled into a riot, not a race riot but a new kind of riot, where the enemy was now the state, and the state were the police.

This was happening less than half a mile from both the childhood home of Clash guitarist Mick Jones and the squat of singer Joe “Woody” Strummer in nearby Walterton Road. In a way the Westway continues to symbolise grassroots campaigns, heavy handed government policy, and town centre brutalist planning.

The Clash “London’s Burning”  – “I’m up and down the Westway, in and out the lights. What a great traffic system, it’s so bright. I can’t think of a better way to spend the night, than speeding around underneath the yellow lights.”

The cover to the Jam’s second LP “This is The Modern World” features a photo of the band pictured under the Westway.


The road is also name checked by Scritti Politti in “28/8/78”, and the Blur song “For Tomorrow” – “London’s so nice back in your seamless rhymes, But we’re lost on the Westway”, and also stars in its own dedicated Blur track “Under the Westway”


In the 2000s, a subway under the Westway at the Edgware Road crossing where Joe used to busk, was re-named the Joe Strummer subway.

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