It’s the house-in-the-middle-of-the-motorway,’ blurt children in every other car on the M62 between Leeds and Manchester. Eight words lumped into a noun. The adults won’t say it out loud, but if they know this road, they’ll be thinking it. To motorway engineers, the 18th century house and fields are known as Stott Hall Farm. To everyone else, it’s ‘the house in the middle of the motorway.’
‘Legend has it the farmer didn’t want to move,’ says Chris Speight, writer of this Discovering Britain viewpoint. The way the plot stubbornly splits the 70mph traffic, it would seem like that is the case. ‘But when the motorway was needed here, the engineers found geological complications,’ says Speight. The issue is not the house but the land underneath it.
In the 1960s, when the farm was still just an isolated house on the moor, a motorway was designed that could link the northern cities across the Pennines. While surveying the area though, engineers found a problem. ‘The house lies on a geological fault under the ground,’ says Speight. ‘The engineers were worried it could become unstable with a motorway laid over it.’
To make matters worse, the area also contains a belt of loose mud and rocks – known as a ‘solifluction tongue’. It’s made up of waste left by melting glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. By splitting the lanes in half, the motorway could spread its load over the unsteady ground, each embankment being anchored into the sandstone bedrock underneath.
Above ground, building the M62 presented another challenge. The road would need to traverse an area of moorland 350 metres above sea level. Even in the construction heyday of the 1970s, when 100 miles of motorway were being laid every year, the 13-mile section over the top took four years to complete. ‘The wait was mainly due to the winters,’ says Speight. ‘The highest part of the road can get five months of snow flurries and patches, which would have made for hard building conditions.’ Four hundred metres from the farm, the portion over Saddleworth Moor remains the highest section of motorway in the UK.
Stott Hall itself is a working sheep farm and home, with tunnels for the farmer and his wife to access the rest of his land on the motorway’s southern side. ‘You would think the motorway would decrease the value of the property, but actually it’s become more valuable, because it’s such a famous landmark,’ says Speight. So far, it has long outlived the cars that speed around it.
This was published in the July 2018 edition of Geographical magazine
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