Unsung hero of world’s first ‘Tarmac’ road honoured

An unsung hero credited with inventing the modern road surface has been celebrated with the unveiling of a commemorative blue plaque in Nottingham.

Edgar Hooley, a Nottinghamshire County surveyor, perfected the method of making road surfaces stick in the early twentieth century, with Radcliffe Road in West Bridgford subsequently becoming the very first Tarmac road in the world.

A plaque at the s Trent Bridge Cricket Ground to honour Hooley’s achievements and the link to the important milestone in the county’s industrial history was unveiled by Councillor Ben Bradley, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, and Harvey Cullen of Tarmac – the leading construction materials company Hooley originally founded in 1903.

Councillor Ben Bradley MP, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “Nottinghamshire has a rich industrial heritage and a worldwide reputation for its innovation.

“People from our county have been the creative brains behind a number of well-known inventions such as traffic lights, the video cassette recorder and even Ibuprofen – while today we are at the forefront of digital technology by spearheading an exciting programme to create the world’s first 5G Connected Forest in the legendary Sherwood Forest.

“The story of Edgar Hooley is a fascinating one and is yet another example which highlights why we are rightly proud of the contribution Nottinghamshire and our pioneering inventors have made over the years to help change the world.

“Therefore, I am delighted we have honoured the work of Edgar Hooley and privileged to be part of a special celebration which has seen a lasting tribute unveiled to one of our county’s true pioneers.”

Although Scotsman John McAdam is widely acknowledged as the original creator of modern tarmacadam, his initial crushed stone road surfaces were not strong enough once the motor car became commonly used across the UK. 

Hooley patented the process of using heated tar to bind crushed stones with waste blast furnace slag from ironworking, which could then be compacted and rolled to form a smooth and robust road surface – registering Tarmac as a trademark before selling the business shortly afterwards.

The longstanding links between Tarmac and Nottinghamshire continue to this day, with the company currently contracted by the council to operate and maintain the county’s roads. This sees the business deliver a range of highway maintenance works, including road resurfacing, gully cleaning, street lighting, road marking and earthworks.

Harvey Cullen, general manager of Tarmac’s contracting business, said: “We’re extremely proud of our history and heritage and were honoured to have been invited to help pay tribute to our founder Edgar Hooley – a true Nottinghamshire pioneer.

“The equipment and techniques being used to surface our roads have moved on considerably over the past century – but we still have Hooley’s innovative spirit embedded at the heart of our business and are constantly identifying ways of delivering the construction and maintenance of roads more safely, sustainably and efficiently.” 

Tarmac uses a wide range of sustainable materials in its resurfacing activities in Nottinghamshire, with asphalt mixes regularly including recycled content. The company has rolled out a revolutionary new sustainable ‘rubber’ asphalt made from recycled waste tyres – with a road in Ollerton near Mansfield becoming one of the very first in the country to be resurfaced with the environmentally friendly material. 

The business was also involved in one of the most complex resurfacing projects ever undertaken at the iconic Silverstone international racing circuit, where cutting-edge technology and processes were used to lay a perfectly smooth new track surface.


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