Watford Gap Services

has found its way into the mythology of England. This was the first motorway services built, in 1959. Very quickly, it became symbolic of the tawdriness and meanness of vision of which the English seemed uniquely capable. Watford Gap was a monster who came from the dark side of the English psyche, dribbling tomato ketchup over the soul of the nation.

The truth was, most of the motorway services were just as bad. They were ugly, dirty, ill-equipped and staffed by little hitlers, typhoid marys and time-serving sluggards. The food was poor quality, badly cooked, and unhygienically served. The loos were unspeakable. The entertainments were nil. With no competition permitted, the motorist, and his screaming kids, had to use them or hold on till the end of the journey. So they stopped, they ate, they pissed. They felt used and abused, they felt angry or resigned. It didn't matter. Nobody cared.

These days, of course, the facilities are better; the interiors a bit more pleasant, if predictable, the food is acceptable, if unremarkable, and the service is competent, if unengaging. It might be asking too much to expect fundamental change in only forty years.

From the beginning, Watford Gap Services was owned and run by a company called Blue Boar. They took their name from the petrol station they owned - on a roundabout on the A5, close to Watford Gap. In turn, the petrol station took its name from an inn called "The Blue Boar" - on the same roundabout (which continues a long English tradition of places taking their names from local hostelries).

Blue Boar were granted the first services (at Watford Gap) because it was clear that giving it to anyone else would have destroyed their business. Subsequent services were granted on a more commercial basis. They were also granted the franchise for Newport Pagnell Services - the next service South of here. (The rule was that no operator could have two services in a row. The rule was waived.)

For a very brief time, the motorway services were rather classy - they even had hostesses to guide travellers to their seats and three 'classes' of restaurant. (For many early travellers, this was the classiest restaurant they'd ever been to. Indeed, many would not have "eaten out" at all, before.)

I am indebted to David Lawrence, who has been researching motorway services, who has corrected some of my errors, and pointed me in some new directions. He has some wonderful postcards of the early years, showing these services as splendid, futuristic developments. - places worthy of a visit in their own right.
But standards quickly dropped, especially at Blue Boar. It was evident that a lot more money was going out of the business than was going in (it seems that much of the money ended up in Switzerland).

Blue Boar sold out their motorway interests to Road Chef, in 1995.

In 1998, Road Chef rebuilt the whole thing.

Relief Relief Escape Escape
© David Craig Send me a message