The birth of the motorway service area and its ‘open all hours’ appeal proved a considerable draw to the residents of my hometown of Morecambe and surroundings towns of Blackpool, Lancaster and Preston.
You have to wonder just how little there was to do in such towns in the 1960s, for Forton Services (between junction 32 and 33 of the M6) to exercise such a magnetic attraction!
Designed by T P Bennett Architects, Forton Services was opened in 1965 by Top Rank and had a very distinctive hexagonal tower, 22 metres in height. It looked like something out of Star Trek to a four year old me! For the adult visitors, the tower evoked the modern glamour of 1960s air travel (which was still only afforded by the well to do at that time) and so imbued a glamour not experienced in this part of the country before.
I was very excited to learn that the Pennine Tower housed a restaurant with a sun deck above – extremely glamorous in its day! The interior of the restaurant was the epitome of style with a mixture of small, intimate tables cantilevered off the outer wall or American-style counter seating on high with wire-backed chair.
The 120-seater restaurant had waitress service and beautiful views of Lancashire and in particular Morecambe Bay. It was ‘the place’ to go. My gastro buddy Sue, who is also helping fill in my memory gaps of dining out in Morecambe, said that her father used to go there some evenings with his friends for a meal. It sounds ludicrous now, but you have to realise that people had never eaten by the side of a motorway before and it was very novel! They’d also never access to food around the clock.
For my family this service station was a very welcoming sight – not only did it mean we were nearly home from a very long journey back from our holidays in Dorset or Devon, it also meant that we would be stopping for tea! This was quite a treat and no doubt a blessed relief for my mother as it meant she didn’t have to fire up the chip pan that evening!
Sadly the Pennine Tower is no longer a restaurant – stories of complaints abound but the one that amuses most is that the locals were concerned that the tower looked too much like a UFO when lit up at night and that it was distracting! The official reason – The tower-top restaurant actually closed in 1989 because its staircases could not meet tighter fire evacuation regulations, and many of its fixtures and fittings were removed.
On a positive note, I was pleased to read that in October 2012, the iconic tower section of Forton Services was granted Grade II listed building status by English Heritage for its special architectural and historical interest.