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Blue Boar was a forecourt operator who went on to operate one of the oldest and most famous motorway services; Watford Gap on the M1.
The company operated garages and forecourts across the Midlands, including on the A5. The original Blue Boar Café took its name from the junction of the same name on the A45, which is still there as a McDonald's today. Local legend says that a blue boar lived during the time of Robin Hood.
When the A5 looked set to lose a lot of trade to the new M1 motorway, Blue Boar learned that a motorway service area was being planned close to their Watford depot, and made a competitive bid to operate it. Roadside repairs were expected to be an important aspect of running the new service area. The government were pleased to be able to say they were helping a local business affected by the motorway, but in reality Blue Boar won the contract on their own merits.
Blue Boar generally focussed their efforts on Watford Gap, which had a number of teething issues related to its unexpected success. The financial pressure was reflected in their unsuccessful attempt to win Strensham. They won the contract to build a neighbouring site at Rothersthorpe, and in the 1990s later planned two more services.
The business was family-owned until it was sold to managers in 1995.
In 1998 Blue Boar sold their business to Roadchef, as part of their plans to enlarge their company and become 'the UK's fastest growing motorway services operator'. Roadchef have since refurbished all of Blue Boar's sites. The half-built Stafford was included in the sale.
Blue Boar liked to provide local branding, such 'Annandale Lodge'.
At its best, Watford Gap became popular and famous amongst travellers and party-goers, and was known as 'The Blue Boar'.
Despite its reputation, Watford Gap was more about getting people back on the road as soon as possible. Their original proposal was all about the garage and showed little interest in the catering arrangement, which was mainly for lorry drivers. It probably stuck because the design was geared towards young men, who made up a significant portion of road users at the time, whereas Newport Pagnell was aimed at families.
They were one of few firms at the time not interested in selling alcohol. The TopTray transport café they proposed for Watford Gap was too small (not helped by the small plot of land allocated to them) and caused them no-end of crowding problems from the start.
Until 1965 Watford Gap featured a waitress restaurant called TopGrill, this was scrapped in favour of a self-service one as Blue Boar quickly realised customers wanted to be served quickly. The next few services to open were very different to this, but since the 1970s the design has much more closely resembled Watford Gap.
One noted early money-saving trick was to serve hot drinks in disposable wax cups, which did not go down well the higher-class visitors.
In 1986, Which? visited Watford Gap and Rothersthorpe and concluded that Blue Boar were struggling to keep up with improvements by their competitors. They were the only operator to provide 24 hour shops.
The following services were owned by Blue Boar:
They also planned the following unbuilt services: