|Locations:||up to 13|
|Removed:||1986/1995 (see below)|
This page is about the motorway facility, not the attempted sale of Little Chef.
Forte were a hospitality giant and the leaders of the roadside market before Granada took this role. Before motorways, they ran many hotels and cafés around the country. Their first business was a milk bar in 1935.
In 1960 they opened the UK's second service area, Newport Pagnell, which they built to help promote their name. Their first three services were technically operated by Motorway Services Ltd, a joint venture between Forte (92%) and Blue Star (8%), the latter company being responsible for the forecourts. This business name is perhaps the source of the linguistically unusual phrase "motorway services", even though both companies opted to use their own names publicly.
After struggles to open Keele and Charnock Richard, directors of Motorway Services Ltd opted to sit back for a while and instead Forte bid to operate services entirely by themselves. While Rank and Granada were desperate to win contracts, Forte's efforts were considered to consistent and patient.
They went on to build several more services, before merging with Trust House, who had been running rest areas long before motorways were heard of, to create Trust House Forte and later Trusthouse Forte. Their hotels were re-branded as Forte Posthouse. This made Forte the UK's largest service area operator until the nineties. Around this time they re-branded their services as Motor Chef, but this wasn't much of a success so they changed back.
Early Forte services included an American-styled restaurant called Grill & Griddle, and in many cases, seating available along the bridge to provide a good view of the road. They then moved towards a Scandinavian theme, making heavy use of wood.
Lord Forte was very keen on the American principle of giving one operator a monopoly of the catering on an entire road. This doesn't really work with Britain's inflexible motorway network. They became particularly frustrated with government taxes and briefly, in the 1970s, refused to build any more services. Instead, they considered a national network of motels and off-motorway lorry parks, which didn't go ahead.
Having owned Little Chef since the 1960s, in 1986, Trusthouse Forte bought Happy Eater and the four Welcome Break services off Hanson Trust. At the time Trusthouse Forte described Welcome Break as 'highly respected', so they decided to re-brand all their motorway services as THF Welcome Break rather than do it the other way round (in reality, using the Welcome Break name meant Forte could distance their highly reputed brand from the notorious motorway market). This meant an end to Forte-branded services, but they continued to own Welcome Break's and several other chains.
By now Forte and its brands were the only operator to be very satisfied with the way the government regulated motorway services, and were keen to open more, but had to wait for the Clacket Lane high court case to be completed.
In 1995, Granada bought Trusthouse Forte for £3.9billion. By then, Granada had grown so much that they were forced to sell off Welcome Break, who were picked up by Investcorp. The remaining Trusthouse Forte businesses were changed to become Forte.
When Compass and Granada split up (Compass took Granada's hospitality services and Granada kept their media), Forte was handed back to Charles Forte's son Sir Rocco Forte.
The following services were owned and branded as Forte:
- Barnsdale Bar (A1)
- Burtonwood (M62)
- Charnock Richard (M6)
- Corley (M6)
- Fleet (M3)
- Gordano (M5)
- Grantham North (A1)
- Gretna Green (A74(M), then A74)
- Keele (M6)
- London Gateway (M1)
- Newport Pagnell (M1)
- Peartree (A34/A40/A44, then A34/A43)
- Woodall (M1)
The following services were planned by Fortes but they were never built. It was noted that, at times, Fortes had a habit of coming second in everything they bid for: