Motorway Services Online

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How are motorway services named?

Cairn Lodge signs.
Services are supposed to use the names of places, not branding.

Today, service stations are developed by the private sector who can use whatever name they like. Generally, developers like to use names that refer to well-known places.

There is a rule that the name which is used on road signs must be a "geographical" name, but even that isn't always followed: take Cairn Lodge. It's also not exactly clear what a geographical name is, but The Buck and Family Farm were both allowed.

There are two examples of services which were promoted under a brand name and then changed to a specific one: Gloucestershire Gateway became Gloucester in 2014, and Stop 24 became Folkestone in about 2010. This shows that the vague "geographical" rule may have some weight.

The oddest service area name in the UK is Pont Abraham. It is named after a bridge that no longer exists, and that bridge was named only in Welsh.

Government documentation uses a number of fictional names to avoid inadvertently promoting a service area.

Complications

Each individual brand will want to refer to their branch by a name that is unique to their business. This means one particular service area may be promoted under several different names. In particular, petrol stations that have been there a long time may still use the name of a local landmark that is no longer relevant, while hotels will want to use the name of a major landmark.

Locals to the area may prefer to use a local nickname, and if you're looking through the history then there is another name to look out for: during development services are often known by the farm on which it is going to be built on.

Naming after a major city can cause complications when new services open. There are at least three services which want to be known as Doncaster, while Welcome Break's Peartree is closer to Oxford than their own Oxford.

In 2012, the List Sign was changed to use service area names rather than operator names. This can cause confusion when names of far-away cities are used.

History

Road sign.
The more quaint name 'Severn View' has been stuck over its old name.

Until 1979, the government were responsible for planning all motorway services, and for putting the signs up. As a result they got to choose what each one was called, and they would always go for the name of the nearest village. There was no rule for how this was decided; it was whatever stuck.

Around the time that services started gaining hotels, they started worrying about their names, and pushing for more significant landmarks.

In the 1990s, developers started competing to have the most relaxing site. This showed in the names they chose: Cherwell Valley, Birchanger Green and Hopwood Park all had pleasant connotations. In the 2010s those cumbersome names started to be dropped, with Gretna Green and Donington Park losing their suffixes.

Contentious Names

The very first service area can also claim the very first fight over a name: Watford Gap could have been called Watford, Welton or Watford Village.

In 1970 Washington was one of the first services to be named after a large town, which ruffled the feathers of Chester-le-Street Rural District Council.

In the 1990s, the name Birmingham North caused irritation because it wasn't in Birmingham, and likewise Blackburn was reluctantly renamed Blackburn with Darwen.

Different Sides

When a service station has two buildings on either side of the road, most staff know the buildings by where they are, not where the road goes. Thus Frankley northbound is known internally as "Frankley West" because it is to the west of the M5, even though the road is going north.

This becomes especially confusing when a road turns. Thanks to a bend in the M6, at Corley the building to the north of the road ("Corley North") serves the M6 southbound. Winchester is another example, where the western half ("Winchester West") serves the side of the M3 that will take you east. Keele is an even more pedantic example.

Changed Names

The following services have had their official name changed over the years. We have included a couple of rumoured ones in there, and the two rest areas which were renamed and re-built. We have excluded names that were only used in planning, or only used locally.

Services Previous Name(s)
Birch Manchester North?
Blackburn with Darwen Blackburn Interchange, Blackburn
Burton-in-Kendal Burton West
Cairn Lodge Happendon
Chester Hapsford rest area
Donington Donington Park
Frankley Birmingham South?
Gretna Gretna Green
Heart of Scotland (Harthill) Harthill
Hilton Park Birmingham North?
Lancaster Forton, Lancaster (Forton)
London Gateway Scratchwood
Medway Farthing Corner
Northampton Rothersthorpe
Rivington Anderton, Rivington, Bolton West, (Chorley), Rivington North/South
Sedgemoor Brent Knoll rest area
Severn View Aust
Tibshelf Chesterfield
Washington Washington-Birtley (Port/Virgo)

Ireland

Barack Obama Plaza.
Supermac's like to brand-up their services.

Official (online) services in Ireland are planned by the government, and use local names coupled with the motorway number.

Unofficial (offline) services are named by developers, and usually refer to larger settlements like Wicklow. The road signs never use these names, except on the M11 where a comparison with other services is required. In that case the signs refuse to use the Wicklow name, and call it Coyne's Cross instead.

In particular, Supermac's like to use branded names. It remains to be seen what the road signs will make of Barack Obama Plaza.