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History of Charnock Richard services

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Charnock Richard postcard 2.jpg
The services shortly after opening.

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Opened by Motorway Services Ltd (Fortes) 1963
Re-branded Trusthouse Forte 1970
Re-branded Motor Chef 1974
Re-branded Welcome Break 1988

Charnock Richard, Keele and Knutsford were all identified at the same time, forming part of the plans for the M6. An additional site at Broughton was held in reserve while problems with it were investigated.

Charnock Richard was pushed through because the road through here would be opening first, making it the oldest service area on the M6 when it opened in July 1963.

In 1975, the BBC planned a documentary about Charnock Richard services, but it didn't go ahead.

It was the most complained about service station in 1976, mainly because of its high food prices.


Motorway services plan.
A sketch of people enjoying one of the rejected plans.

In planning, it was sometimes called Heskin services.

The demand for catering here was expected to be low, and consideration was given to having it open and selling fuel only, but this was thought to be too big a risk with possible high levels traffic heading for Blackpool.

The minimum spend allowed in the plans was £100,000. Designs were encouraged to have restaurants on bridges which was regarded by the inspectors as an efficient and impressive design.

Airborne Catering Ltd

As was the case with many of their bids, Airborne Catering Ltd produced a poor design, poor catering proposals but a suspiciously promising financial offer. This design had everything on the bridge.

What was interesting was that this was the fifth service area Airborne had bid for, and each bid was bigger than the previous one. They had still failed to prove they were a financially stable business but continued to promise more. They were again pulled up for their lack of attention to detail.

They would have used a brand name if they had won.

Kenning Motor Group

Motorway services model.
Kenning's design was modelled closely on Strensham.

Buoyed by winning the tender for Strensham, here Kennings planned a restaurant and café close to a footbridge with transport cafés further away, by the lorry parks, based closely on Strensham. Their financial offer was particularly poor. As a garage firm, it wasn't clear who would be responsible for a catering.

Loxhams Garage

In their plan, Loxhams had the restaurant and a café on the bridge with transport cafés further away.

Their financial offer was poor, but they showed expert knowledge and were told they would make a good operator.

W. Blamire

This plan had a restaurant and transport café at each end of a footbridge. The building would have used buff bricks and stone. There would have been underfloor heating in the restaurant and transport café. The first floor café would be used as an open air café but could be covered. There would be polished hardwood tables with individual leather upholstered chairs, and wallpapered walls.

Their landscaping efforts were poor. As an operator, they showed experience, and were told they "would do a good job".

Oliver Hart

Service station model.
A model of Oliver Hart's design.

Oliver Hart had a double-decker bridge with a pedestrian crossing running underneath a restaurant, with a café and transport café at each end of the bridge.

Their catering arrangements would be contracted out to Robley Ltd, who had a good reputation from their work at Liverpool Airport. Plastic furniture would be used.

Shadsworth Garage Ltd

This design had a restaurant and café on the bridge, joined by two transport cafés. Their landscaping was attractive.

Motorway Services Ltd

"Every attention is given to detail. They are prepared to do the job properly."
Ministry of Transport MSA Board, 1961

The Fortes and Blue Star combined firm made a grand plan, inspired by American chain Howard-Johnson. It had an entrance hall, snack bar and toilets on the ground floor, the snack bar alongside the motorway, and a café and restaurant on the bridge. The bridge restaurant, called Grill and Griddle, could hold nearly 300 customers. It involved a massive investment and a very strong catering proposal. Their landscaping effort was the best of all the offers.

The proposal was similar to their offer for Keele, but without the water towers and with a few minor changes. Their use of escalators was called "a world-first". Motorway Services Ltd had a financial offer which was placed in joint-first place, joined by the Airborne windfall. It was described as "simple, orderly, compact and efficient".

This was the only plan which had an effective road layout. Their use of the bridge was about providing "good views", and the café would be "bright and comfortable". The bridge-restaurant had muted lighting and tables set into individual glass-sided booths while the café was a bright and light room.

The Ministry were aware Motorway Services Ltd had made an impressive bid for all three services, but each one was judged on its own merits.


Car park and service station.
Crowds attending the opening ceremony.

In the middle of the identified site was a large pylon which cost £7,700 to clear.

An official opening ceremony was held on 29 July 1963, commemorating both the services and the completion of this section of the M6.

In 1964, the trade at the services (which was associated with holiday seasons in Blackpool and The Lake District) was described as being "full of fluctuations". The northbound side was busier, especially its café.

On the southbound side, fuel was originally available on the immediate left. The back of what's now the northbound car park was originally for HGVs.

The American-style motel was attached to the services on a separate parcel of land in 1974 immune from regulation. It opened while Forte were experimenting with the idea of motorway hotels and includes a breakfast bar. It became one of the early Welcome Lodges, later a Days Inn, and in 2018 it received a thorough refurbishment and a new entrance to become a Ramada.

The motorway network's first Little Chef opened on the bridge in 1982. It was removed around 1996. In 2006, that bridge had to be restructured because it was close to falling on to the motorway.

Survey Results

In Spring 2018, a Transport Focus survey calculated a 93% satisfaction score from northbound customers and an 92% from southbound customers. By 2019 this had dropped down to 79% and 77% respectively, placing it among England's worst five services.

In 2015, the southbound services were rated 3 stars by VisitEngland, but the northbound side was one of few to be given a 5 star rating. It was by far the oldest building to win this title.

In May 2012 and August 2011, VisitEngland rated the services as 3 stars.

In 2008 the southbound services won a five star loo award.

In 2007, Charnock Richard won a four star loo award.

In 2006, Holiday Which? gave the services a 2 out of 5.

In 2005 and again in 2006 they won a five star loo award.

In 1977, Egon Ronay rated the services as "poor". He said its standards "were not wholly low, but no high point was achieved", while the standard Forte menu relied heavily on convenience food. One particular meal - fish which may have been haddock - was "not fit for human consumption".

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