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History of Knutsford services

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Knutsford postcard 2.jpg
The restaurant shortly after opening.

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Opened by Top Rank 1963
Sold to Pavilion 1992
Sold to Granada 1997
Re-branded Moto 2001

Work to design Knutsford services started before the previous motorway services were open. The full history is explored here.


The process to invite firms to bid to run the services was started a few weeks after Farthing Corner. It was then postponed because it was thought some firms weren't able to deal with both at the same time. A number of replies were received, and they were analysed by their rent offer, fuel offer, catering offer, traffic flow, landscaping and company stability.

Kenning Motor Group had started working on a bid for Knutsford, but they decided not to submit it.

Motorway Services Ltd

Motorway Services Ltd, who won the contract for the adjacent services at Keele and Charnock Richard, also bid for Knutsford. Their design work, described as "simple and fairly conventional", was once again of a very high quality, but their financial plan assumed high levels of trade and handing them a monopoly of all the M6 services at the time was not desirable.

Their design had a snack bar and transport café on each side of the motorway with a footbridge in between. It received a very good review, with inspectors writing it "continue to show a complete understanding of the type of services required and the essentials of planing", even if the buildings were very close to the motorway.

Airborne Catering Ltd

"They do not inspire the confidence needed."
Ministry of Transport MSA Board, 1961

Airborne Catering Ltd made a bid with an impressive financial offer, but again the Ministry didn't believe their figures were honest. It's thought their strategy was to agree to a level of rent at a level they'd never be profitable enough to pay. Airborne Catering, who provided catering at Gatwick, would have had fuel sales managed by Regent, but they were rumoured to be close to pull out of the deal. Their building was themed around an unattractive aircraft hangar. They wanted a restaurant, café and transport café on one side of motorway, and a transport café only on the other.

Airborne's plan was summarised with the line "a continued lack of attention of the submission of essential details". One particular criticism was that the building didn't overlook the parkland but overlooked the lorry park.

They would have chosen a new brand name to use, had they won the contract.

Oliver Hart

Oliver Hart's design had a restaurant on the bridge, a transport café and café on one side of the motorway and a café on the other. They described the idea of having a restaurant above the motorway as "looking bold", and that the motorway offered an exciting view.

Oliver Hart would contract catering out to Robley Ltd, who had a respected service at Liverpool Airport. The furniture would have been plastic.

W. Blamire

W. Blamire's design had a restaurant and transport café on each side of the motorway.

Top Rank

Knutsford services drawing.
A drawing of Top Rank's plan.

Rank's design wasn't as good as Motorway Services Ltd's, but it was "rather more imaginative" and showed "expert knowledge of the equipment required". They had a restaurant and snack bar on the bridge and a transport café on each side. They won the contract, and a rule was introduced that no operator can bid for adjacent sites.


"Appalling and rather tatty"
1978 formal inspection

In 1966 Rank admitted that they regretted this ambitious bid, as the services were struggling to break even. When the services reached full capacity, Rank refused to build an extension, causing Sandbach to have to be built. In the event it was extended in the early 1970s.

The bridge-café was changed from a transport café to a general purpose one, with a new, general-purpose commercial drivers area. The bridge-café had bright orange and yellow furnishings, while the restaurant had an open-kitchen and plastic seats.

The services employed a Lyons ice cream trailer which moved between the two sides. It also trialled a trolley service in the car park but it made little money. Rank wanted to add a takeaway unit, which eventually arrived in the form of Wimpy Express.

The amenity building had to be washed down every few years as it weathered quickly. Rank also had to deal with theft from around the building: one of the outdoor menus turned up at a local golf course.

Egon Ronay's opinion of the services was somewhat split. In 1974 he was quite positive about it, and in 1977 he rated the restaurant as "acceptable". However, in 1977 the café was rated as "appalling". He called the café "a loud, garish place" and called the atmosphere "that of a lower-class transport café". The food, "arranged with no idea of presentation" included a mixed grill which was "scandalous". The restaurant on the other hand was "quite enterprising". He was also critical of the noisy jukebox and the smelly toilets.

A 1978 government review described the services as "appalling and rather tatty".


Today, the layout within the services is very odd. The Travelodge reception is actually inside the main amenities building, at the back. Whilst the gents toilets are at the back, the ladies and disabled are at the far back (there appears to be another toilet block next to the gents which is fenced off). Originally the entire service station was built on the bridge, with just steps on each side, now there are restaurants and M&S up there, both against the wall, with a traditional corridor running along the south end of the bridge.

Several applications for a Travelodge on both sides of the services were previously rejected as the land is green belt and at the time of the first application (1994) there were few other lodges at service areas and the Highways Agency believed they might be misused. The area by the north-east side of the service area has been left clear to allow for an expansion.

Although there is now an M&S on the bridge, the majority of it is again dedicated to catering, including (unusually for Moto), the Greggs.

Parking Issues

HGVs at Knutsford services.
Some HGV parking is available but not advertised.

A shortage of space and increase in HGV-crimes led to Moto asking all lorries to head to their larger, securer site at Lymm. However, if you drive past all the 'no lorries' signs, you'll find that there are spaces for lorries available, albeit signposted 'emergency parking only'. This doesn't seem to deter lorries.

The Highways Agency recently listed it as an approved truckstop, despite it only having 27 HGV spaces.

There are problems with HGVs parking illegally on the services sliproad, unable to drive to the next stop.

For a short while the parking prices came with an unusual (and expensive) tier system with five different lengths of stay available (24 hours cost £35). This has now been replaced by the standard '2 or 24 hours' system.


One plan to upgrade the A556 (which at the time sounded quite likely) would have seen Knutsford services knocked down. Even now the northbound onslip is known for being too short and too close to the A556.

In 1994 there were plans to build two sliproads around the services, from the M6 to the south of here to an upgraded Northwich Road. Pavilion wanted to use it as an opportunity to re-landscape a lot of the services, and to build a large lorry park.

During the 1990s, there were also plans to widen the M6, which would have seen the services knocked down had the full plans ever gone ahead.

One alternative site was proposed at Cann Lake.

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