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History of London Gateway (Scratchwood) services

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Scratchwood postcard.jpg
The services in its original colour scheme.

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Opened by Fortes as Scratchwood 1969
Re-branded Trusthouse Forte 1970
Re-branded Motor Chef 1974
Re-branded Welcome Break 1988
Renamed London Gateway 2000

The need for London Gateway (originally Scratchwood services) was first established in 1961, when Redbourn was unable to be built but some additional capacity was needed.

There were no suitable sites anywhere to be found on the existing M1, save for a stop-gap solution at Toddington, so the idea of the services being on the new M1 southern extension (J1-5) was considered. Other options at Beechtree, immediately south of J8, and at M1 J6 were looked at.

Scratchwood’s full history is outlined here.

Location and Junction

As the extension came closer to being built, it was noted that the new road required its own maintenance compound and service station. However the new motorway offered very little space for any additional facilities, a search which was hampered by closely-spaced junctions and the parallel railway line.

Originally, the M1 was to have a J3, the Scratchwood Interchange, which would have flowed freely on to the Stirling Corner Link Road, providing access to the A1 and A41. An opportunity was spotted to build a maintenance compound on the west side of the interchange which was right in the centre of the new section of the M1; this could serve two other important roads too. This was particularly appealing as Barnet Borough Council had lost one of their depots to the new road, and were looking for a new one. Building the depot required the complex plan for Scratchwood Interchange to be scrapped and replaced with a simple roundabout.

Only once this had become the preferred design was it realised that the land west of this roundabout would also make a good site for a service station. Before the services could be added to the mix, the land had to be reclaimed from British Rail, where it was being occupied by the disused Scratchwood sidings. The services could then be squashed between the M1 and the Midland Mainline.

In the event, the Stirling Corner Link Road was postponed and eventually cancelled, and there was no reason for the east side of the roundabout to be built. As a result access to the services is provided by a very odd reversed roundabout arrangement with sharp corners and a strange crossover. An upgraded rear access provided access to the local road network for maintenance vehicles.

11 miles away, the guns at HMS Belfast are positioned to fire at the services, to demonstrate its maximum practical reach. When the ship was moored in 1971 the services were chosen as a target in the hope the quirky decision would prove interesting for years to come - and it still does. There is even a plaque on the ship confirming the target.

Planning and Opening

Various catering and hospitality firms were invited to design the services. Struggling Top Rank were one of few to decline the offer.

The top bid for the services came from a firm called Grand Metropolitan Motorway Services, with Fortes coming second. Grand Metropolitan had Granada directors on board and were a sister company to Grand Metropolitan Hotels.

The Ministry decided to discount Grand Metropolitan's bid because Granada had made significant errors at Heston. Meanwhile, Granada objected to Scratchwood as their Toddington was already making a loss. Fortes' building was better but had poor landscaping. Another firm, AVP Industries Ltd, designed a proposal but with very poor finances.

London Gateway was opened in 1969 under the name 'Scratchwood services'. Fortes were unable to access the site until six months after they'd been told they could, as the land was being used to store motorway materials.

Design

Inside the Grill & Griddle restaurant.

As expected of a site crammed into a suburban area, the services have a single, simple, low, box-shaped amenity building. Originally there was a garden in a courtyard at the centre of the services and while the garden has gone, its location can still be made out by looking at the atrium roof. It had a light café, with large windows and green chairs.

Much of the building, surrounded by internal roads owing to its cramped site, has not been extended, but the large restaurant has been replaced by fast food facilities.

It also had the country's first AA kiosk.

One of the plans submitted had outdoor toilets, and a main amenity building effectively divided into a private and commercial restaurant.

A government review described the services as "too crowded". In 1977 Egon Ronay rated the services as "poor", complaining about its worn appearance, dirty floor, slow service and lack of choice on the menu.

The services were originally used to trial a home-grocery service. Almost 50 years later this came back as Waitrose.

Motel

The motel as a Days Hotel.

The motel - originally called Scratchwood Travel Lodge - was built by Forte as an experiment with the Department of Environment as which required part of the rear access to be derestricted to make the hotel's bar legal. It opened in 1970.

It was later converted to one of the country's first Days Inn motels, at which point the services were renamed to the more marketable London Gateway. The motel then became a Days Hotel, and then one of Welcome Break's first Ramadas.

Events

On the weekend of 16 April 2011, the M1 between J1 and J4 was closed following for several days following a severe fire at a scrapyard next to the services. London Gateway was expecting a lot of custom with several events taking place in London, but instead it lost everything and transferred staff to South Mimms instead. Hotel bookings were cancelled and fresh food had to be thrown out.


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