History of Bolton West services
The old, dilapidated building.
The contract to build the service area was won by BP, who until recently leased the main facilities out to First. Euro Garages (who, at the time, specialised in taking over unpopular petrol stations) took over the petrol station and then took over the whole site.
The services went out to tender in 1967, requesting at least £200,000 be invested, and it was opened in phases. Kenning Motor Group made the only offer to build it and it was initially rejected.
Planners were expected to take advantage of the views over Rivington and Winter Hill - it is an open and exposed site allowing for a large complex. It had a single-storey low-level design, to minimise the impact on the valley it is built in.
It opened in 1971 under the name Rivington services.
A 1974 Ordnance Survey map shows the services with only a northbound amenity building, suggesting southbound visitors had to walk across the footbridge. This is the only evidence to suggest the northbound building was the older one of the two found so far.
Inside, the southbound building began with a foyer area with tables, and a game arcade was added on the right. There was a shop on the left and, on the northbound side, a corridor to the Travelodge reception. Straight ahead was the restaurant servery, refreshment bar and a corridor to the toilets was on the right. The rest of the building contained the kitchen.
The larger northbound building had a long hallway. On the left, in order, was a shop, fast food unit, and two retail units, though these would have been moved around. At the back was the cafeteria, which had two doors completely separating it from the rest of the building. On the right of the hall was the café's kitchen, a small arcade and an area designated for telephones (even as of 2010). An office was block was attached. The original restaurant had large windows and an orange and brown décor, with long rows of benches for seats. It was open 07:00 until 22:00.
Lessons had been learned from other services which were built too small, and the northbound car park here was absolutely huge. Special coach parking was provided near the entrance and, unlike at other services, never needed to be removed. In practice, the parking areas were so badly marked people just parked anywhere.
As Bolton West
At some point the site's name was changed to Bolton West and it became, quite simply, appalling. By the end of its life there was little care for any aspect of it, and its rating on this site was an average of 1.1 out of 5. The majority of it was falling apart, and the few staff left were reported to have a number of safety concerns.
First did not change any of the street furniture, which was mostly very faded yellow-on-green signs dating back to Pavilion.
Granada wanted to take over Pavilion were told they couldn't own Bolton West and nearby Birch. A Granada management buyout saw Bolton West pass to First. With its large building and low traffic levels, it wasn't a great site to inherit.
In 2006 First applied for planning permission to demolish the northbound services and replace it with a new building. Unlike what was eventually built, this one would have been in the middle of the site, with a single entrance facing the re-landscaped car parks and fuelling areas. On the left of the building would have been the sales shop, and on the right a coffee shop and fast food offer as well as the toilets. This was given planning permission but never built.
On the 23rd July 2010 there was a fire at the garage on the southbound services which meant there was no fuel available for a period, and further facilities had to be provided by portacabins.
As Bolton West its main claim to fame is that it starred in Peter Kay's pilot episode for his sketch show 'That Peter Kay Thing' in the early 2000s. The show was a 22-minute mockumentary titled 'At the Services' which took a look at a typical day at Bolton West, including manager Pearl Harbour's quest to impress a celebrity. It's claimed they filmed here because they were the only services to let him, but it seems to be quite a coincidence that most of Peter Kay's films are made in or around the Bolton area. This storyline was revisited in 2016.
In 2011 the site was sold to Euro Garages. In their biggest project at the time, they demolished the whole place and replaced it with something smaller, more manageable, brighter and with more franchised facilities. They wanted to change its name to 'Chorley services', but later decided to take it back to 'Rivington'.
Euro Garages were very critical of the state of the building, which they described as "tired" and having had "limited investment since opening". They suggested the building had been so poorly maintained that it wasn't worth trying to repair it, and argued that the petrol station was too far away from the main building. Partly this was just Euro Garages's philosophy, but they were right that at such a quiet site it wasn't worth dividing the trade between two buildings.
The new southbound building was built first and is on the site of the existing one, while the petrol station and lorry park have roughly swapped places. The southbound car park was re-landscaped but kept roughly the same shape. On the northbound side, the new building and petrol station are on part of the old car park. The old petrol station is just a swathe of empty concrete.
The final part of the plan was 'the annexe'. This would have been a new, slightly smaller, two-storey building in place of the existing one. There would have been a restaurant on the left, coffee shop on the right and toilets at the back. Upstairs was a conference room and offices. More car parking spaces would have been painted in the lorry park, and it would have made use of the woodland area in between the two parking spaces. This building was never built, and instead you just have bare land on the site of the old building, with concrete retaining walls, footpaths, railings and steps that used to serve it all still visible.
The motel survived but lost its direct connection to the amenity building. Instead it changed from a Travelodge to Rivington Lodge, with a couple of First-branded signs still inside if you know where to look.
While the new service area may not have the same interesting history: it is a typical modern building occupying a very large concrete area, it has at least improved visitor satisfaction dramatically.
In 2009 Euro Garages themselves referred to the site as the worst service area in the UK. Their source for this wasn't clear.
In 1986, Which? Magazine rated the services as "average", saying they felt they had walked "into a time warp", with its "drab colours".
In 1977, Egon Ronay rated the services as "poor". It was "cheerful and bright", and "the atmosphere was pleasant even if the food was not". He wasn't impressed by the use of convenience foods.