History of Tebay services
Tebay's remarkable story has led to a business plan which stands out from its rivals, but this hasn't always been a positive thing. In 1979, representatives of the Department of Transport finished a meeting with Mr Dunning with their notes saying "he is a seemingly naive hill farmer".
When the M6 was built through Cumbria, the Department for Transport were working on the principle that placing service stations in places with good views would get more people to stop. For this reason, services were proposed at Tebay northbound and Killington Lake southbound: two smaller services would have been more popular with the struggling operators than one large one.
Before this design was decided upon, the idea of building the services in the middle of the M6, where the carriageways were already designed to be apart to reduce the amount of earthworks required. This idea was quickly ruled out as impractical and destructive, and has never been used in the UK.
As it happened, neither site was a hit with the established operators at the time. At Tebay a second round of bids was opened allowing for a smaller site and the option of a 10 or 21 year lease. Under this arrangement, the successful tenderer would only be responsible for running the filling station and a temporary snack bar, with the restaurant and car park being saved for a future negotiation.
The Dunning family, whose heritage was farming and motor trading in Cumbria, were concerned about the local unemployment rate following the recent closure of Tebay Junction station made a successful bid. They built the northbound petrol station and a dining area for a total cost of £100,000, making it one of the cheapest new developments. It opened in 1972 (the documents are signed 15 June), two years after the M6.
Upon opening, its scale and style was described as "personal", which may explain how it escaped the spate of vandalism many other services saw. The building was made of stone, and the interior had a high-pitched beamed roof and a rustic décor which tried to recapture a Scandinavian hunting lodge atmosphere.
Initially Tebay found trading difficult. Staff and resources had to be brought in from far afield, and it claimed it was the only service area which wasn't on a major freight route. They managed to stand out by reducing their prices to compete and issuing meal vouchers with fuel sales.
In 1978, the Tebay Mountain Lodge opened with 32 rooms, on a piece of land technically not part of the services. This alarmed the Department of Transport who weren't able to regulate it. They had the same concerns with the caravan park which opened two years later, but they were won round and supported the idea.
Department of Transport MSA Board, 1978
At this time Westmorland became concerned that the Prior Report would see changes in how all services had their rent calculated which would allow rivals to cut their prices, causing Tebay to lose its unique selling point. Instead, they decided to expand Tebay, providing new facilities, new parking spaces along the access road and a new route for traffic. The Department of Transport conceded that the original idea of having a second company bid for the main restaurant wasn't practical.
In 1994, a coffee shop opened at Tebay, the first on the UK motorway network. The hotel was extended and renamed 'Westmorland Hotel' in 1997.
In 1978, a picnic area was proposed on the southbound side, which would provide catering for 30 people, parking for cars, a shop and toilets but no fuel. Westmorland were keen to take it on.
Changes to the government policy under the Prior Report meant services could now be proposed by a private company. With the Tebay southbound project being disrupted by a dispute over land ownership, the Department of Transport decided to pull out and let Westmorland carry the project through.
Westmorland turned the proposal into a full service area, which they opened on 3 June 1993. It followed the pleasing architectural principles which had made northbound so famous. The company head office was also moved here from Penrith.
In 2008 the southbound services were refurbished and became the first motorway service station with a butcher's counter.