Sawtry services (historically known as Toll Bar services) was a service area on the old A1. It is now known for the abandoned buildings it left behind, with several plans to bring them back into use.
The northbound side started out as an orchard and terraced housing on Ermine Street, the historic route of the Great North Road. On the southbound side was the Toll Bar Cottages.
In the 1970s a northbound garage and bungalow was built, as well as a southbound petrol station. A few years later the Sawtry North branch of Happy Eater opened next to the northbound garage, which became a full petrol station. In 1984 the Sawtry branch of Little Chef opened next to the southbound petrol station. The Toll Bar Cottages were demolished in the early 1980s.
In the early 1990s the service area grew again, with a Travelodge being built behind the northbound petrol station. In 1996, as with all Happy Eater branches, it was converted to become a Little Chef and the two operated as a pair.
Everything changed in 1998, when the old Ermine Street was replaced by the new A1(M) motorway. The upgraded road narrowly passed the old northbound services, taking away some of the petrol station. A new road, Toll Bar Way, was built to the west and provided access to what was left of the northbound side. Too much of the southbound side was taken by the new road and it had to be demolished. In theory it would have almost fit in the gap between the A1(M) and the new B1043, but that's before you account for the effect of the new embankments.
The site therefore continued as a Little Chef and Travelodge, positioned on the old road and accessed from the nearby A1(M) J15. The motel closed in around 2004, while remarkably the restaurant lasted until 2007. At this point the site was abandoned.
The remote and discrete Little Chef became Pulse & Cocktails Adult Superstore.
The A1 was filled with Little Chefs, and the Sawtry section is no exception. The branch at Sawtry North was the last survivor, and in its later years it was doing the work of three other branches too.
A mile to the south of here was Redwings service station, the real partner of the northbound side. It consisted of the Sawtry South branch of Happy Eater, a Q8 petrol station and a Travelodge. The Happy Eater became a Little Chef and it survived the road upgrade, with the old A1 southbound becoming the new B1043 Stangate Hill. Despite this the restaurant closed in 1998. The site now has a Spiceworld restaurant, a Pace petrol station and a motel called Redwings Lodge - which inspired a chain of the same name. The site still has long sliproads as if you were joining the A1 rather than a B-road, and as of 2019 it still has green road signs calling it an official service station, dating back to when it was on the A1.
Another mile to the south of that was the Alconbury branch of Little Chef. It was the partner of the 'Sawtry' branch, meaning in the 1980s there was a mixed bag of Little Chefs and Happy Eaters here, albeit both owned by Forte. This one opened in 1983, on the northbound side of the Alconbury Hill Crossroads, and was joined by a Texaco forecourt with a Little Chef Lodge planned but not built. It closed in 1996 to make way for the new road.
As a brownfield site close to a junction on the A1(M), there have been several proposals to bring it back into use. One option, dated 2010, would have rebuilt the petrol station and brought the motel back into use.
The new amenity building is expected to have an M&S Simply Food, Greggs and WHSmith, while there will also be a petrol station with a drive thru Costa. Unlike other services they have proposed recently, this one will be much smaller and although it will be positioned off a junction, it will only be available to northbound traffic. The junction is much quieter than the other junctions Moto have been targeting lately, so less work would be required.
It is currently in a consultation phase and is expected to be formally submitted to the council later in the year.
The chosen site is a strategic move which introduces the Moto brand to a new section of road. It is positioned prior to the busy Peterborough services, while to the south there is the expanding service area at Brampton Hut. Also in its favour are the facts that a truckstop at Alconbury recently closed, a rival operators' service area at Black Cat is expected to close at 2021, and the opening of the upgraded A14 may further increase traffic levels.
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