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The Pennine Tower

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Pennine Tower servery 2.jpg
Inside the tower. Remnants of its days as a panoramic restaurant can just about be made out.

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You can't ignore the 65-foot (20m) tower now surrounded by the northbound amenity building at Forton services, described in one of its many publicity leaflets as being "a luxury observation platform".


The Pennine Tower.
The services shortly after opening.

The Pennine Tower was designed to make the services clearly visible - the ban on advertising had always been an issue, and the previous technique of having a restaurant on a bridge, like down the road at Charnock Richard, was proving expensive and impractical. Rank commissioned architects T P Bennett & Sons to capitalise on the benefits of exciting design while trialling something different. The tower resembles that used by air traffic control, summarising the dreams of the '60s.

The central shaft consists of two lifts, which were originally a pentagonal design until they were replaced in 2017. They're still in use to access the first floor, but with the buttons to higher floors disabled. There are then three service lifts, and one spiral staircase - satisfying typical health and safety regulations.

At the top of the tower stood a fine-dining waitress service restaurant, offering views over the road below and across Lancashire. Above the restaurant the lift extended to roof-level, to allow the roof to serve as a sun terrace - although Rank admitted they weren't sure what this could be used for, suggesting serving tea or eventually building another level.

In reality social changes and cost-cutting limited the desirability of a sit-down meal, and this coupled with high maintenance costs made the tower fall out of favour. The 'fine dining' restaurant became the trucking lounge that had been on the first floor, before closing to the public in 1989. It then soldiered on for another 15 years, partially re-fitted, as a head office, then staff training and storage, but even this became too impractical, and the tower is now not used at all.

Although the tower is unique to these services, the concept of large high-level floors can be seen in many Rank services of the era, the idea of each one being to have a visible landmark and a good view of the surrounding area, such as at Hilton Park. The lower-level restaurant at Forton sticks out over the first floor, and partially in to the road, to give an optimum view. Toilets and offices were in the ground floor buildings below.

In Popular Culture

Moto are adamant the tower qualifies Lancaster as the country's most famous service station, and that The Beatles were one of its first customers. Indie-rock band Half Man Half Biscuit filmed the music video for 'Dickie Davies Eyes' there in 1986.

A 2008 exhibition in Lancaster celebrating 50 years of the M6 included a replica of the restaurant inside the Pennine Tower as it would be if it were still trading today. At the same time Top Gear Magazine used the tower to create a mocked-up image of the car park in the 1960s.

Future Of The Tower

"It is time to recognise and appreciate the positive contribution [motorways] have made to England's heritage."
English Heritage, 2012

There are lots of myths flying around that the tower was forced to close by safety regulations, and that it is about to fall down. Like any building which hasn't been used for 30 years it would take a lot of investment to get it open again, and with roadside restaurants across the country closing due to a lack of trade, nobody has come up with an convincing plan to justify investing in the Pennine Tower.

The tower was marked as a Grade II listed building in October 2012, most people thinking it had been done already, with growing momentum for something to be done to make use of it.

Acknowledging the heritage of the building and the difficulty of using it, in Spring 2016 Moto painted the tower in a cream colour, chosen to closely resemble its original colour. Its former colour was Moto's corporate turquoise, making this one of the first non-corporate decisions made by a service station operator.

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