Former Pennine Tower Restaurant at Forton Motorway Service Area (now known as Lancaster Service Area), M6


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Statutory Address:
Lancaster Service Area, Junction 32/33 M6 Motorway, White Carr Lane, Nr Lancaster, LA2 9DU


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Statutory Address:
Lancaster Service Area, Junction 32/33 M6 Motorway, White Carr Lane, Nr Lancaster, LA2 9DU

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Wyre (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Tower and cantilevered restaurant at motorway service station. 1964-5. Designed by London-based architects' Practice T P Bennett & Sons for Top Rank Motor Inns; architect in charge Bill Galloway, job architect Ray Anderson. Reinforced concrete, asbestos cement sheeting between cased stanchions of tower, acoustic tiles on soffit of restaurant to reduce reflection of road noise.

Reasons for Designation

The former Pennine Tower Restaurant on the north-bound side of Forton Service Area (now known as Lancaster Service Area) is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Historic interest: motorway service stations were a new post-war building type dependant upon the development of Great Britain's motorway network commencing in the late 1950s, with Forton an early example and one of the most striking, being distinguished by its unique landmark 22 m tower with cantilevered restaurant and sun deck; * Innovation: Forton demonstrated a new popularist architecture ideally suited to the democratic new aesthetic of the motorway, the Pennine Tower Restaurant acting both as a beacon to attract the passing motorists and as a glamorous vantage point from which they were able to enjoy spectacular prospects of the motorway below and more extensively over the miles of surrounding countryside through which they passing; * Architectural interest: the significant component of the service station complex is the hexagonal Pennine Tower Restaurant which is reminiscent in form to an airport control tower, evoking the modern glamour of 1960s air travel and also drawing on the progressive urban movement of this period of constructing towers with restaurants and observation platforms; * Architect: TP Bennett & Sons was a well-regarded architects' practice established in the inter-war period when they developed an expertise in cinema and theatre architecture such as the former Saville Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, London (Grade II), continuing their dramatic emphasis in the post-war period with such notable buildings as the eye-catching, modernist Smithfield Poultry Market of 1961-3 (Grade II); * Selectivity: the special interest is confined to the former Pennine Tower Restaurant, excluding the lower-level buildings, which have been compromised by later extensions and alterations, and the footbridge, which, whilst being an integral element, is not technologically innovative.


Post-war reconstruction and decentralisation in Great Britain in the 1950s increased the need for new fast freight and passenger links. Motor transport was favoured, and in the late 1950s and early 1960s an arterial network of motorways began to be developed. The first motorway to be built in Britain was the eight-mile Preston by-pass (subsequently part of the M6), which opened in December 1958; a 75-mile section of the M1 followed in 1959.

Service stations were necessary for the rest and refuelling of both vehicles and passengers, but their comprehensively planned facilities were also a direct expression of the perceived significance of motorways, identified by Harold Macmillan upon the opening of Preston By-pass, as a key symbol of Britain's technological, cultural, and economic progress. Prior to their development, travellers' needs had been catered for by inter-war roadhouses, aimed squarely at middle class motorists who drove as a pastime and saw them as destinations, with separate transport cafes serving freight hauliers, and also tea rooms catering for car drivers. None really comprehensively fulfilled the diverse needs of motorway travellers. Practical examples of a new approach came from abroad, particularly the private service areas built on the Italian autostrade and American tollways and turnpikes. These services, planned for 24-hour operation offering a range of catering, lobbies with gift shops, telephones and lavatories, fuel and vehicle repairs. The first motorway service area in Britain was opened in 1959 by Blue Boar (Motorways) Ltd at Watford Gap on the M1. Other companies then became involved in the motorway trade as the network expanded across the country. One of the operators was Top Rank Motor Inns, an off-shoot of the film and dance hall company. They opened Farthing Corner (now Medway) on the M2 and Knutsford on the M6 in 1963, Forton (now Lancaster) on the M6 in 1965, Aust on the M4 (now Severn View, M48) in 1966, and Hilton Park (now Birmingham North) also on the M6 in 1967.

Forton Services was designed by the London-based architects' practice T P Bennett & Sons. The practice had evolved during the 1920s building apartment blocks in the west end of London before expanding to design commercial ventures including theatres and cinemas; their inter-war former Saville Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London is designated at Grade II. During the post-war period the practice diversified, designing Smithfield Poultry Market, London, in 1961 (Grade II). They also became involved in motorway architecture at an early stage, designing Strensham Services (since rebuilt) on the M5 in 1962 for the Kenning Motor Group. Subsequently they designed Forton, opened in 1965, Hilton Park, opened in 1967, and Anderton (now Bolton West), opened in 1971. The architect in charge of Forton was Bill Galloway, and Ray Anderson was the job architect. Top Rank left both the development of the brief and the detail of the design up to the architects.

The village of Forton lies seven miles south of Lancaster, virtually halfway between London and Edinburgh, presenting the opportunity to build a half-way house for those using the new M6. In addition, the Ministry of Transport policy was to site service areas 'in places where the motorway passed through pleasant rural scenery, so that their potential users might find them attractive and restful', and Forton was well situated for views: to the Lake District to the north, the Pennines to the east, and Morecambe Bay and Blackpool to the west and south. The Ministry also imagined that service areas would be clean and functional, serving the needs of the through-passing traveller, and it is now express government policy that motorway service areas should be there to serve the travelling public and not as destinations, or have uses, such as gyms, cinemas, or swimming pools, which would make them a destination. However, when first built, the spectacle of modernity and twenty four hour opening imbued a glamour which inevitably proved a draw to locals from the nearby towns of Lancaster, Preston, and Blackpool. This was not a phenomenon which was to last.

The architects designed the site on the 'railway station' principle with facilities provided on either side of the motorway linked by a footbridge. This was the earliest form of motorway service station in England, as employed at Watford Gap (1959), though here they played to the strengths of the location by also building a 20m (65ft) high tower resembling an airport control tower on the north-bound side. Travellers could enjoy a waitress-served meal in the Pennine Tower Restaurant (with 120 covers) whilst taking in the novel experience of cars speeding past at seventy miles an hour and overlooking the beautiful landscape in which the service area was set (it had been intended to build the tower 30.5m (100ft) high but was reduced in height at the behest of the local authority planners). Above the restaurant was an open sun-deck or observation floor. Self-service cafeterias and transport cafés for the hauliers were also provided in one and two-storey buildings on both sides of the motorway. The footbridge was designed by the Lancashire County Engineering Department, and clad by the architects.

Work was carried out on the lower level buildings in 1988-9 by Northern Building Design Associates. Subsequent work, most recently in 2007, was undertaken by KMB Associates. Within the northbound building the main staircase has been replaced by a realigned flight and the hexagonal stair up to the first-floor cafeteria was floored over. A recent extension on the ground floor encompasses the originally engaged shaft of the tower, and replaces the original main entrance doorway from the car park. There has also been a degree of reconfiguration, with the ground-floor lavatories moved up to the first floor to make way for shops, arcades, and a coffee shop. All finishes are of recent origin. There is no longer a separate transport café for hauliers and the tower restaurant was closed in 1989, partly as a result of the cost of meeting current fire escape regulations. The southbound side has been significantly altered and extended.

Forton Service Area is now known as Lancaster Service Area.


PLAN: the engaged hexagonal shaft of the tower is situated at the south-east corner of the original service station on the north-bound side of the M6. The tower shaft contains two lifts, a curved staircase, and a row of three small service lifts. The cantilevered hexagonal plan restaurant (no longer in use) has an open sun deck on the roof.

EXTERIOR: the hexagonal tower shaft has projecting cased stanchions with a narrow vertical window to the centre of each wall face. The wall faces are covered in corrugated asbestos sheeting. The cantilevered restaurant has glazed curtain walling, the window frames now painted green, with a concrete and metal balcony railing to the sun deck above, now painted green (originally contained glazed panels).

INTERIOR: the tower shaft (not accessible to the general public) retains two adjacent pentagonal lifts and a helical staircase which rise to the sun deck, and a row of three small service lifts for transporting food up to the restaurant. At restaurant level the lifts and stair shaft are surrounded by a lift foyer with flanking lavatories and a large servery. Restaurant seating was originally located round the outside, beneath the windows, but the original fixtures and fittings have been removed and temporary partition walls erected to sub-divide the space into offices (not in use). The servery retains its timber soffits, some geometric blue and white wall tiles, and fish-scale tiles forming an open screen.


Books and journals
Lawrence, D, Always A Welcome: The Glove Compartment History of the Motorway Service Area, (1999)
Lawrence, D, Food on the Move: The Extraordinary World of the Motorway Service Area, (2010)
Lawrence, D, Motorway Service Areas. A report by David Lawrence for the English Heritage Post-1939 Listing Programme, 12 March 1999,


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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