Forton Services – M6 Lancaster

Possibly the most famous modern motorway services in the entire land.

Though I’ve never been to see you – I’ve seen your picture reproduced a thousand times or more, particularly your Pennine Tower.

Your even found your way onto a Manchester Modernist’s shirt.

I ride a bicycle, which seriously restricts my access to the world of the M – one and six or otherwise. Having a more than somewhat ambivalent outlook on motor cars and their ways I have nevertheless written a short history.

So to satisfy my idle curiosity, and fill the damp wasteland of a Bank Holiday Sunday afternoon, let’s go on a little trip back in time by means of archival images.

What of your history?

Tendering documents were sent out in 1962 describing it as a 17.7 acre site, requiring at least a £250,000 investment, including an eastern corner reserved for a picnic area, and an emphasis that the views to the west must be considered in the design, and facilities must be provided on both sides. Replies were received – from Telefusion Ltd, J Lyons, Banquets Catering Ltd, Granada and Rank

Top Rank’s plan came consistently highly rated by all the experts it was passed between. It showed a restaurant and a self-service café on the west side, the restaurant being at the top of a 96ft (29m) tower. At the top of the tower was a sun terrace – a roof with glass walls, which they had described but hadn’t included any suggestions for how it could be used, adding that maybe it could form an observation platform, serve teas, or be reserved for an additional storey to the restaurant.

Including a transport café on each site, seating was provided for 700 people, with 101 toilets and 403 parking spaces. A kiosk and toilets were provided in the picnic area.

“The winning design looks first class. Congratulations.”

Architects T P Bennett & Sons had been commissioned to design the services, along with the similar Hilton Park. At £885,000, it was the most expensive service station Rank built, and was considerably more than what had been asked of them. They won the contract, but on a condition imposed by the Landscape Advisory Committee that the height of the tower was reduced to something less striking.

Lancaster was opened in 1965 by Rank under the name ‘Forton’. The petrol station opened early in January, with some additional southbound facilities opening that Spring.

The southbound amenity building had a lowered section with a Quick Snacks machine and the toilets. Above it was the transport café which had only an Autosnacks machine, where staff loaded hot meals into the back and customers paid to release them. These were the motorway network’s first catering vending machines, and the Ministry of Transport were won round by the idea, but Rank weren’t – they removed them due to low demand.

In 1977, Egon Ronay rated the services as appalling. The steak and kidney pie was an insult to one’s taste buds while the apple pie was an absolute disgrace. He said everywhere needed maintenance and a coat of paint, the toilets were smelly and dirty, and the food on display was most unattractive.

A 1978 government review described the services as a soulless fairground.

The Forton Services and the typology generally have had a chequered career, rising and falling in public favour and perception. Purveying food and facilities of varying quality, changing style and vendors with depressing regularity – knowing the value of nothing yet, the Costas of everything.

Ironically the prematurely diminished tower has taken on iconic status in the Modernist canon – listed in 2012 yet closed to the public, admired from afar – in a car.

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.

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.

Many thanks to Motorway Services Online

Take a look at you now.

No more postcards home – y’all come back now, set a spell.

Fusciardi’s – Eastbourne

Antonio Fusciardi emigrated in the 1960s in search of a better life. He opened a number of businesses in Ireland. In 1965 he met Anna Morelli at an Italian wedding and romance blossomed. The couple married and set up home in Marine Parade, Eastbourne. They worked very hard in establishing the business and attributed their success to ambition, dedication and the family.

It say so here

30 Marine Parade just set back from the seafront, selling the most delicious ice creams, decorated with the most delightful tiles.

I have seen similar in Hanley

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And Halifax

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These being produced by Malkin Tiles

But neither of the former are anywhere near as nice as these Eastbourne examples.

So get yourself down there feast your eyes on these beauties.

Treat y’self to an ice cream too!

Fusciardi’s – often licked never beaten!

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St James Coffee House – Burnley

124 St James’s Street Burnley Lancashire BB11 1NL

Having never ever been, I thought it time to go.

To Burnley.

Several trains from Stockport later, along the length of the East Lancs Line, I arrived at Burnley Manchester Road Station via the reinstated Todmorden Curve.

Having wandered aimlessly awhile, it was time for a spot to eat – and there it was a vision to behold before my very eyes.

St James Coffee House

We’re situated in the town centre on St James’ Street, just a little bit further down from DW Sports – the old JJB store and next to the entrance to the old Empire Theatre, when you get to the art gallery you’ve gone too far!

The menu had caught my eye – pie!

To get in and get some grub was my sole and urgent imperative.

A warm welcome awaited, and even warmer food, served with alacrity and aplomb – tasty homemade meat and potato pie, chips, peas and gravy. A soft light crust and mushiest mushy peas – a real delight, seen off in no time and all washed down with a piping hot mug of tea.

£4.40 all in – service with a smile, in cosy, comfortable, traditional café surroundings.

I’ll be back – go and treat y’self soon.

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Al Faisal – Thomas Street Manchester

Things, as we know, come and go – by 1807 Thomas Street had arrived.

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At the heart of the new Manchester – providing dwellings, shops, pubs and manufacturing premises for the masses.

One of the earliest architectural complexes of the Industrial Revolution.

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Pifco – Manchester Manufacturing

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Bay Horse 1970

Both pubs have survived and the street is home to several relative newcomers, including the Richard Goodall Gallery and celebrated men’s outfitters Oi Polloi.

Also the location of my most favourite shop in the whole wide world.

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From the 70’s onwards the area had been at the centre of the Asian garment trade – and so it came to pass some 26 years ago the Al Faisal arrived, one of several curry cafés, feeding the faces of the passing parade.

I’ve eaten there for most of that time, fed very well indeed thank you very much, for way less than a king’s ransom.

Yesterday I popped in at teatime, for my tea – posters proclaimed an imminent move.

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The whole block is to be demolished and a hotel to be built – there is naturally a suspicious resistance to such change, what was a protected area of historical interest, is fast becoming a deregulated playground for the avaricious developer.

A Manchester council spokesman said:

Our building control officers have been engaged with owner of the property on Thomas Street for some time.

The condition of the building means there is an imminent danger of collapse and a potential threat to pedestrians. Unfortunately, the poor weather has only served to add to our concern over the safety of the building.

A conservation specialist will be on site working closely with the building owner to ensure as much of the fabric of the property can be retained as possible, and only parts that are unsalvageable will be removed to ensure public safety.

Manchester Evening News

Rumours have also been rife concerning the fate of the nearby This & That – an essential part of the heartbeat of the city – the affordable independent trader.

I sat and ate happily, and was privileged to be given a tour of the kitchens by owner Tariq, recording for posterity a site of some culinary and social consequence.

Let’s take a look around and look forward to a meal just across the road real soon.

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The Beefeater Grill – Halifax

1 George Street, Halifax, West Yorkshire, HX1 1HA

The Beefeater Grill and Griddle is a long established family run grill and coffee house located at George Square Halifax. The place has an old fashioned feel to it and serves typical English cafe food which seems to make it popular amongst its local regulars.

Long may it do so.

Strangers to the town we wandered the streets in search of sustenance.

Bewitched bothered and bewildered – seduced by the tiles and signage, it was love at first sight.

The ability and will to resist the broad brush of regeneration and reinvention is all to rare, the traditional café is constantly under threat – the Beefeater has prevailed.

A stunning tiled exterior, a multi level interior and a menu to match, it’s win, win, win all the way.

We went inside and ate.

 

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Harbour Bar – Scarborough

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1-3 Sandside, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 1PE.

Do you remember the first time?

Sometime around 2011, I fell in love with the Harbour Bar Scarborough.

A family business serving home made ice cream since 1945.

It’s a magical world of mirrors, melamine, signs and ice creams.

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Since then I’ve been back for a banana split and take the opportunity to take a few more snaps, I never leave anything less than overwhelmingly happy and full.

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San Remo Coffee Bar – Rochdale

Sanremo or San Remo is a city on the Mediterranean coast of western Liguria in north-western Italy. Founded in Roman times, it has a population of 57,000, and is known as a tourist destination on the Italian Riviera. It hosts numerous cultural events, such as the Sanremo Music Festival and the Milan–San Remo cycling classic.

Rochdale is a market town in Greater Manchester, England, positioned at the foothills of the South Pennines on the River Roch, 5.3 miles north-northwest of Oldham, and 9.8 miles  north-northeast of the city of Manchester. Rochdale is surrounded by several smaller settlements which together form the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale, population 211,699. Rochdale is the largest settlement and administrative centre, with a total population of 107,926. Home to the Cooperative Movement, Rochdale AFC and a redundant cotton industry.

The two towns come together at 27 Drake Street, Rochdale, Lancashire OL161RX, home to a fine café and Italian born Tony and family. It has a well preserved menu that reflects industrial Lancastrian tastes rather than flavours of Liguria. It has an internal decorative order that is pure mid century a la mode – Pennine Style. Several more than several signs leave you in no doubt as to the availability of pies, pies with chips/potatoes, peas, gravy, veg – pies of all varieties, pies.

So pie, chips, peas and gravy it was, with a mug of tea – it always is.

Pop in say Buongiorno!

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