Every great journey needs a service station – so in our new series we’ll be covering some of the country’s best, worst and most unusual motorway amenities based on the 1000s of Google reviews.
For the first installment, we look at the first ever service station in the UK, opened on the same day as the UK’s first ever motorway, the Watford Gap Services. It has an illustrious rock and roll history that may surprise you…
Watford Gap Services is a stalwart of the service station industry, famously straddling the supposed north-south divide as motorists pass through Northamptonshire on the M1.
The country’s oldest service station opened its doors on 2nd November 1959, coinciding with the first trickle of traffic down the lanes of the freshly-minted M1 motorway. Here’s what Watford Gap Services looked like in 1961; you can just about see it on the right there – an unobtrusive building designed by Harry Weedon, the architect for Odeon Cinemas.
Over the course of the last 56 years, Watford Gap Services has entered the cultural lexicon as perhaps the most frequently-cited name in roadside respite – notorious during its early days operated by the once-renowned Blue Boar, and still widely-known under current owners Roadchef.
In its time as a Blue Boar establishment, it became an infamous overnight stop-off point during the 1960s for myriad rock and roll hall of famers travelling the length of the country for gigs. The Beatles would stop in on regular trips between London and Liverpool, as would Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones (here’s a photo of Keith Richards standing next to an assortment of Watford Gap pastries back in 1963). Bands were talking about the place so much that Jimi Hendrix mistakenly formed a second-hand impression that the Blue Boar was a London nightclub.
Not all musicians spoke warmly of Watford Gap Services, however. In 1977 – after a decline in quality as a result of the recession and low-end food at high-end prices – folk singer Roy Harper penned a scathing ode directed at (and named after) this particular stop-off point.