Forton Services

Opened: 1965
Original owner: Toprank
Current Owner: Moto
Location: M6 J32/33

Opened as Forton, now known as Lancaster (Forton)

Very distinctive from the road- features a round tower that resembles a Air Traffic Control Tower, which originally was a restaurant, currently in use as offices. The tower is called The Pennine Tower.

An employee of Forton said that the Pennine Tower closed after complaints that it looked like an UFO when lit up at night and was distracting- (Sounds like an urban myth, but its a great tale, It is more likely that the services became too busy to handle the number of visitors- can anyone shed any light on this). Also we are curious to know when it closed?

Update: Eddy Rhead writes: “The tower is closed for that modern malaise Health and Safety! Apparently you need two alternative exits in case of a fire and with just one lift and one staircase coupled with a kitchen the risk is just too high.” 
We should have guessed it would be health and safety….

Eddy adds: ” I have always said that come the end of the world and the human race has to start again, the early travellers will come across Forton tower in the middle of Lancashire and wonder at its meaning – in Planet of the Apes type thingy. Probably! “

The southbound services was one of the first in the country to have self serve vending operation it was very advanced and stylish but only stayed open for 12 months it had huge problems.

The Second Motorway Services to open on the M6

Britain’s worst motorway crash on record happened near the site in 1985. 13 people were killed and many others injured after a coach and ten other vehicles collided.

A large MSA, with 6930m2 of space on the northbound side and 4960m2 on the Southbound side.

Houses a Police Station

Another urban myth – That the tower was built as a rotating restaurant but was never used due to the fuel crisis. Nope not true, but a nice idea!

Of all the sites listed on this site, this one is viewed the most.

Deano recalls the Pennine Tower Restaurant:

“As far as I can remember, you could take the stairs or the lift and it was self service and then paid at the till once you had chosen what you wanted to eat. There was also a juke box in the restaurant. I was only a child, but I always enjoyed listening to Billy Hayley’s Rock around the Clock.”

James Snodgrass recalls dining in the tower as recently as 1987

Deirdre, who used to work at Forton, writes:
“I worked for many years at Forton starting when it was Top Rank, you could only get to the Tower by 2 lifts no staircase was ever used by the general public but it had a rear staircase and was used to take the rubbish down as using the lifts was not allowed!
“The tower closed for a couple of reasons 1 was that at its closure it was in fact being used as a transport cafe and the drivers stopped using it (due to the prices) so it became to costly to run that was the real reason it was easier to put the few remaining drivers in with the rest in the main cafe with the other users and give them transport prices than keep the tower open,
Just before I transferred over from Granada to Granada Healthcare it was in use by the Regional ops Director Mr Lotts and his p.a. the views are stunning in fact several of us watched the last lunar eclipse from the roof amazing is the only word to describe it
I have fond memories of Forton Services I worked with great people and met some amazing people over the years
We lived locally and I can remember the wood that was cleared to build the services we used to walk our dog and watch the motorway and services being built, my mother in fact was one of the original staff when it was opened ”

The Tower, in 1972, when it was still in use as a restaurant, named “The Pennine Tower Restuarant”

Outside view (northbound):

More information

The following website has a lot of historical information about Forton, and the Pennine 
There are photos of Forton under construction, original plans for the services, and then and now photos from inside the tower- the surprising thing is some original features are *still* there!!!!
This is an excellent site, well worth a visit if you have any interest in Forton, or the M6 in the local area.


Deano – for the Memory, and the UFO story!
Eddy Rhead – For the details about the closure, and the Planet of the Apes thought!
James Snodgrass

Received votes so far and a sample of comments:

People who prefer this MSA 68
People happy to visit 27
People who avoid this MSA 21
Selection of comments received Certainly not bad, but I dont personally feel its as good as its made out to be. 08/04/2005 20:33:28
I hate all Roadchefs, but this has go to one of my favourite MSAs. Fountains, clean toilets, tastey food… 09/04/2005 20:35:40
Stafford Services Northbound – the cleanest, nicest toilets on the UK motorway network. These services are always a stopping point for me on any M6 journey. Southbound is ok, but not a patch on its neighbour. 03/05/2005 19:27:05
Burtonwood is probably the worst services on the network, even considering Rownhams! 06/07/2005 18:30:56
Toilets smell of P as does the underpass 06/08/2005 15:17:50
On the southbound site, there is a phallic fountan although rectangular shaped nonetheless with a little erupting fountain at the top. 18/08/2005 12:19:02
Clean, quiet, away from the M6, oh what a round about way to get to it I agree that N better than S09/09/2005 10:07:54
the staff are the nicest ever, i dont blame them for not wanting to get out bed i dont!!! 04/11/2005 16:44:44
Always my last stop before Blackpool, a welcome MSA before home ! 22/02/2006 23:31:51
During a recent snow storm, and subsequent road closures north bound, hundereds of people were stuck there and it was freezing. No information was provided either. I will definitely avoid this MSA (and all Motos) from now on. 17/03/2006 11:28:35
24/03/2006 15:05:46
I would like to nominate Tracy who works in the Wimpy Outlet as Employee of the Month for her customer service during my visit on April 10th. Quite simply, outstanding! I hope she gets the recogntion that her professionalism deserves. Ian B 28/04/2006 20:58:01
ugly and horrid is all i can say 30/04/2006 21:20:53
Westbound (towards Lpool) now totally closed (including Motel facility). Architecturally unrivalled – shame 30/05/2006 12:04:39
very clean, and handy to break down at! Handy stop on Megabus when the bus has no loo! 25/06/2006 18:09:36
This has always been my favourite MSA since I was a kid in the sixties. The restuarant over the road idea is great. 29/06/2006 18:55:00
Slow service, needs refurbishment, out of date. 02/07/2006 12:37:43
I was disapointed on Sunday 6/7/06 that their was no water available at either entrance for dogs. We were travelling home from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Annual Gala and luckily had some water with us,on the hottest day of the year so far. 04/07/2006 16:07:48
One of my favourite stops – friendly staff, clean toilets, great facilities, good cup of coffee 13/07/2006 18:56:23
A fabulous piece of iconic post-war architecture 11/09/2006 09:35:05
They have female staff cleaning in the mens toilets. Polishing mirrors while we are all stood there at the urinals! Bet they dont have male staff in female toilets! 29/09/2006 11:07:15
Great farm shop, great location and views. Lets you forget youre on a Motorway journey. 29/09/2006 12:28:34
best service station, ive ever been to, exciting innovitive and most of all better than the watford gap!!!14/11/2006 01:56:28
There seems to be lots of work going on now 16/11/2006 22:54:00
Nice farm shop & cafe 19/11/2006 13:54:43
southbound is best! Costa is the best! 16/01/2007 22:35:25
Truly great place to relax on a long journey! I especially love the lake. 21/02/2007 17:25:07
Great for a picnic- fantastic views 12/03/2007 20:13:12
Very clean, Very nice, Very smart 26/03/2007 12:28:26
Excellent tower building, nicknamed Space Station by many people I know. Shame it needs work inside. 22/04/2007 00:17:39
i stop there coz theres no others near. its good one for going to carlisle but dont think it offers alot of facilities 15/05/2007 10:48:02
They are now clamping vehicles even when they are not parked in the coach area, vehicle clamped in a delivery area for 20 mins and no sign stating it was a delivery area or 20 min limit. Charge now £330 to remove. Truckers beware !!! 24/05/2007 10:39:54
Much better atmosphere than North-bound; staff more interested in their duties. 28/08/2007 23:41:11
I feel this service station is rather good, though to eb honnest, the most boring one to visit, i wish they could expand and make it better, look at oxfords for example, simply outstanding 04/09/2007 00:24:34
Costly it may be, but the tower must be re-opened, passers-by have really taken it to their hearts.25/09/2007 15:51:43
I reckon it opened maybe as early as 1960. The whole family went there for a meal after a wedding. You could have wine with your meal 26/11/2007 10:42:03
I got into difficulty and the staff and manager were very helpful. It is always very clean and i always try and stop at this MSA 13/12/2007 15:14:17
Very quick to issue parking tickets although none found on car, only knew about it 2 weeks later when letter arrived in the post! Watch out!! Will not be using it again. 27/12/2007 13:14:40
First MSA I remember visiting. My dad liked the tower so much that he made a light fitting for back room that resembled it. 03/02/2008 22:52:58
Southbound is a pain the the backside, having no access to local roads. Minimum taxi fare from there is 30 quid (to J14). Yes, that does make me guilty of highway robbery. 03/02/2008 22:55:44
Excellent services. Stayed in hotel and was great half way stop down England 16/02/2008 19:27:25
One coment on here says The Forton ServicesTower is regarded by the company as a listed building and that it cant be re opened due to worries of asbestos,and that its regarded as being too expensive to repair have you any proof of this 01/03/2008 00:36:17
Most of the SA was shut at 10 in the evening. I thought their purpose was to serve the public when needed. 10/05/2008 12:42:24
i live locally and the tower at forton is a welcome sight shame it can,t be open agian. 27/09/2008 20:26:26
Needs Pulling down and replacing 16/12/2008 01:47:19
Happy to come any time i am in the area 08/10/2009 17:59:01
Fond memories of Forton. Still a very striking design. 20/10/2009 20:47:02
lovely views, bright airy restaurant upstairs 06/04/2010 11:39:31
Unfiortunately MOTO do have male cleaners in the female toilets as well as female cleaners polishing mirrors while men are using urinals. They have no repect for their customers privacy and are putting women and children at risk. 12/05/2010 17:58:41
Great piece of optimistic 1960s architecture. The views from the tower should be made available to the public (even if this means building an extra escape staircase to ground level) and if its not Grade II listed already it should be! 23/03/2011 07:22:28


  1. The services are ok but when we parked never noticed any signs for parking fees or parking restrictions. It was dark when we got there. First we know was a ticket through the post. Avoid at all cost. Use ones before or after.

  2. Hi – I’m in the process of creating a blog called gastrorian, tracing my memories of food and eating out. I was raised in Morecambe and so want to write about Forton Services. I wondered if it would be possible for me to have access to your black and white photo of Pennine Tower and the colour one underneath on this page? I will credit you for them and link people to this website.

    Kind regards

  3. I was a local girl and we used to have birthday parties at top rank, as I was then known. I remember as the big treat we where allowed to go right up to the top, the viewing level and have a group photo taken. I grew up with this fantastic building as a backdrop and eventually went to work there in the burger bar in my first summer home from uni. I fell in love with the place and still to this day, I’m 57, it was the best place I’ve ever worked. It was it’s own world. Such a mix of people, regularly we had famous faces pass through. When I first started the tower was the staff area. We had our lunch there and if I recall correctly we walked through the drivers cafe into our eating area in a separate bit, but we queued up with the drivers along the servery. We where well looked after, decent pay, free meal, uniform and free transport. Regular staff nights out where something I’ll never forget!! I eventually worked there full time, snack bar /burger bar supervisor and then up to the main restaurant as shift supervisor. I could literally talk all day about this place. I only left because I was pregnant with my oldest daughter but my younger brother started work there at 16 in the then newly built travel hotel. If you ever get chance to see a video by the group half man half biscuit for their song dickie Davis eyes.. That was filmed at forton services on a day I was working. The original version, which I can’t find anywhere, had more footage and I unknowingly appeared twice. The only version I can find now has less footage for some reason but that’s just one memory from my best job ever


  1. The Pennine Tower - PHOTOPHILE - […] a second website containing some urban myths (tower had to be closed as it looked so much like a…

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