The £14,200,000 space-age tower left to rot by a UK motorway

The £14,200,000 space-age tower left to rot by a UK motorway

The tower stands high above the M6 motorway (Picture: David Dixon/Geograph.co.uk)

If you regularly use the M6 motorway you’ll no doubt be familiar with this bizarre, space-age building which towers above the road.

The Pennine Tower was built as part of the Forton motorway services in 1965 and it towers 90ft above the road which connects the Lancaster and Preston bypasses.

But if you’re taking the M6 for the first time, the tower’s design may cause you to look twice.

It was built in a futuristic (at the time) hexagonal shape and was intended to be used as a fine dining restaurant serving up lobster and steak.

When it opened, the 150-seat Pennine Tower was the highest motorway restaurant, and it had views of Morecambe Bay and an observation platform.

Forton motorway services was one of the first to be built in the UK, as growing numbers of car owners led to the development of our motorway networks.

It reportedly cost £885,000 to build – which in today’s money is equivalent to about £14.2 million.

The tower is no longer used (Picture: David Dixon/Geograph.co.uk)

As well as the Pennine Tower the services also feature an enclosed bridge, so visitors can use the facilities on both sides of the carriageway, along with two self-service cafeterias and facilities for lorry drivers.

In an archive of the now offline Forton Services website, the memories of a former Pennine Tower’s waitress, Noreen Blackburn, are recounted.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Noreen recalled leaving school in 1966 and going to work in the service’s separate cafeteria, filling shelves with sandwiches and cakes.

She said: ‘As I was eager to learn, my next job was serving tea and coffee – tea was made in a huge teapot and poured as necessary – coaches made the place very busy. The phrase used was the “tea and pee brigade”.

‘However, my greatest wish was to be a waitress in the tower and I really pushed the catering manager to consider me.

‘The uniform was so chic in a shade of mid-green with a pencil slim skirt which had to be just above knee level, a white blouse, a waistcoat with shiny chrome buttons and a Top Rank emblem embroidered on it.’

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Unfortunately, despite the restaurant’s lofty ambitions, the food left a lot to be desired. In 1978, acclaimed food critic, Egon Ronay called the restaurant’s food ‘an insult to one’s taste buds’, rating the food at the services as ‘appalling’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the restaurant didn’t last, and it was converted to a trucker’s lounge before closing completely in 1989.

The services were sold by its original owners, Top Rank, to Pavilion, who then sold it to Granada.

Now owned by Moto, the Forton services still serve motorists every day – but the tower remains closed off to the public.

The Pennine Tower under construction in December 1964 (Picture: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The tower was awarded Grade II listed status in 2012, with Historic England explaining: ‘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 [are] passing.’

The tower itself remains closed off to the public, and is out of use after having been used as an office and storage space for a number of years.

Photos taken about 10 years ago show how the inside of the tower has become a shadow of its former glory, with dated furniture piled up against the walls and sad green carpet looking worse for wear.

But despite being long abandoned, the Pennine Tower still evokes strong memories and fondness for the strange, UFO-like building hovering above the motorway.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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