Motorway Services Online

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History of Barnsdale Bar services

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Barnsdale Bar Autogrill.jpg
The restaurant as it opened, as a Fortes Autogrill.

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Opened as Forte Autogrill 1963?
Northbound Little Chef opened 1980
Southbound Little Chef opened 1988
Little Chefs closed 2004
Little Chefs opened 2005
Little Chefs closed 2012

Barnsdale Bar is a pair of facilities on either side of the A1 near Doncaster, best known for the large restaurant building. It was built in a style similar to the motorway service areas that were being opened at the time, and built by a motorway operator, but this one was developed privately.

Name

The service area is named after the site of the former Barnsdale toll gate or 'bar', which was situated at the junction between the Great North Road and the Pontefract Road during the era of horse-drawn coaches, before the growth of the railways.

For marketing purposes this place has often been referred to as 'Doncaster services', but then so have several other nearby facilities.

Opening

In the early 1960s, Fortes were establishing a chain of motorway service areas. For them, it was important to get there before any competitors did, as there were only limited contracts available. In practice, they found the regulations and requirements associated with each contract to be quite onerous.

To the south of here, the new A1(M) opened in 1961, but had no service station contracts immediately available. Fortes therefore decided to take advantage of the increasing traffic levels and the lack of regulations here by building their own service station, exactly as they wanted it: catering for high-end families and businesspeople while excluding 'working' lorry drivers.

Along with a similar site at Oxford Peartree, Barnsdale Bar opened under Fortes's exclusive Autogrill brand, with Kenwell providing the catering. The building, next to the southbound carriageway, had a distinctive roof painted orange, with a spire by the entrance, which fronted the A1. There was a large restaurant and a shop, as well as an additional building behind it. A glass footbridge was provided to cross between the two sides, with large car parks and a small forecourt on each side.

Fortes's publicity for Keele services in November 1963 appears to show Barnsdale Bar on the map, which suggests it had opened before then.

Towards the end of the 1960s, the Pontefract branch of Fortes's Excelsior Motor Lodge opened up on the land behind the main building. It was an American-styled motel with bright lights. It looked like a cross from above, with a short tower section.

Changes

Fortes's Autogrill name was phased out before too long in favour of their own name. Fortes later rebranded all of their service stations to 'Trusthouse Forte' and then (in 1974) to 'Motorchef', and this happened at Barnsdale Bar too. It's likely it was branded Welcome Break from 1988. Forte's restaurants were added, including The Granary and a carvery.

In 1988, The Granary was replaced by Little ChefHistory. The building was extended and the entrance moved to face the car park. Coupled with the northbound side (explained below), it became a pair of restaurants.

The building gained a Coffee Stop, which became a Café Nescafe. Granada changed this to a Burger King, which was later removed and became a Coffee Tempo!.

The hotel had become one of the early TraveLodge motels by the 1980s. As Travelodge moved into the budget accommodation market and were trying to be consistent with their branches, this one had become tired, so in the early 1990s the hotel was demolished and rebuilt in a more typical 'lodge' style, with a brick building forming an L-shape. It was a two-storey construction with one storey built below ground level.

In 1994, Forte proposed building a new "motorway services building" at Woodfield Road, an address immediately south of Barnsdale Bar. The address may have been an error, but the application was registered with Doncaster Borough Council, who are responsible for the land south of here. This suggests Forte were actively considering replacing their own site.

In 2010 the Shell service stations were demolished and rebuilt, allowing the addition of a Select stores on the forecourts, with a Coffee Republic coffee machine situated inside. The Coffee Republic machines were replaced with Costa Express in 2012.

Northbound Side

Little Chef Barnsdale.
The northbound restaurant as a Little Chef.

Initially the catering facilities were on the southbound side only, meaning northbound traffic had to stop and walk over the footbridge.

Forte decided to stop that detour in 1980, when they added to the existing choice by building a Little ChefHistory. At the time, this was the first Little Chef here, and it opened outside Barnsdale at the same time as a Little Chef opened outside Peartree. It was painted white with a flat roof, and stripey awning all around.

The idea was that Barnsdale Bar customers would now have a choice between the southbound Granary and the northbound Little Chef, but in particular, that northbound customers would be more likely to visit if they didn't need to walk across the bridge. The latter point proved to be more important, with few customers choosing to use the bridge. A Coffee Stop was added to this Little Chef in the '90s.

The bridge between the two sides was demolished in the early 2000s.

Closure

Abandoned restaurant.
The restaurant building, closed in 2019.

Little Chef and Travelodge were being operated as one company when they were purchased by Permira in 2002. Permira were supportive of Travelodge, but must have had reservations about this branch. In 2004, both restaurants at Barnsdale Bar was closed and locked up with furniture still inside.

Little Chef were sold on were sold on in 2005. Unusually, this deal included the Travelodge. New owners People's Restaurant Company decided to reopen both restaurants, and rebranded the Travelodge as Days Inn. To raise cash, some restaurants had their land sold and leased back, and that deal included this motel.

A Coffee Tempo! was added to the southbound side in 2006, shortly followed by a Burger King.

In 2012, Little Chef Express replaced Coffee Tempo! at a time when then owners R Capital had decided to close 67 other branches. This implied a continued commitment to Barnsdale Bar, but in September 2012 both sides of Barnsdale Bar were included in an extended wave of closures. Little Chef's IT department had been moved to the building at Barnsdale Bar.

The southbound restaurant became DD's, while the motel became Southside Lodge and then Metro Inns, both of which have now closed down. Even under DD's, the restaurant had plenty of Little Chef red paint, and the toilets appeared to still be tiled in Fortes green. Meanwhile Metro Inns still had Days Inn colours and shapes inside.

The Future

The former northbound restaurant is now a Pulse & Cocktails Adult Superstore. The abandoned southbound facilities were visited by urban explorers in a 2020 YouTube video.

23.5 Degrees submitted plans to build a Starbucks Drive Thru in the former southbound hotel car park in January 2019. The proposal was withdrawn later in the year.

A second planning application was submitted in March 2020. This time the plans included the Starbucks Drive Thru and associated parking in the same position as before, but they added that the derelict restaurant building will be demolished to make way for a McDonald's Drive Thru restaurant and associated parking as well as two more units (planned to be occupied by Greggs and Subway) to be built within the hotel car park. The hotel building will remain.

This proposal includes six electric vehicle charging points to be built within the Starbucks car park. The planning proposal is resting on England's national highway authority receiving more information on how the increased traffic flow will be managed.

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