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History of Oxford Peartree services

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Peartree Motor Lodge.jpg
The entrance to the Fortes Motor Lodge.

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Opened as Forte Autogrill 1964
Re-branded Motor Chef 1974
Re-branded Welcome Break 1988
Bought by Granada 1995
Granada branding removed 2002
Sold to Welcome Break 2010

Peartree can trace its history back to the Fortes Motor Lodge Oxford, the upmarket name Fortes gave to this grand service station when it opened on 29 June 1964. It remained with them until it was transferred to Granada in 1996.

When it opened, the main building had an Autogrill restaurant with a charcoal grill and a 24-hour snack bar. The walls down to the basement toilets were lined with carpet. The building was built in the same style as the Autogrill at Barnsdale Bar, and was positioned to be visible from the old A34. It had a distinctive red roof, and a conservatory area by the roundabout.

Outside were 350 parking spaces. There was a small petrol station in the middle of the complex, with fuel brands including Shell.

Although at the time there were no motorways near here, this was still the junction of several major roads, and Fortes wanted to introduce their facilities without the hassle and regulations encountered when running a motorway service area.

City of Oxford Motor Services used the car park beside the hotel as the terminus for a new bus route. Launching in November 1964, they encouraged commuters to park in the empty hotel car park during the day, in doing so creating what's believed to be the world's first park and ride bus service. The experiment ran until August 1965, after which the concept was deemed a success and a formal park and ride system was created.


The upmarket service area was known for its two hotels.

The main one, 'Excelsior Motor Lodge', opened with the service area. The rooms were arranged in three two-storey blocks, with stone cladding and blue panels. At the front, the rooms had a car port with a garage, while at the back was a balcony overlooking a grass lawn by the A43 dual carriageway. In the middle of this was an outdoor swimming pool by the dual carriageway, with a diving board and sun loungers.

An ancillary building on the entry road acted as a drive-through reception area on the entry road.

When it opened, the other side of the car park was spare land. In spring 1965, the Oxford Motel was built here. This one was a single two-storey building, with its own drive thru area at the point, and glass panels. It boasted about its "long halls" and two bars.

This hotel had 60 rooms and was operated by Watney Lyon, a joint venture between Watney Mann and Graham Lyon.

Fortes Changes

Peartree building.
The old takeaway building.

Several changes were made to the service area, introducing a carvery to the main building, and then the country's first Granary restaurant. The swimming pool was filled in, though it can be made out on aerial views as recently as 1999.

HGVs were banned from the service area from November 1979. Forte stated that this was because the parking area was too small and weak, and the entrance too tight. The parking areas were formally marked up and the area at the back became for coaches only, with a servicing building. Forte had an unhappy relationship with HGV drivers at many of their sites, as there was more money to be made from families.

The former reception building became a Little ChefHistory in 1981, and the complex was now widely known as 'Oxford services'. It was the first Little Chef to open at a comprehensive service area like this. The building was painted bright white and red, and maintained its steep roof, with the drive thru filled in, leaving just a mysterious approach road. The Little Chef was actually some distance from the car park, and had a zebra crossing to allow customers to cross the main road; it was better positioned for hotel customers.

Forte applied their newly-acquired Welcome Break branding to the service area in 1988. A secondary takeaway building served coffee from the main car park.

Forte rebranded the Excelsior Motor Lodge as TraveLodge in the 1980s, and was then renamed Welcome Lodge. The Watney Lyon motel became Oxford Lodge.

Under Granada

When Granada purchased Forte, they were soon forced to sell all of Welcome Break's motorway service areas - but Oxford was left out of that because it wasn't on a motorway.

The Welcome Break branding had to be removed. Granada moved the Little Chef in to the main building, with a coffee shop, a Granada Shop, game arcade, and a Burger King. The old Little Chef was demolished, leaving the old driveway behind.

With the opening of the Peartree park and ride site down the road (which came much later than the earlier trial), and the upgraded roundabout being named 'Peartree Roundabout', the facilities became known as Oxford Peartree. Some Granada posters called it just "Oxford" as recently as 1996.

Throughout the 1990s there was a plan to demolish and rebuild the main building, but this didn't happen. Instead, just the external areas were refreshed.

The petrol station and its tiny sales shop were demolished and replaced by a larger Shell forecourt, positioned much further back, in the old coach area. This created space for the coach park to be moved from the back to the front. A more formal road layout was introduced, with an access road running all around the site, instead of the less organised arrangement which had existed previously.

Meanwhile, the two hotels were now 40 years old, and considered to be outdated and inefficient. The Oxford Lodge building was significantly extended, gaining a new three-storey building. The old driveway was removed. Granada wanted to take forward an old Forte proposal to demolish the old Travelodge, turning the area into a 155-bed Posthouse hotel and spa with 172 parking spaces. This would have been the first Posthouse to open in 20 years, making it a major development.

After Granada

Corridor leading to a welcome sign.
The entrance of the building in 2009, under Little Chef ownership.

By the time the new hotel actually opened, Granada had passed all its service areas on to Compass, and Compass had sold the hotel chains on. The planned Posthouse actually opened as a Holiday Inn, operated by them. During the expansion, evidence of the long-defunct drive-thru reception was finally removed.

Meanwhile, the Oxford Lodge reopened as Travelodge. This would be operated by Travelodge and the two would cater for very different markets. This hotel has since been extended again, meaning this once very green area is now entirely built over.

Under Compass, the restaurant became their first Little Chef Choices, where it gained an Upper Crust counter and a joint Little Chef/Harry Ramsden's/Caffè Ritazza menu. This was removed. The game arcade then became a Coffee Tempo!.

As Little Chef was itself sold on several times, it became a small business that was responsible for a large site. Inside and especially outside there was evidence of poor upkeep all around. Even so, Little Chef said they liked the branch, and claimed they were disappointed when their lease expired and they were denied the opportunity to renew it. The landlord was believed to be Merton College.

At the time, the entrance led to a corridor on the far right on the building. The dining area was on the left, with the shop straight ahead.

Welcome Break took over the building in April 2010 and stripped it out, with the new facilities opening on 9 July 2010. This meant it had now been owned by Welcome Break on two separate occasions. Their takeover extended to the main facilities only, meaning they do not operate the hotels.

Under Welcome Break, a new entrance was created which led to a corridor through the middle of the building. Roughly, the old lobby area became Starbucks, the old shop became KFC, and the old restaurant area became Waitrose, although the new layout looked nothing like the old one. Coffee Primo had been expected to open here, but Starbucks was selected instead.

Welcome Break acquired the Shell forecourt, and changed it to their own name in December 2020. They opened a Greggs store in December 2022, in line with their other A-road sites.

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