When the early motorways were being designed, motorway services would be referred to internally by number, prefixed with 'S.A.' (for 'service area').
Numbers were used because when engineers were planning motorways, the precise location of services would initially be very vague and prone to change. As the plans became more fixed, a name would then start to be used alongside the number, with the numbers phased out before the plans went public. Some of their documents used a template with 'S.A.' already written, so the engineer or minister could just add the number by hand.
How the services were numbered
Numbers would often be allocated in sets as each new road was examined. The numbering doesn't relate to the order in which the services were opened or designed. However, the gaps in the numbers can tell us where more services were supposed to go. Services which are missing from the numbering were usually planned much later than the rest.
There is no official list of the Ministry of Transport's numbers. As they were mostly used by engineers making rough plans it's no surprise that most of the evidence we need has been lost or destroyed, and maybe some of it was never even written down in the first place. It seems they didn't even share their notes with each other, as a few of the numbers went on to be used twice (incidentally, the same is true of the UK road numbering system too).
Through the 1970s evidence becomes increasingly harder to find. Perhaps, once the UK had stopped building major inter-city motorways, there was then no need to have a system for planning services. All we know for sure is that by the 1980s service area planning had become so frantic there was no point having a system at all; confused documents for the M25 never mention any numbers.
No other official numbering system ever existed. One Highways Agency document from 1995 does number all the motorway service areas, but that appears to be for that list only: it numbers them all by road number only until 1975, and then has a second batch, with a few more at the end. There are no skipped numbers and the only unfulfilled site was Tiverton.
Finding the numbers
Credit must go to David Lawrence and his book Food On The Move, which first alerted us to the system. We have since found documents confirming all of the numbers used by the book (bar one) and quite a few more.
Seeing as the Ministry of Transport was renamed 'Department for the Environment' and again to 'Department of Transport' while these numbers were being allocated, we should have chosen a different name for this page. Still, it has stuck now, and it was the MOT who introduced them.
Below is a list of all the MOT Numbers we are aware of.
|Number (prefixed 'S.A.')||Eventual name||Notes|
|1||Redbourn||One of the original five. Redbourn never built, was proposed for many years. Number 1 is sometimes incorrectly assigned to Breakspears maintenance compound.|
|2||Toddington||One of the original five.|
|3||Newport Pagnell||One of the original five.|
|4||Rothersthorpe||Not built until years after being allocated. One of the original five.|
|5||Watford Gap||One of the original five.|
|7||Keele||Adjacent to 6. One of the first to open|
|8||Sandbach||Adjacent to 7. Site was reserved and later used - an example of the system working!|
|9||Knutsford||Adjacent to 8|
|10||Newton-le-Willows||Adjacent to 9. Never built, rarely referenced|
|11||Charnock Richard||Adjacent to 10.|
|12||Broughton||Never built. Would have been adjacent to 11.|
|14||Kempshott / Newland Common||Have found documents confirming both. Newland Common was adjacent to 13. Neither were built. Kempshott was identified at the same time as Fleet (number not known) and Trumps Green (number 69).|
|17||Leicester Forest East||Adjacent to 16|
|18||Long Whatton||Adjacent to 17. Never built|
|19||Trowell||Adjacent to 18|
|20||Tibshelf||Adjacent to 19. The Tibshelf we know is slightly off from this plan|
|21||Woodall||Adjacent to 20|
|22||Sprotbrough||Adjacent to 21 - the A1(M) here is older than the M1, so the numbering followed that route|
|23||Forton||Next motorway to be planned after M1 to Yorkshire|
|24||Harborough Magna||Never built|
|25||Corley||Adjacent to 24|
|26||Essington||DL says it is but Essington and Hilton Park were never proposed alongside. Was it Perry Barr?|
|28||Wilcrick||Never built. As far as we know, this is the only non-English service area to be numbered, as after this Wales and Scotland managed their own motorways.|
|29||Aust||Adjacent to 28|
|30||Pucklechurch||Never built. Adjacent to 29|
|32||Heston||Not the original suggestion but I have evidence|
|33||Datchet or Warren Copse||Adjacent to 32. Not clear which plan this was based on.|
|34||unknown||Could it have been Ashes Copse or Membury?|
|35||unknown||Leigh Delamere / Ballard's Ash would have fit|
|36||Chapeltown||Adjacent to 21 - that gap is because of the way the M1 was planned. Never built|
|37||Woolley Edge||Adjacent to 36|
|39||Scratchwood||It was a bodged plan really|
|40||unknown||Possibly one of the Westmorland/Cumberland services?|
|41||Clifton||Never built. Surely that makes Southwaite 42?|
|45||Rivington||Note how the numbers become more sparse now. Either there were a lot of unfinished plans, or allocation became more random with numbers being left spare.|
|49||Washington||This one was allocated a number quite late before opening. This may be because of its odd history.|
|50||Hartshead Moor||Of the ones we know so far, 41-50 have all been on the M62 or to the north of it. This may be a coincidence, or maybe the whole block was assigned to that region.|
|55||Knight's Farm||Never built (it was on the M4)|
|61||Gordano||Does this mean the rest of the M5 services would have had the surrounding numbers?|
|69||Trumps Green||Never built. Odd that it should be so far from Kempshott, to the point where we wonder whether it was numbered twice.|
|71||Woodmansterne||Never built, neither was the motorway|
|72||Shepheard's Hurst/Gatwick||Never built. Adjacent to 71.|
|84||Hensall / Exeter||Look at the numbering gap - so bizarre it should be allocated twice!|