Motorway Services Online

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MOT Numbers

A document showing Leicester Forest East, service area 17.
A document referring to Leicester Forest East by name and number.

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.
6 Doxey Never built
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.
13 Strensham
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).
15 Farthing Corner
16 Lutterworth Never built
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?
27 Hilton Park
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
31 Frankley
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
38 unknown
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.
48 Birch
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!