Motorway meals: how 60 years of the service station has shaped how Britain eats

The first service station opened in Watford Gap in 1959 – and the motorway meal was born. What does its evolution tell us about British tastes, past and present?

On a drizzly day, Britain isn’t looking – or tasting – its best. I’m at Watford Gap services on the M1, the country’s first service station on the country’s first motorway, both 60 this year (although the restaurant opened in 1960). “If you want to see Britain, go to Watford Gap,” David Lawrence had told me. “If you want to taste Britain, go to Watford Gap.” I want to do both of those things.

Lawrence is an associate professor at Kingston University whose PhD was Motorway Service Areas, Their History and Culture. He has written two books about them as well. I think you could safely describe him as Mr Service Station. “Dr Service Station,” he corrects me, before I head to Watford Gap.

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