First research led to this three sided partially empty village notice board positioned in front of the community centre and a small well. Different in form and scale from previous notice boards I was drawn to the gaps and the evidence of past notices through left pin holes and lighter coloured areas of wood.
The village website revealed a massive wealth of social history including a detailed account of Watford Gap. The website notes that whilst North of Watford Gap is now used to distinguish the South from the North of England historically the phrase refers to an important cross-roads on coaching routes and an actual inn from the 17th century called The Watford Gap.
In the 1950’s work began on the development of the first motorway. The M1 was to pass through Watford Gap joining London to Birmingham. The village website notes that despite Lady Henley making a television appearance to protest about the invasion of the motorway on the rural idyll of Watford, the motorway was officially opened by Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport, on 2nd November 1959. This reference to protest of industrial development links back to England and the Octopus by Williams-Ellis (connected to Wardington)
Watford Gap services opened on the same day as the M1 and as such is the first and oldest motorway service station!
Prior to the M1 being built the Blue Boar filling station was located on the crossroads of the A5. The company name refers to a local legend of a Blue Boar who lived beside the lake. As compensation for lost business Blue Boar were offered the opportunity to run the Watford Gap service area. Allegedly as soon as the services opened they became a prominent landmark for drivers and their fine-dining experience led to them reading their maximum capacity on their first day of opening!
In its day Blue Boar was the place to be!
Service stations were at the cutting edge of catering innovation! Blue Boar pioneered cooked meals being reheated in ovens for queues of motorists and in 1965 a plate of bacon and eggs cost just two shillings!
Memories of teenage Rugby Rockers who frequented Watford Gap in the 1960’s recall studded R.R. initials alongside their names on the back of black leather jackets. Known as Whippet and Boxer the girls spent their evenings at Blue Boar and worked at the Co-Op Milk during the day on delivery rounds at 4am each morning. Whippet recalls:
Watford Gap was the place to go even if you had no transport, people would walk up there or thumb a lift and stay all night! It was electric!