During almost all of their married life, Meg and Charles Richardson had lived in the large old Georgian house that he had inherited from a spinster aunt.
The house had five acres of land; this included a lake, which was a short distance away from the house. Charles met Margaret when they were both in their late teens. They had studied art together at the local college. Charles wasn’t very rich, and made a small profit from paintings he crafted. He also worked for the local press drawing cartoons for the newspapers such as the Castlewich Clarion and Midland Gazette.
This small income wasn’t enough to pay the family bills, especially with a young daughter and even younger son to provide for. The Richardson’s by 1951 had turned their home into a guesthouse, which provided bed and breakfast to travellers heading to and from Birmingham – the road through Kings Oak at the time was also the main road into Birmingham. All that was to change with the announcement of the motorway.
1958 saw Charles’ widower mother die and money raised from her estate helped the family buy the land on the opposite side of the road from their home. It had been a wasteland since the cottages that once stood there were destroyed during the Second World War. Charles planned to open a petrol station on the site; The Kings Oak Service Station opened in 1959. It was renamed the Crossroads Service Station in 1963. In 1960 Birmingham City Council issued details of a brand new motorway that was to be built close to Kings Oak – so close in fact – it cut through a number of residents land.
One such family affected by the development was the Richardson’s and their B&B. When the motorway development began Margaret and Charles decided to close the guesthouse down – as the work and road disruptions made it impossible to operate. During this time the Richardson home became a hostel for the motorway workers, and later, the motel builders. The new motorway also affected Meg’s sister Kitty and her husband Dick Jarvis. Kitty’s newsagents on the South East side of the main road into Kings Oak had to be demolished to widen the route into the village as part of the new slip road. They relocated to a store in Heathbury where Dick already worked in a pottery. She opened a new newsagents store.
Construction work began on the motorway in late 1961 after the compensation money had been paid to the various estates who lost land with the development. In the same year, Charles Richardson died of a heart attack. He left his widow Margaret to bring up their two children, Jill and Sandy. With some of the compensation money and a hefty bank loan Margaret – more fondly known as Meg – decided to take advantage of having a motorway running near her home. More often described these days as a Motorway Service Station back in the 1960s the buzzword for such a place was a motel. Richardson opted to use mainly a bank loan to create the motel in order that should the venture fail she could pay the bank back with the compensation money – rather than risk losing her home – but if it did prove profitable she could then invest the compensation payment in expanding the complex.
With planning permission granted the new motel was swiftly built over 18 months between October 1961 and March 1963. The motorway opened in January 1963 – the motel soon followed in April of the same year. Because the Richardson family home stood on the side of a cross road junction Meg decided to call her new motel ‘Crossroads’. And it soon was the place to be for the locals and travellers alike. It seems travellers – not used to the motel idea in the UK – enjoyed the family feel that the motel prided itself on, it was far from common, the motel oozed middle-class values and good service.
The opening ceremony was documented in the local newspaper ‘Castlewich Clarion’ – and this is how the Crossroads Motel came to life in print:
KINGS OAK AT A CROSSROADS, April 18th 1963;
“I name this motel Crossroads, and God bless all who stay here,” said Meg Richardson, 46, owner of the Crossroads Motel which opened yesterday. As she spoke those words, Mrs Richardson popped open a bottle of champagne and the resident groundsman, Phillip Winter, 28, raised a union jack on the motel flagpole.
A grand affair for the launch of the new humble establishment. After a round of applause, Mrs Richardson gave a small speech. “First, I want to thank you all for being here today. I am indeed lucky to have so many good friends. In particular, I want to thank Mr Prescott, my bank manager. We often think of bank managers as hard men who send us nasty letters when we have an overdraft. Thanks to Mr Prescott, I have the biggest overdraft you can imagine! The motel is my overdraft, and I want to thank Mr Prescott for all his patience and kindness in helping me to raid his bank vaults to pay for it! I want to also thank Hugh Mortimer, for building the motel.”
Crossroads Motel has been built by Mortimer Developments, and the new building has been styled to blend perfectly in with the family home that it is attached to. The motel boasts a restaurant, bar, swimming pool and currently twelve chalets, however, by the end of 1965, Mrs Richardson expects to have forty chalets open.
Reminding the attended crowd that she is originally from Scotland, Mrs Richardson burst into a Scottish accent as she declared, “There’s a wee dram for all o’ you waiting in the hoose!” With this announcement, the gathered guests ventured into the smart modern foyer. Attending the occasion the Mayor and his wife, Rev Guy Atkins, Otis Brown, owner of The Running Stag, Peter Hull, manager of the Rivoli cinema and many villagers also turned up for the ceremony.
Speaking to us later, Kitty Jarvis, 49, local newsagent – and also Mrs Richardson’s sister – told us “I am so very proud of Meg. I wish I’d had the guts to do something on this scale.”
Despite not being an overnight success, Crossroads did over the months build up its cliental – and by November 1964 the motel was doing a reasonable trade. It wasn’t long before the motel had another rival nearby.
In 1965 the Fairlawns Manor House, just one mile away on the same road, was converted into an upper-class hotel by Hugh Mortimer. The future of the motel was threatened in 1966 when a council proposal to extend the motorway would have meant its demolition, in the end, the plan was aborted.
It is safe to say Fairlawns management (excluding Hugh) was not impressed with the Crossroads Motel. The manager Louise Borelli, and her troublemaking brother Kenneth, soon set about a hate campaign to close the rival accommodation down – however, all efforts failed. Things took a turn for the worse when Kenneth kidnapped motel owner Meg’s daughter Jill because Hugh had spurned Louise’s advances. At this time Hugh and Meg were engaged to be married.
After this incident, Meg called off the engagement. It was all very much tit for tat. Without Meg knowing her schoolboy son Sandy broke into Fairlawns and switched all the sugar for salt. There was less rivalry through the 1970s, thankfully.
By the 1980s the motel boasted over fifty chalets after the building underwent a number of revamps. The first, in 1967, saw the modern motel foyer rebuilt in a more traditional style – although an explosion had forced this change. More alterations and extensions were added in 1973 and 1976. In 1982 a major rebuild took place after a fire in November 1981 had destroyed most of the 1960s buildings and gutted the 1970s renovations. In the same year, Meg left the motel, with the shares going to her daughter Jill.
Other shareholders included David Hunter, who bought into the motel in 1971 and later accountant Adam Chance and businessman J.Henry Pollard. The fire proved lucrative for Crossroads; it enabled the motel to expand into a huge complex with improved bar and restaurant facilities. The motel namesake – the cross road junction was replaced with a roundabout in 1982 as part of the improvements to the site. There were also plans to take over the Slotter Lodge manor house next door, however not to the motel’s advantage. J.Henry wanted to open a supermarket on the site. It, in the end, didn’t happen, after strong protesting from the motel management.
In 1985 the entrance of the motel moved from the East of the main building to the West; with the entrance and reception relocating into the Georgian part of the buildings. This change also saw the motel expand with a number of floors added for what were described as executive guest rooms, the outdoor chalets were also retained but modernised for a more upmarket guests – Crossroads was finally brave enough to directly compete with its nearby rival. The renovations brought about after the entire site was sold off to hotel group, Major International Hotels – much to the distaste of Meg’s daughter Jill who had hoped to keep the motel a family affair.
In mid-1985 Charles Richardson’s former Petrol Station and garage were demolished in order for a more trendy Leisure Centre to take its place. It wasn’t too long before the establishment was once more a family run business – however not the original family.
In early 1987 the motel was sold to Tommy Lancaster and his family-run Red Ox business. September 1987 saw the motel transformed into a luxury hotel. The once nearby lake was now right next to the hotel so a waterside patio area was added to make the most of this. It was a far cry from its early days as a basic low budget motel.
The Crossroads Country Hotel was later renamed the Kings Oak Country Hotel. After the death of Tommy’s wife – who he had bought the motel for – it was once more placed on the market. It ultimately went into the hands of another chain. The Three Crowns Group, overseen for the takeover period by Daniel Freeman – the step-son of former MIH boss Nicola Freeman.
For a look at the history of the Kings Oak Country Hotel back into the Crossroads Hotel as seen in the relaunched series of 2001, head over to Crossroads 2001 for more information.
Information sourced from; ‘Crossroads Archive DVD Releases, Network DVD‘, TV World/TV Times Magazine, My Life at Crossroads by Noele Gordon, the Crossroads Years by Jane Rossington, the Crossroads paperbacks by Malcolm Huke and magazine mini-stories. Photographs courtesy of John Jameson Davis, John Drury, James Feltham at the ITV Archive and Noele Gordon archive/ATV Archive.