Charles Forte set up his first “milk bar” on Regent Street in London in 1935 as Strand Milk Bar Ltd when he was 26. Soon he began expanding into catering and hotel businesses. After the Second World War, his company became Forte Holdings Ltd, and bought The Café Royal in 1954. He opened the first full motorway service station for cars at Newport Pagnell in 1959. Trust Houses Group Ltd and Forte Holdings merged in 1970 to become Trust House Forte or THF.
Through mergers and expansion, the Forte Group expanded into a multi-billion pound business. It included the Little Chef and Happy Eater roadside restaurants, Crest, Forte Grand, Travelodge and Posthouse hotels, as well as the wine merchant Grierson-Blumenthal and a majority (although non-controlling) stake in the Savoy Hotel. Happy Eater and the five Welcome Break service areas were bought from Hanson Trust on August 1, 1986.
In the early 1990s, the company was rebranded as Forte. Lord Forte passed full control to Rocco in 1993, but soon the Forte Group was faced with a hostile takeover bid from Granada. Ultimately, Granada succeeded with a billion tender offer in January 1996, which left the family with around million in cash.
In 2003, following the de-merger of Compass plc from Granada’s media interests, the use of the Forte trademark was returned to Sir Rocco Forte in a gesture intended to dispel the bitter legacy of the takeover. Rocco now owns the Rocco Forte Hotels group.
Most of the hotels used the following brands:
Forte Heritage Hotels were mostly small country house style hotels, e.g., The Old England Hotel in Windermere. Some of these were sold to Macdonald Hotels Ltd.
Forte Posthouse Hotels were mostly three-star hotels for business travellers. They were usually located in city centres or near major trunk roads. Some of these were sold to Holiday Inn.
Forte Crest Hotels were more upmarket than Forte Posthouse. They were mostly located in cities and were mostly four-star. The naming convention was Forte Crest + the name of the city or locality, e.g., Forte Crest Sheffield or Forte Crest Gatwick Airport.
Forte Grand Hotels were a collection of high-end international hotels including the Balmoral Hotel (formerly “The North British Hotel”) in Edinburgh.
There were other hotels which never received branding, e.g. Brown’s Hotel, Londo