The Haunted Snail was one of the most enduring of Dreamland's attractions, and was adjacent to the ever-popular 'River Caves' attraction (acquired from the 1924 Empire Exhibition at Wembley) which was finally demolished in 1984. The Snail, with its Cheshire cat-like grin, was a memorable feature of Dreamland, and orignally cost £4,000 to construct. It features momentarily in Lindsay Anderson's 'O Dreamland' of 1953. This un-dated snapshot shows Reuben Bolland and an unknown subject outside the entrance to the Haunted Snail. Bolland worked at Dreamland, then later at the Kursaal in Southend, where, Paul Bolland, his grandson believes, he became chief engineer and electrician. The fate of the Snail, however is known; it perished in a fire in June 1957, and was replaced on the site by the equally-enduring 'Sphinx', which remained until the late 1980s, well into the Bembom era of the park.
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Friday, 8 January 2010
Originally constructed in 1866 as a railway terminus by the Kent Coast Railway Company, the Hall-by-the-Sea was taken over by Spiers and Pond for a period of seven years, and became a place of entertainment that catered to the delights of Margate's residents, as well as for the burgeoning number of day-trippers to the resort who were arriving by sea from London. At the end of the tenure, the railway authorities failed to find a buyer, but it was subsequently purchased by Thomas Dalby Reeve, the ex-mayor of Margate, for a sum of £3,750.00. The property acquired included the Hall premises and some allotments at the rear, On Dalby Reeve's death in 1875, 'Lord' George Sanger took sole ownership of the property, and the site remained in his hands until 1919, when it was bought by John Henry Iles.
Sanger was an illiterate showman of vast business acumen and energy. The son of an itinerant showman, James Sanger whom, it is said served as a press-ganged sailor on Nelson's 'Victory' at Trafalgar, it is claimed that George Sanger's earliest shows featured a flotilla of miniature ships that fired tiny fireworks whilst being towed by goldfish! Sanger, with his brother John, began a travelling circus which toured the United Kingdom. In 1849, he married the celebrated 'Lion Queen' Ellen Chapman. She would later appear in Sanger's circus parade as Britannia, with a live lion at her feet. Wen the circus came to Margate in 1870, Sanger met Reeve, the then-owner of the Hall-by-the-Sea, and the two men entered into a partnership. After Reeve's death in 1875, Sanger became both owner and proprietor. He ran the venue as a music hall and bar, with dances in the evenings, later opening a roller-skating arena to cater for the latest craze then sweeping the country. Installing 8000 square feet of maple flooring, and with daily demonstrations by one 'Professor' Chambers, named 'the Skateorial King', who schooled the more faint-hearted participants in the new art, the skating enterprise was a huge success. Sanger's first enterprising act was to reduce the price of admission to the dancehall from five shillings to one, which resulted in a huge influx of attendees to the Hall-by-the-Sea. He then turned the land behind the Hall into an ornamental pleasure garden, complete with 'ruined abbey' folly, a lake, statuary and, most notably, a menagerie. Sanger's principle motive for the opening of the zoo was as a breeding and training place for the animals he employed in the travelling circus and at Astley's Amphitheatre in London's Westminster Bridge Road, which he had taken over in 1871. He was credited as the instigator of the famous 'Three-Ringed Circus' concept, and introduced the first Wild West shows into England.
Sanger's Hall-by-the-Sea Menagerie occupied the western half of the present Dreamland site. The railway embankment was remodelled into a series of terraces which featured walkways with trees, interspersed with copies of Roman statuary made from cement and painted to resemble marble. Against the western and southern boundary to the park, a wall was built which served to prevent views of the railway line that served the Margate terminus. Against this wall, Sanger built the abbey folly, a groundsman's cottage and three animal cages designed, it is said, to contain live bears. Sections of the wall, a small portion of the cottage and the cages still exist, and were listed in 2009. The cages, which date from the early 1870s, are an extremely rare survival from the Victorian era. The menagerie contained lions, tigers, baboons, leopards and wolves. There was a slaughterhouse behind the main building which was screened by trees. The pleasure gardens contained a series of ornamental lakes, stocked with waterfowl. Tea gardens and refreshment kiosks were situated nearby, and there was also an area given over to amusements such as swing boats, roundabouts and an early waxwork show. At night, the gardens were illuminated with hundreds of Chinese lanterns suspended from the trees, and there were regular firework displays to delight the nocturnal visitors.
Sanger made Margate his home, and he lived there until his death in 1901, when news of his demise made headline news throughout the world. HIs funeral cortege was as elaborate as his circus parades, and he is interred in an elaborate tomb in Margate cemetery, next to which is that of his brother John, which is crowned by an impressive marble Mazeppa stallion.
In 1919, John Henry Iles bought the Hall from Sanger's daughter and son-in-law. An advertising executive with a penchant for brass band music, Iles visited Coney Island in 1906, and was impressed by the brash new face of the pleasure complex as seen there. Particularly taken by the novelty and perceived profitability of the Luna and Dreamland theme parks, he also acquired the European rights to construct scenic railways, which were then very much a feature of the American park experience, and he subsequently built the first at Blackpool's South Shore, quickly followed by that at the Franco-British Exposition of 1908. Iles renamed the Margate site Dreamland and made the Scenic Railway it's thrilling centrepiece attraction. He also had major interests in Yarmouth, Aberdeen and Belle Vue, Manchester, and was responsible for the construction of the Margate Lido in 1926. An early afficionado of greyhound racing, Iles built a stadium in Ramsgate which was demolished only in 2001, and was also actively involved in the promotion of boxing, wrestling, football, zoos and chariot racing. It was his investment in the revival of the British film industry, notably as a major stakeholder in Elstree Studios, that finally lead to his financial downfall in 1938.
Wednesday, 6 January 2010
Marine Terrace, the stretch of Margate seafront most readily-identified with the town - has been a leisure venue for over 140 years, and has been fixed firmly within the British psyche since, in the late Victorian era, Spiers and Pond, a firm of railway caterers, opened the Hall-by-the-Sea entertainment complex in 1867 in an obsolete station building next to the Margate Sands terminus. Originally used for concerts and as a dance hall, it was sold to Thomas Dalby Reeve, the then mayor of Margate, who also acquired the land to the rear of the complex. In 1874, ownership of the expanded site passed to the infamous circus entrepreneur 'Lord' George Sanger, who refurbished the building for use as a ballroom and restaurant, and soon developed the land to include fantastical pleasure gardens, complete with ornamental lakes, a 'ruined abbey' and, perhaps most notably, a menagerie. Later, in order to capitalize on the craze for roller skating, a rink was also opened on the site. In 1898, the original railway building was replaced by a fabulous mirrored ballroom, utterly in keeping with the fin-de siecle mood of the age. On Sanger's death and his subsequently dramatic funeral (which made headline news throughout the world), the Hall-by-the-Sea passed to his daughter Harriet Reeve, who strove to make the venue appeal to a 'better class of visitor', but her tenure proved financially unsuccessful. The park remained open throughout the First World War, but never again enjoyed the commercial success of its Edwardian heyday.
The complex was bought by John Iles in 1919 and, having visited New York's Coney Island and become fascinated with developments in American amusement parks, he was determined to entirely revamp the look of the site, renaming it 'Dreamland' (after one of Coney Island's attractions), and installing the famous Scenic Railway as it's centre-piece. Between the years 1920 and 1938, Iles invested continuously in the site, and added more and more attractions. The culmination of his enterprise was the building of the Cinema complex, which opened in 1935, and was the epitome of the Art Deco style. Designed by Leathart and Granger, two of the foremost cinema architects of their era, Dreamland cinema caught the mood of the 'streamlined' age. Iles' son John Henry was responsible for some of the cinema's interior features, and the front elevation was furnished with the iconic fin tower, its vertical lettering becoming synonymous with the Dreamland style, and most readily identified with it. This pioneering look was to become a characteristic feature of many of the Odeon cinema facades, but was initially unique to Leathart and Granger's design for Margate. The new complex incorporated the existing ballroom, implemented with new bars, cafes and restaurants, specifically designed to cater to the masses who flocked to the town from London and the Home Counties in search of fun and relaxation as the shadow of wartime loomed ever larger.
Dreamland closed during the Second World War, but reopened in June 1946. Thousands returned, eager to escape the recent privations, and the park remained in the control of the Iles family until 1968, when it was sold to the Associated Leisure Group. Somewhat unromantically, the ballroom became a series of squash courts, and the magnificent auditorium of the Cinema was split into two screens and a bingo hall was added. For a short period, a zoo opened once more on the site, echoing the glory days of the park's Sanger era.
The Dreamland site was bought by Dutch amusement park owners Bembom Brothers in 1981. Dropping the 'Dreamland' moniker, they ceased evening opening and installed the then state-of-the-art rides which ushered in the new era of theme park entertainment. With inclusions such as the famous 'Mary Rose' (a derivation of the German 'Traum Boot' ride which became one of the most popular features of amusement parks in the 70s era) Margate's most famous leisure venue was at the time, one of the most visited places in Britain.
Bembom Brothers finally sold the attraction to Jimmy Godden in 1996. A former fairground entrepreneur, Godden removed much of the well-established trees, the zoo-keeper's house and the statuary that had survived from the Sanger period of the park. By the later 1990s, the majority of the former features had disappeared entirely. The famous Scenic Railway (see separate posts) was awarded Grade II listed status in 2002, the first fixed-ride attraction in the country to be afforded so. In 2003, Godden decreed that the park would close its doors, and in 2004, he sold a 60% stake in Dreamland to the then newly-formed 'Margate Town Regeneration Company'. Last operations were for the summer season of 2006, by which time all the fixed attractions, with the exception of the Scenic Railway, had been removed. In 2008, a subsequent fire destroyed 20% of the original fabric of the Scenic Railway, including the car workshop and the pull-up inclines, but fortunately, the motor room and the ride's winding gear was unaffected by the fire.
The site as it stands is now a sad prospect, with the skeletal remains of the Scenic Railway awaiting the skill of refurbishment and reinstatement of its former glory, ignominiously encircled by a car-park, and ringed by a high-security fence. The dramatic elevation of the once-magnificent cinema also awaits the healing hands of regeneration. A recent visit reveals much of the high-quality Art Deco interior features still in place, and it too, has been awarded a Grade II listing status. Te rear of the complex still preserves some elements of the 1923 ballroom, and elsewhere on the site, a section of Sanger's original enclosure wall and three animal cages were uncovered, which have also been listed by English Heritage.
Initial proposals to revive Dreamland and open it as the world's first heritage amusement park were put forward in 2007. Nick Laister, Chair of the Dreamland Trust, was instrumental in securing the Scenic Railway listing and based on this, a masterplan for the site adjacent to the Railway was drawn up. The internationally-acclaimed amusement park designer Jean-Marc Touissaint has been appointed to oversee the project in collaboration with architects Levitt-Bernstein, and the proposed 9-acre redevelopment hopes eventually to include plans to restore the cinema complex to its former glory. The Dreamland Trust has begun to make plans to acquire a representative selection of historic rides from other UK-based parks such as Blackpool and Southport, including, it is hoped, the Caterpillar (once as iconic and beloved a feature of Dreamland as the Scenic Railway), the Chairlift, Ghost Train, River Caves ride and a Mirror Maze, the Whip and Junior Whip from Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the trains and mechanical parts from the Water Chute from Rhyl's Ocean Beach. A further fifteen rides from various locations in the UK and the US have been earmarked for potential acquisition by the Trust. The newly-restored park is envisioned to open its doors once again in 2012, with Phase Two, which will focus on the complete refurbishment of the cinema complex, three years later.