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Blackpool Pleasure Beach celebrates 120 years of thrills and spills

1923: The Big Dipper has been a Blackpool landmark for over a century
1923: The Big Dipper has been a Blackpool landmark for over a century

IT started with a single ride on the Blackpool sands in 1896 and became one of the most popular amusement parks in the world.

The Pleasure Beach was founded by local businessman William Bean and this year celebrates its 120th birthday.

Bean had an ambitious vision and, as he launched the Hotchkiss Bicycle Ride, he quickly bought up the 42-acre site where millions still flock for holiday thrills and spills.

1905: The River Caves made a spectacular backdrop to the Bicycle Railway
1905: The River Caves made a spectacular backdrop to the Bicycle Railway

Early rides such as Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machines, built in 1904, and the River Caves, which came along two years later, remain popular today and sit alongside modern-day rollercoasters like The Big One.

Vanessa Toulmin says that’s part of the unique charm of the Pleasure Beach.

She’s visited the park every year and her family ran the fair in nearby Morecambe. She’s also a professor at the University of Sheffield and has written four books about Blackpool, including one on the Pleasure Beach.

“There’s an overlapping heritage of more than 100 years,” she said. “It’s a mixture of an exhibition and amusement park and of nostalgia and modernity.

“Bean wanted it to be a place of refinement and beauty.

“He and his son-in-law, Leonard Thompson, designed the park and brought in architects such as Joseph Emberton and Percy Metcalfe, who designed the St George’s Cross.”

1912: Ye Olde Englyshe Street was a popular place for a gentle stroll for families.
1912: Ye Olde Englyshe Street was a popular place for a gentle stroll for families.

As Blackpool became more popular, the Pleasure Beach continued to grow.

During the Second World War signs around the park were written in Polish, due to the number of Polish air force bases around the town at that time.

The Pleasure Beach became so renowned it even inspired the founder of the world’s most famous theme parks.

“Walt Disney came over to see it,” Vanessa explained. “He liked that it was a family park and was a higher class of resort.

“He even gave them permission to use Alice in Wonderland for a ride.”

1933: Crowds flocked from all over Britain to enjoy Blackpool’s amusements.
1933: Crowds flocked from all over Britain to enjoy Blackpool’s amusements.

That was in the early ’50s, when Disney came up with the idea of an amusement park based on his characters and he was invited over by Leonard Thompson.

By that point the park had a number of rides in place that are still among the most popular today.

Queues still line up outside the Big Dipper, built in 1923, and the 1935 twin-track Grand National.

The first rollercoaster, the Scenic Railway, was built in 1907, and today there are 10 that span the decades.

1950: Ups and downs on the newly-opened wooden rollercoaster.
1950: Ups and downs on the newly-opened wooden rollercoaster.

“There are five woodies and five steelies, which is unheard of,” Vanessa said.

“Even the name Ghost Train comes from the Pleasure Beach. It was called the Pretzel Ride in America but that meant nothing to the British when it was imported so they came up with the Ghost Train instead.”

Vanessa added: “The Pleasure Beach is a place for all ages, from grandparents to grandchildren.

“It’s also very special to have a park in one family over four generations.

1969: The Astro Ride, an American import, was out of this world fun for old and young alike.
1969: The Astro Ride, an American import, was out of this world fun for old and young alike.

“It’s an international park – I don’t think people in the UK realise how marvellous it is.

“Other places have come and gone, but the Pleasure Beach is still there.”

We’d love to hear your memories of trips to the Pleasure Beach over the decades. Please email mscougall@sundaypost.com to share your thoughts.


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