A toast to absent gravity rides hitherto based in North West England
If you have children, no term time holiday is complete without the odd trip to a theme park or fairground. Sometimes we are likely to drive to Alton Towers or board a coach trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Sometimes, a travelling fairground may be erected closer to home for a week, with one example over the Easter Holidays being the Good Friday fair at Daisy Nook, between Ashton and Failsworth (buses: 168, 169 and 231 from Ashton-under-Lyne to Newmarket Road then a short walk down Stannybrook Road).
Unfortunately, being slightly older than three decades old myself and male, means the joys of a trip to the fairground – solus – would mark me out as a paedophile, instead of a saddo trying to recapture one’s lost youth. The travelling fair – and indeed some older amusement parks – have an atmosphere and smell of their own, with the milling crowds, sideshows, nutritionally incorrect foodstuffs and coloured lights part and parcel of the whole experience.
One limitation of the older amusement parks is expandability. The modern day theme parks (ergo, Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Drayton Manor) tend to have greater space than, for example, Pleasure Beach Blackpool. They also tend to be out of town, ideal for motorists though nigh on impossible for bus and rail users to get to. Thirdly, the small size and central location of traditional amusement parks makes them attractive to property developers, thus potentially consigning our favourite wooden roller coaster to history. This fate being true with Frontierland in Morecambe, Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, and Ocean Beach in Rhyl and countless others on our spheroid life giving planet.
East of the M60 has decided to opt for Lost Roller Coasters of the North West for its first Not So Perfect Ten in goodness knows how many months, so without further ado…
- The Jetstream (London Festival Gardens/Belle Vue/Ocean Beach, Rhyl);
- The Bobs (Belle Vue);
- Water Chute (Belle Vue/Blackpool Pleasure Beach);
- Space Invader (Blackpool Pleasure Beach);
- Scenic Railway (Belle Vue);
- Cyclone (Pleasureland, Southport);
- Big Dipper (Marvel’s Amusement Park, Scarborough/Knowsley Safari Park);
- Texas Tornado (Frontierland, Morecambe);
- Pepsi Cola Loop (Ocean Beach, Rhyl);
- The Corkscrew (Alton Towers, Farley, Staffordshire).
I make no apologies for a slight bias towards Belle Vue (more on ‘The Showground of the World’ in a future article around September-ish on East of the M60), owing to the local interest. Still, let’s get strapped in and keep our arms inside the car.
1. The Jetstream:
Seen at: London Festival Gardens, Battersea Park (1974 – 77); Belle Vue (1977 – 79); Ocean Beach, Rhyl (1980 – 2007)
Type of roller coaster: steel, Pinfari Z64 design.
The Jetstream roller coaster has had the misfortune of being situated at three closed amusement parks, which at one time were owned by Trust Houses Forte. Though Battersea Park sans fairground fared much better, the fates of Belle Vue and Ocean Beach were less fortunate.
At Belle Vue, it was placed by the Water Chute, close to the site of The Bobs. To the untrained eye, it was a common and garden Pinfari roller coaster, seen in most small fairgrounds. Au contraire; Pinfari has different types of steel coaster, so there could never be only one type. The Jetstream was one of four more elusive Z64 models in use prior to 2007. Following the closure of Belle Vue’s amusement park, it moved to Rhyl in 1980 where it saw 27 years service.
2. The Bobs:
Seen at: Belle Vue (1929 – 1971)
Type of roller coaster: wooden (designed by Harry Traver, built by Frank Church)
Whereas the Jetstream’s presence at Belle Vue is largely forgotten, one of the zoo and amusement park’s best known rides was The Bobs, so called owing to its bobsleigh style turns and – popularly – the fact it used to cost a shilling per ride. It was hailed as the fastest and tallest roller coaster in the United Kingdom. Long after its departure, the Bobs is fondly remembered by those who had the joy of riding it. In roller coaster terms, the loss of which to the roller coaster loving fraternity is akin to that of John Betjeman’s mourning of the Euston Arch being lost to rubble. Having heard so much about The Bobs, it is one roller coaster I wouldn’t mind taking a ride on, so long as a time machine at Aytoun Street would take me to the Belle Vue of 1958.
3. The Water Chute:
Seen at: Belle Vue (1957 – 1979); Blackpool Pleasure Beach (1979 – 2004)
Type of roller coaster: steel, water troughed
The Water Chute at Belle Vue was one of five similar examples introduced by Sir Leslie Joseph. Other models were erected at Battersea Park, The Kursaal in Southend-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth Amusement Park and Coney Beach, Porthcawl. Another trade mark of his design was the semicircular arches.
Belle Vue’s example saw 22 years of service, placed in a prominent position by the Hyde Road entrance. On relocation to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, it was placed by Joseph Emberton’s magnificent Casino building and the late Reel ride and Funhouse. It was renamed Vikingar, possibly owing to its new neighbour Valhalla and ceased operations in 2004. Rhyl’s water chute continued till its closure in 2007, formerly seeing service at The Kursaal till 1971.
4. The Space Invader:
Seen at: Blackpool Pleasure Beach (1984 – 2008)
Type of roller coaster: steel, enclosed
The summer of 1984 saw the opening of Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s dark coaster. With a 59′ drop in the dark and a 36˚ angle incline, it had slight twists and turns. Refurbishment saw the ride rebranded as Space Invader 2 with single car trains. A failed evacuation saw the ride close in 2008, leading to its removal two years later. Unlike the previous three rides mentioned above, it has since moved to a new location, Brean Leisure Park.
5. The Scenic Railway:
Seen at: Belle Vue (1928 – 1979)
Type of roller coaster: wooden
The Bobs’ less vulgar neighbour, the Scenic Railway, also made the trip to Belle Vue from London. This time, from the fairground of the Wembley Empire Exhibition. Brought over to Hyde Road in slightly truncated form by John Henry Iles, its mountainous style dominated the amusement park and looked out towards the Belle Vue Aces’ speedway stadium. The ride saw continuous service up to the mid 1970s, though there was rumours over it reopening in 1979. Alas this wasn’t so as the ride was demolished the following year.
For anything close to the Scenic Railway experience seen at Belle Vue, there is still one at Great Yarmouth Amusement Park at the southern end of the resort. At odds with most roller coasters, its cars have a brake operator at the back.
Seen at: Pleasureland, Southport (1937 – 2006)
Type of roller coaster: wooden
I had the great joy of boarding this roller coaster in the spring of 1996, on a trip to Southport courtesy of GMS Buses. The joy of boarding one of Stockport’s finest Scania N113s from Daw Bank came second to this. The ride began with a steep incline before a few more modest ones.
It was the last roller coaster to have been designed by Charles Paige, whom many roller coaster fanatics would associate with the excellent Grand National. It had been afflicted by two fires shortly after World War II and a further one in 1984 which affected the station. Despite attempts to get the Cyclone listed, it faced demolition shortly after Pleasureland’s closure in September 2006. In recent times, the park has reopened.
7. Big Dipper:
Seen at: Mr Marvel’s Amusement Park, Scarborough (1973 – 1999); Knowsley Safari Park (2000 – 2006)
Type of roller coaster: steel, Pinfari Z40
My journey of the Big Dipper at Marvels in Scarborough, in 1995, was a far from pleasurable experience which got me longing for the woodies even more. (Not least of course the sacrilegious naming of an off-the-shelf Pinfari Z40 ride with the wooden one in Blackpool). I found the dips and the whole experience underwhelming with only the flimsiness of the structure making for a scarier ride. (It rocked like Hell)
On reaching Scarborough’s amusement park, the Big Dipper coexisted with zoo animals and was for a time its main ride. Its was seemingly fated to coexist with captive species when Knowsley Safari Park purchased the ride in 1999. It outlived Marvels by seven years, as the amusement park closed in 1999 to make way for a redeveloped North Bay with artificial ski slope and upmarket visitor attractions. This fell through, resulting in Marvels lying derelict.
8. Texas Tornado:
Seen at: Frontierland, Morecambe (1938 – 2001)
Type of roller coaster: wooden (designed by Harry Traver)
I used to like Frontierland in Morecambe. Its ersatz western theme seemed a breath of fresh air for a town based historical amusement park which probably extended the life of the park for a good decade or so. My first ride on a log flume was there in late August of 1986 (also its first season in wild west form) and the park held a special place in my heart. Unfortunately for me, I never got to board the Texas Tornado, which in its pre-wild west form, was known as the Cyclone.
The Texas Tornado (for ease of brevity I am referring to this ride under its 1986 moniker) was originally known as the Cyclone and Le Cyclone before then. It moved to Morecambe following a year’s operation in Paris. The ride was seen on the eastern fringe of the amusement park close to the Apollo Cinema and Morecambe Promenade railway station (or, in more present day terms, to the left of the Morrisons store). Whilst downsizing the park for a shopping development, the Texas Tornado was slated for demolition, consigning another fine wooden coaster to extinction. The only remaining parts of Frontierland now are the Polo Tower (assuming the guise of a mobile phone mast) and the pub which formed part of its frontage.
9. The Pepsi Cola Loop:
Seen at: Ocean Beach, Rhyl (1989 – 2007); Ffrith Beach, Prestatyn (2008 – 9)
Type of roller coaster: steel, looping, Pinfari ZL42
Ocean Beach at Rhyl, similarly threatened and ultimately succumbing to retail development like our aforementioned Lancastrian counterpart, saw little investment in new rides throughout its twilight years. The west end of the resort by then was a seedy place, far removed the buzzy nature I remembered it as in Summer 1984. In my last proper visit to Ocean Beach, the park had changed little six years on, with the exception of one new addition: the Pepsi Cola Loop.
Before the Thompson’s sponsored their flagship roller coaster after the American caffeinated and carbonated beverage, the Pepsi Cola loop came to Rhyl in 1989. It became the amusement park’s second Pinfari coaster, and its first looping one. For many people living in North Wales, it was their first experience of a looping coaster prior to graduating towards the Corkscrews of this world. The coaster moved to Ffrith Beach amusement park in 2008, only operating for a year as the Prestatyn park closed.
10. The Corkscrew:
Seen at: Alton Towers, Farley (1980 – 2010)
Type or roller coaster: steel, looping, (designed and built by Vekoma, Netherlands)
In 1980, Alton Towers took over from where Belle Vue left off by becoming a Must See leisure destination. As a marketing campaign, they were hugely successful in turning a stately home and gardens’ modest funfair into The Mother of All Amusement Parks. Instrumental to this was an increase in car ownership and improved motorway connections with the North West and the West Midlands. Analogous to this was a looping roller coaster which would take the park by storm. Enter the Corkscrew.
With two inversions and good airtime, its instant success saw the Farley stately home and gardens transform to the Alton Towers we know and love. The name was appropriate, not only due to the looping nature; there was also the corkscrew fountain. Then the rest was history.
Alas, with something or someone we love, there is a point we often have to let go. In 2010, this fate was true of the Corkscrew, leading to its demolition. On the site is Th13teen. In spite of its absence, it owes a debt to several other coasters including Nemesis.
Other worthy mentions?
If you fondly remember any of the above roller coasters, or wish to add some more to the list, feel free to do so and comment away.
S.V., 30 March 2012.