Margate closes in on "first amusement park of thrilling historic rides" at £10 million Dreamland

By Culture24 Reporter | 07 December 2011
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A black and white photo of an ancient rollercoaster
The famous Scenic Railway in Margate has moved a shunt closer to entertaining the public again
In the mid-19th century, "Lord" George Sanger – a man who goes down somewhat enviably as a "colourful circus entrepreneur" in the history books – ran Dreamland Margate, a pleasure garden and dance hall which evolved into a menagerie and roller-skating rink.

These days the Kent town is better known for Tracey Emin and the new Turner Contemporary gallery, but a £3 million Lottery grant might just have confirmed devilish designs on giving it the world's first amusement park of historic rides.

A variety of vintage rides, with names like the Whip (1914) and the Caterpillar (from the 1920s), have been collected from around the UK, as well as the Scenic Railway, the rattling rollercoaster which is the oldest thrill machine of its kind in Britain.

Once touted as a surefire provider of "happiness at a price that everyone can afford", Dreamland might be about to combine chic retro raucousness and heritage-carried adrenaline.

"This will totally revamp and regenerate Dreamland and help bring it back to its former glory," says Emin, the town's most infamous artist. "Margate will soon play host to the perfect day out."

The grant matches a £3.7 million pledge from the government’s Sea Change programme and a further £3 million from Thanet District Council.

"This puts in place all the funding we now need to reopen Dreamland and at the same time secure the future of its three remarkable listed structures – the Scenic Railway rollercoaster, Dreamland Cinema and George Sanger's menagerie cages," says Nick Laister, the Chairman of The Dreamland Trust, the energetic team behind the blueprint.

"These will form the centrepieces of the world’s first amusement park of thrilling historic rides."

The cages and cinema, which have Grade II-listed heritage status, will be restored alongside an extensive programme of community innovations including exhibition spaces, learning centres, interpretation facilities and an inclusive volunteer call-out which hopes to highlight the maritime history of the area.

Planners are now pursuing a Compulsory Purchase Order for the land, and have devised a Vintage Pinball Parlour and talent competition in the town to support the project this month, as well as a book on bygone Dreamland which should prove a stocking filler for history fans.

"We believe that enhancing these sorts of places is crucial to their long-term survival," points out Carole Souter, of the Heritage Lottery Fund, calling the site "Margate's answer to an early Disneyland".

"It will provide important training and employment opportunities for local people."

In further good news at opposite ends of the country, the Fund has confirmed £4.6 million towards Lews Castle and Museum nan Eilean, a Victorian landmark on the Buildings at Risk register.

The restored castle will feature a museum and archive on the people, land and sea of the Outer Hebrides, supported by a hotel venture.

Portsmouth's much-loved National Museum of the Royal Navy has also secured £1.4 million for a wide-ranging scheme encompassing new exhibition space in a Georgian storehouse, themed displays and opportunities for local residents and schools to play an active part in curating and exploring its collections.

More pictures of Dreamland:

A black and white photo of a curvy rollercoaster above tables of people in a park
Potential rides include the Meteorite, the Haunted Swing, the Wild Mouse and the Water Chute
A black and white photo of an enormous rollercoaster in a bygone amusement park
John Henry Iles, who bought the site in 1919, spent about £500,000 developing the American-style park - the modern equivalent of £15 million
A photo of people sitting on a modern open-air rollercoaster under a blue sky
Triumph and near-disaster have been the tale of the campaign during the past decade, including the award of listed status and an arson attack
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