Before I start this article, I’d like to mention a little about my experiences with Pleasureland. My first visit to the park was probably in 1995 or 1996. Even at that time, the park was still a vast collection of fairground rides with some historic rides (including the famous Cyclone ride) dotted around the park. I then visited two or three times a year until the park closed for good in September 2006.
Pleasureland Southport opened in 1912 in King’s Gardens. Opening day attractions included a Helter Skelter and a Figure of Eight roller coaster. By 1920, the park was growing at a rapid pace and new additions included a water chute, boat rides on Marine Lake and a Hiram Maxim Captive Flying Machine were drawing huge crowds.
In 1923, it was decided that the park had outgrown the King’s Gardens site and a new location was needed. The attractions were relocated to the beach front site in 1924.
The park continued to flourish on its new site with the construction of major new rides including two roller coasters. The Scenic Railway and the Mountain Catterpillar opened in 1924 and 1925 respectively. Other installations around that time included the River Caves and Catterpillar.
In late 1936, the largest roller coaster yet began to rise on the Southport skyline. The Cyclone roller coaster opened in 1937, where it would continue to operate for the next 69 years. The ride was built by Charlie Paige of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania who had made his mark at Pleasure Beach Blackpool by constructing the Grand National just two years earlier.
Other installations in the 1930s included the Ghost Train and the Haunted Inn, originally known as the Crazy House.
When World War II loomed in 1939, the park was closed to the public and the army moved in. The park was used by the Air Ministry as a storage space for aircraft.
The park reopened after the war and development continued, albeit at a slower pace. The 1950s came and with it a new booming leisure industry as the country began to recover after the war. The 1950s saw construction of a boating lake, Gallopers, a refurbished House of Nonsense, later known as the Fun House and a Bowl Slide.
The 1960s and 70s were another period of growth for the park with installations such as the Mirror Maze, Haunted Swing, Wildcat & Sky Ride all of which operated until the park’s eventual demise.
Some of the rides added in later years were due to the misfortune of other parks. The Pleasure Beach company operated Magic Harbor at Surfside Beach, South Carolina, USA in the 1980s for a short time. In 1991 the log flume from Magic Harbor was relocated to Southport. The huge ferris wheel at Pleasureland’s sister park at Morecambe was relocated to Magic Harbor around this time.
The 1990s were a period of huge growth for Pleasureland Southport. In the early part of the decade, the park opened a dedicated children’s area called Sultan’s Towers to fit the new Moroccan theme. In 1994, another Southport stalwart, the outdoor swimming baths closed and the water chutes were relocated to Pleasureland where they operated for 12 years. The body slides were adapted to allow guests to navigate the course in rubber dingies.
Until 1997, the park was set up in a similar way to Coney Island in New York City. Although being a single park, the rides were operated by different vendors which made development of the business difficult. In 1997, the Blackpool Pleasure Beach company became the sole ride operator. This allowed rides to be relocated within the park to maximise the available space. Some catering and retail units were run independently until the early 2000s, but all rides were now operated by the Pleasure Beach company.
With their new found freedom, the Pleasure Beach company began to made unprecedented developments to the site. The already impressive ride line up was complemented with a Chance Chaos and the Challenger Go Karts. The 1998 season came to a close in November 1998 with a promise that the following year would be the best yet.
It was - in 1999, £8 million was invested in improvements. The £5 million TRAUMAtizer roller coaster seemingly painted a very good picture for the park’s future. TRAUMAtizer was the first Suspended Looping Coaster in Britain and one of a new breed of SLCs offered by Dutch manufactured Vekoma. The MK III rides provided a much smoother ride than the earlier versions.
Also in 1999 was a new entertainment offering opened at the front of the park. Cassablanca offered a bar, games area and eatery.
With the closure of Frontierland, Morcambe in 1999 came the King Solomon’s Mines rollercoaster in 2000, the park’s fifth coaster overall and second ‘woodie’. This runaway mine train was the final roller coaster to be built at the original park.
As the park entered the new millennium, the skyline was repainted one final time. The success of the Playstation ride at Blackpool prompted the installation of a similar ride at Pleasureland. The Lucozade Space Shot was opened in 2002 by then tabloid press favourites Neil and Christine Hamilton.
The development of the park continued afoot and in 2003, the few remaining leased catering and retail units were closed and the Pleasure Beach company became the sole trading company on the Pleasureland site. With the closure of the adjacent zoo, the park quickly purchased the land and expanded the park’s size by 30%.
In the final years of Pleasureland, a series of smaller rides were built to complement the already impressive line up. 2003 saw the combination of two rides built in the 1960s. The Haunted Swing and 1001 Troubles mirror maze were combined to create Abullah’s Dilemma. This tie up followed a successful combination of identical rides at Blackpool.
In 2004, the River Caves ride dating from 1922 were renovated to become the ‘Lost Dinosaurs of the Sahara’. The Astroswirl/Millennium Bug was relocated from the Pleasure Beach in the same season.
Geoffrey Thompson, MD of the Pleasure Beach company died on 12 June 2004. His charm, charisma and sheer love of the industry had helped shape this era of Pleasureland and his loss was felt on a huge scale. Prior to his death, it seems that Pleasureland was still on course to be further transformed. Kris Tarry, assistant rides manager at the time remembers “Mr Thompson had always wanted a rapids style ride and a strong rumor was that he wanted to install a ride of this type. There was talk of contracts from Intamin ready to be be signed. This was scrapped when he passed away.”
The final two seasons at Pleasureland saw the introduction of another four rides and also a radical change in how visitors would have to pay to visit the park. An ‘entrance fee’ was introduced meaning visitors would have to pay £2.00 just to enter the park.
Kris Tarry remembers one particular moment during the final seasons. “It was a 11pm park close, very busy and with all the rides lit up it looked awesome as most parks do at night. I remember being stood on Cyclone’s lift looking on over the park and the fireworks above. I was quite happy to spend the rest of my time working at the park thinking it would all never end!”.
For a moment I’ll stop my look back down memory lane and take a quote from the park website as it appeared in 2006. “Expect to see even more improvements over the next few years, as Pleasureland continues to grow and expand”. Now of course, you’d say – well why would a park say anything else? When you look back at the later history of Pleasureland it is unthinkable that the park would close mid way through the season.
The park’s new slogan for 2006, “Where the excitement never stops” was ultimately proved false later that season. On 5th September 2006 staff arrived at the park gates to find them closed. The park’s parent company insisted that the park was not delivering a return despite significant investment and would be closed immediately.
BBC News closure report
The installation of huge rides such as TRAUMAtizer and the much improved infrastructure at the park had painted a massively different picture than what was seemingly going on in the background.
The closure of Pleasureland was felt throughout Southport. Kris Tarry recalls “I was very sad at the time, as were all the staff and residents of Southport. It had become part of the town the same way Lord St has and on telling friends and family that the park was closing, the Cyclone was always the first thing talked about”
Southport local Jenny Barrett remembers, “I went pretty much every year throughout my teenage years. They ran a special offer and all us locals used to head down there. It’s such a shame it closed”
The key thing to remember with the Pleasureland park is that the Pleasure Beach company was attracting much the same market to two ‘rival’ attractions that are geographically very close. The continued operation of the Cyclone and the rest of the existing attractions by a new operator would no doubt have caused unease the in the Pleasure Beach boardroom.
TRAUMAtizer found new life as Infusion at Pleasure Beach, Blackpool where it continues to operate over the former Log Flume lake. Thankfully many historic rides have been saved by the Save Dreamland Campaign including the Catterpillar, elements of the Fun House, Ghost Train & Haunted Swing. Despite multiple protests, the Cyclone roller coaster was brought to the ground by wrecking ball just a few weeks after the closure of the park.
Other rides, including Chaos and the Flying Camels were purchased by the Lightwater Valley company. Chaos opened as Hornet’s Nest, where it operated for just two seasons before being decommissioned due to continued technical problems.
My last visit to Pleasureland was in August 2006, about three weeks before the closure. Myself and three friends had a fantastic day at the park under sun-filled skies. At closing time we left the park having had the last ride of the day on Cyclone.
Unfortunately, due to hard drive failure I don’t have the photographs I took on that day - if I did, I can assure you that they do not show a park in decline, but a park seemingly at the top of its game.
Don’t miss our gallery documenting Pleasureland’s final season.
Please leave your memories of Pleasureland in the comments below.
Photo Submissions: Valley Mania, One Click, Lewis Cox, Emma Nickson
Photo Notes: Some of the historical images in this article are from unknown sources. No copyright infringement is intended. Please get in touch if you believe your property has been used without permission.