Monday, 15 June 2015

Margate's Dreamland re-opens




Who remembers Dreamland?  Before the hi-tec thrills of Alton Park and the great US theme parks it was a huge attraction in Margate, on the UK’s south east coast. It mirrored Coney Island's Luna Park, across the Atlantic in New York.  I recall, as a child, winning a large model racing car made of metal at a stand there, its design still echoing those which competed on the banked track at Brooklands, with no hint of the Formula One shapes to come. Now Dreamland has woken from a long slumber. Following a campaign to save it from a threatened re-development its wooden roller coaster – installed in 1921 and badly damaged in a 2008 fire - has been restored (though it wasn't be ready for the opening day). The cinema which originally opened in 1935, and the cages which were once part of a zoo have also undergone restoration. The park's origins go back to the advent of rail travel in the 19th century, when Londoners were first able to travel easily to the seaside. But it owes its name to John Henry Iles, who bought what was then known as the Hall by the Sea a year after the end of the Great War. During the Second World War it served as a treatment centre for troops rescued from Dunkirk – and later as an army base. In the fifties it became a hang out for Teddy Boys. In the sixties the Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Lulu all played there. In the seventies new rides were added and Bill Haley and his Comets opened a revamped music venue. In 1981 the park was bought by a Dutch company which changed its name – but it wasn’t long before it became Dreamland again. The long struggle to save it saw successful bids for Heritage Lottery funding and support from the Government’s Sport’s SeaChange Scheme. Restoration took off in 2010 and two years ago the local council took over ownership of the park, which will now be a mixture of retro and state of the art atractions which, it is certain, will boost the Margate revival given lift off with the establishment of the much praised Turner Contemporary Gallery.

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