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Dreamland has long been an important part of Margate's history

Today's "re-imagined" park is a far cry from Dreamland's humble beginnings as a rather unsuccessful dance hall by the sea.

Back in 1863 catering company Spiers and Pond opened a dance hall and restaurant at the site; they certainly didn't win points for originality, naming the attraction 'The Hall by the Sea'. 

Original or not, the name of this first foray into seafront entertainment will be carried over into the modern age with a new 1,600 capacity 'Hall by the Sea' to be built as part of phase four of the park's redevelopment.

The Scenic Railway, pictured in 1951. Picture Dreamland_Margate

The Scenic Railway, pictured in 1951. Picture: Dreamland_Margate

It was 1870 when pleasure gardens were built on land behind the hall, complete with a ruined abbey, a lake and a collection of animals - breeding pairs intended to stock the travelling circus run by the site's then-owner George Sanger.

Sanger was a popular and charismatic character, as much of an attraction as his exotic menagerie.

The haunted snail ride. Picture John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust

The haunted snail ride. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust

Ladies on the helter skelter in 1961. Picture John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

Ladies on the helter skelter in 1961. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

He added the first ride in 1880, allowing visitors to experience ‘Sea on Land’ machines that pitched and rolled thanks to an intricate system of levers, recreating the motion of the waves.

But in 1911, Sanger died in slightly mysterious circumstances.


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He was killed in a fight sparked by the attempted murder of a friend, although many at the time suspected the flamboyant showman was the intended target.

After Sanger's death, the site was bought in 1919 by John Iles, who renamed it Dreamland, and turned it into a theme park more as we might understand it today.

The original Brooklands Racers. Picture Dreamland_Margate

The original Brooklands Racers. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust

Outdoor skating rink. Picture John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

Outdoor skating rink. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

Iles oversaw the construction of a number of rides, including the iconic Scenic Railway, completed in 1920, which cemented the park's fortunes for years to come.

The ride was wildly popular. It carried half a million passengers in its first year of opening, and attracted millions more over the next few decades.

Dreamland continued to expand during the 1920s, adding first a cinema in 1923 followed by a number of new rides over the next ten years.

Lunching under the Scenic Railway, 1922. Picture John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

Lunching under the Scenic Railway, 1922. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

The Scenic Railway in the 1970s. Picture John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

The Scenic Railway in the 1970s. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

The Second World War saw a brief hiatus, when the park was requisitioned by the government, but the rides did not stay quiet for long.

After the war, the park remained in the ownership of the Iles family, who continued to run it until 1968, when it was sold to Associated Leisure.

The company added more attractions throughout the 1970s, including - in a nod to George Sanger - a zoo.

The paratrooper ride, from the 1970s. Picture Dreamland_Margate

The paratrooper ride, from the 1970s. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust

The Dreamland River Caves. Picture John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

The Dreamland River Caves. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

In 1980 the skyline of Margate changed dramatically when the 148 ft high Big Wheel was installed.

The next owners were Dutch firm Bembom Brothers, who changed the name to Bembom Brothers' White Knuckle Theme Park, which perhaps sounds better in Dutch.

The headline attraction of the 1980s included The Looping Star roller coaster, but even with new rides the park faced hard times ahead.

The scenic railway in the 1960s. Picture John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

The scenic railway in the 1960s. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust.

A 1930s photo of the Scenic Railway

A 1930s photo of the Scenic Railway

Seaside resorts generally were suffering as more people could afford to holiday abroad.

While Margate still enjoyed a summer influx of visitors, numbers were down and Dreamland began to look tired in comparison to the newer, larger theme parks around London.

Many of the rides were sold off after Dreamland was bought by businessman Jimmy Godden, and by the early 2000s was a shadow of its former self.


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