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Dreamland, Folkestone Rotunda and Ramsgate's Pleasurama - we take a look at Kent's old and current amusement parks

For years, Kent has provided many a happy place for thrillseekers when it comes to a good theme park.

As well as the travelling and pop-up fares, the county has been home - and still is - to several amusement parks, including Dreamland, the Rotunda and Diggerland. News that work is finally starting on the derelict Pleasurama site in Ramsgate prompted us to dig through our archive.

The Big Wheel at Dreamland, July 1980
The Big Wheel at Dreamland, July 1980

Here, we take a look back at their history and what they had to offer, whether it was for a family day out or a high adrenaline rush.

Kent may have lost a few funfairs over the years...but there is still fun to be had.

Diggerland, Medway - still open:

Diggerland Kent opened in April 2000 and the park was a success with over 20,000 visitors passing through its gates in the first year.

The idea for the fun park came from Hugh Edeleanu, chairman of H. E. Services, the largest supplier of digging construction machinery for hire in Europe.

Diggerland is based in Medway. Picture: Steve Crispe
Diggerland is based in Medway. Picture: Steve Crispe

During an open day at one of the sites, Mr Edeleanu noticed how much the children were fascinated by all the machinery and by just sitting in the cabs of diggers.

And born was the idea of Diggerland.

There are now four parks in the UK - in Kent, Devon, Durham and Yorkshire - and one in America.

In 2003, Diggerland in Kent moved to a new location in Strood, which is a former industrial site, and has the capacity for 2,000 visitors a day.

Attractions at the park include Skyshuttle, Mini Landrovers, Giant Giggers, Mini Tractors, Go Karts plus a safari and indoor play area.

Diggerland is currently closed due to Covid-19, but is aiming for a July re-opening.

Hugh Edeleanu, chairman H. E. Services and founder of Diggerland. Picture: Jim Bell
Hugh Edeleanu, chairman H. E. Services and founder of Diggerland. Picture: Jim Bell
There are a variety of rides at Diggerland
There are a variety of rides at Diggerland
Thrillseekers at Diggerland in 2009. Picture: Louise Edeleanu, Diggerland
Thrillseekers at Diggerland in 2009. Picture: Louise Edeleanu, Diggerland
Hayley and Ian Westlake were the first couple to get married at Diggerland: Credit: Sally Masson Photography
Hayley and Ian Westlake were the first couple to get married at Diggerland: Credit: Sally Masson Photography
Diggerland opened 20 years ago in Kent. Picture: Andy Jones
Diggerland opened 20 years ago in Kent. Picture: Andy Jones
Diggerland's Steve Biggs with one of the attractions, from 2018. Picture: Andy Jones
Diggerland's Steve Biggs with one of the attractions, from 2018. Picture: Andy Jones
Diggerland's Steve Biggs and one of the rides. Picture: Andy Jones
Diggerland's Steve Biggs and one of the rides. Picture: Andy Jones
Diggerland's Robot Wars, 2005. Photo by Barry Goodwin
Diggerland's Robot Wars, 2005. Photo by Barry Goodwin
Children from Chernobyl during a visit to Diggerland in 2016. Pictured are Veronika and Andreya. Picture: Steve Crispe
Children from Chernobyl during a visit to Diggerland in 2016. Pictured are Veronika and Andreya. Picture: Steve Crispe
Dougie and Dottie the Diggerland mascots meet Wowzer the KM Walk to school mascot in 2014
Dougie and Dottie the Diggerland mascots meet Wowzer the KM Walk to school mascot in 2014
Diggerland fun in 2018
Diggerland fun in 2018
Lily Foyle and Zachary Foyle enjoying the attractions at Diggerland in 2012. Picture: Peter Still
Lily Foyle and Zachary Foyle enjoying the attractions at Diggerland in 2012. Picture: Peter Still
Lexi Hope at Diggerland, 2019
Lexi Hope at Diggerland, 2019

Dreamland, Margate - still open:

Dreamland is considered to be the oldest-surviving amusement park in the country, let alone Kent.

Over the years, the well-known site in Margate has hosted a zoo, miniature railway, First World War troops, big bands like the The Who and the Rolling Stones, and many, many rides.

Dreamland is currently closed due to Covid-19. Picture: Chris Davey
Dreamland is currently closed due to Covid-19. Picture: Chris Davey

It was first known as Dreamland in 1920 when its new owner John Iles transformed it into a pleasure garden and amusement park.

That same year the iconic Scenic Railway opened and within its first 12 months of operation the wooden ride carried half a million passengers on its mile-long tracks.

It is now the oldest rollercoaster in the UK and became Grade II listed in 2002. It suffered fires in 1949, 1957, and in 2008, when a suspected arson attack destroyed almost half of the structure.

Over the early part of the 20th century, Dreamland thrived as a popular visitor attraction and music venue with Margate remaining a hugely popular vacation spot for Londoners.

In 1981 the site was sold to the Dutch Bembom brothers, who renamed it "Bembom Brothers White Knuckle Theme Park".

Crowds at Dreamland in the 1920s. Picture: Loaned by Nick Evans and Dreamland Trust
Crowds at Dreamland in the 1920s. Picture: Loaned by Nick Evans and Dreamland Trust

It reverted to Dreamland in 1990, when it was taken over by the late Jimmy Godden.

But by the early 2000s its popularity had declined with many rides being sold off to other amusement parks.

It was announced in 2003 that Dreamland would close and the site redeveloped, although the listing of the Scenic Railway meant it could not be moved.

The site was sold to Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company in 2005, who proposed a residential redevelopment - prompting a 'Save Dreamland' campaign.

Thanet District Council compulsorily-purchased the site in September 2013 and work began to restore the iconic Scenic Railway and the park.

It re-opened in 2015 and in its first year of reopening more than 300,000 people visited and 40 bands performed.

Teddy Boys in 1954 at Dreamland. Picture: Loaned by Nick Evans and Dreamland Trust
Teddy Boys in 1954 at Dreamland. Picture: Loaned by Nick Evans and Dreamland Trust

Despite the big numbers, the park entered into administration in 2016.

Following significant additional investment, the amusement park was re-launched and expanded once again in 2017.

And in 2019 saw its highest visitors numbers - 700,000 - since its re-opening.

The park is currently closed until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Dreamland entrance in 1923
Dreamland entrance in 1923
Staff photo at Dreamland from the 1920s
Staff photo at Dreamland from the 1920s
A packed Margate beach with Dreamland in the background. Date unknown. Picture: Thanet council
A packed Margate beach with Dreamland in the background. Date unknown. Picture: Thanet council
The paratrooper ride, from the 1970s. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust
The paratrooper ride, from 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 Scenic Railway in the 1970s. Picture: John Hutchinson Collection courtesy of the Dreamland Trust
People enjoying one of the many rides at Dreamland in 1983
People enjoying one of the many rides at Dreamland in 1983
Aerial view of Dreamland from June 1983
Aerial view of Dreamland from June 1983
Aerial view of the giant Ferris wheel at Dreamland. Picture from September 1988
Aerial view of the giant Ferris wheel at Dreamland. Picture from September 1988
Ballroom dancers enjoy a spin at Dreamland. Date unknown
Ballroom dancers enjoy a spin at Dreamland. Date unknown
1950s: Dreamland's iconic Scenic Railway
1950s: Dreamland's iconic Scenic Railway
Ladies on the helter skelter at Dreamland in 1961
Ladies on the helter skelter at Dreamland in 1961
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
One of the Dreamland posters from yesteryear. Picture: Loaned by Nick Evans and Dreamland Trust
One of the Dreamland posters from yesteryear. Picture: Loaned by Nick Evans and Dreamland Trust
The 'Bembom Brothers' logo is seen at Dreamland. Date unknown. Picture courtesy of Cinema Treasures
The 'Bembom Brothers' logo is seen at Dreamland. Date unknown. Picture courtesy of Cinema Treasures
The Log Run at Dreamland, 1997
The Log Run at Dreamland, 1997
The Scenic Railway blaze in 2008
The Scenic Railway blaze in 2008
David Sanger cutting the ribbon at the Dreamland opening in 2015
David Sanger cutting the ribbon at the Dreamland opening in 2015
Dreamland, 2016. Picture: Tony Flashman
Dreamland, 2016. Picture: Tony Flashman
Dreamland celebrated its first birthday in 2016. Picture: Tony Flashman
Dreamland celebrated its first birthday in 2016. Picture: Tony Flashman
2016 - John Challis and Sue Holderness at Dreamland's Only Fools and Horses exhibition. Picture: Tony Flashman
2016 - John Challis and Sue Holderness at Dreamland's Only Fools and Horses exhibition. Picture: Tony Flashman
Dreamland's entrance on Margate seafront
Dreamland's entrance on Margate seafront
Dreamland is still a popular attraction in Kent. Picture credit: Dreamland
Dreamland is still a popular attraction in Kent. Picture credit: Dreamland
The Scenic Railway at Dreamland. Picture: Marc Sethi
The Scenic Railway at Dreamland. Picture: Marc Sethi
Dreamland's Scenic Railway
Dreamland's Scenic Railway
In 2017, X Factor auditions were held at Dreamland. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
In 2017, X Factor auditions were held at Dreamland. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
Santa enjoying Dreamland's Scenic Railway. Picture: Tony Flashman
Santa enjoying Dreamland's Scenic Railway. Picture: Tony Flashman
A Dreamland ride, date unknown
A Dreamland ride, date unknown
The Roller Disco at Dreamland, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
The Roller Disco at Dreamland, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
A 'Never Grow Up' sign at Margate's Dreamland, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
A 'Never Grow Up' sign at Margate's Dreamland, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Magic Mouse at Dreamland 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Magic Mouse at Dreamland 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Enjoying the rides in 2017 at Dreamland. Picture: Gary Browne
Enjoying the rides in 2017 at Dreamland. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland rides, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland rides, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland, Margate, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland, Margate, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland in Margate in 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland in Margate in 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland slides, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
Dreamland slides, 2017. Picture: Gary Browne
The Crazy Mouse at Dreamland
The Crazy Mouse at Dreamland
Rock the Boat at Dreamland
Rock the Boat at Dreamland
Dreamland has attracted visitors for decades
Dreamland has attracted visitors for decades
The air force ride at Dreamland, Margate
The air force ride at Dreamland, Margate
Dreamland in 2017
Dreamland in 2017
Camp Bestival takeover at Dreamland in 2019
Camp Bestival takeover at Dreamland in 2019
Dreamland, as it looks now
Dreamland, as it looks now
Dreamland now holds 'Screamland' events for Halloween
Dreamland now holds 'Screamland' events for Halloween
Screamland at Dreamland in Margate, 2018
Screamland at Dreamland in Margate, 2018
Dreamland's Big Wheel being dismantled in 2019 for maintenance. Picture: Rob Yates
Dreamland's Big Wheel being dismantled in 2019 for maintenance. Picture: Rob Yates
A sell out crowd partied the night away at the Melanie C concert at Dreamland as part of Margate Pride in 2019. Picture: Dreamland Margate
A sell out crowd partied the night away at the Melanie C concert at Dreamland as part of Margate Pride in 2019. Picture: Dreamland Margate
Dreamland had announced many events this year to celebrate its 100 year anniversary. Picture: Dreamland
Dreamland had announced many events this year to celebrate its 100 year anniversary. Picture: Dreamland
A merry-go-round ride at Dreamland in 2020. Picture: Chris Davey
A merry-go-round ride at Dreamland in 2020. Picture: Chris Davey
Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, and Madness front man Suggs at Dreamland. Picture: Matt Kent
Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, and Madness front man Suggs at Dreamland. Picture: Matt Kent
Margate's Dreamland amusement park is closed due to Covid-19. Picture: Chris Davey
Margate's Dreamland amusement park is closed due to Covid-19. Picture: Chris Davey

Dymchurch Amusement Park- still open:

Located right on the beach in Dymchurch, on Romney Marsh, this family fun park has been running for more than two decades.

Rides include Mickey’s Runaway, Rocket Revenge, Ghost Train, the Dymchurch Dodgem, Snake Slide, Crooked House, Log Flume, Circus Carousel and the Ferris Wheel.

Welcomes to Dymchurch - a children's paradise
Welcomes to Dymchurch - a children's paradise

Also on-site are two amusement arcades, as well as a café with an indoor soft-ball play area and a snack bar.

The attraction has been owned by the Woolls family for 23 years.

In 2018, they spent £500,000 on a new ride, dubbed the Family Coaster.

The park is open every year from March until October.

In 2019, the site appeared in band New Hope Club's Love Again music video.

In the video, the band are seen breaking into the fun park before riding the dodgems, merry-go-round and swings.

The park is currently closed due to the coronavirus but is aiming to open again from July 4.

Dymchurch Amusement Park in 2018
Dymchurch Amusement Park in 2018
Band New Hope Club filmed their music video for Love Again at Dymchurch Amusements, and are seen 'breaking into' the theme park
Band New Hope Club filmed their music video for Love Again at Dymchurch Amusements, and are seen 'breaking into' the theme park
New Hope Club at Dymchurch Amusement Park
New Hope Club at Dymchurch Amusement Park

Folkestone Rotunda - closed 2003:

The Rotunda on Folkestone seafront was a popular and bustling mini theme park complete with rollercoasters, dodgems, a helter skelter, arcades, crazy golf and a log flume.

Popular rides included Castle Dracula, the Magic Mouse and the Runaway Coaster, which dated to 1922 but was installed at the Rotunda in 1998.

The Dome, with the boating pool. Date unknown
The Dome, with the boating pool. Date unknown

Its landmark building - The Dome - was built in 1936 by Folkestone firm Jenner and for 40 years was the largest unsupported concrete Dome in Europe.

The site had once included a large boating lake - which was opened in 1937 - and a 50m open-air swimming pool, built a year later, with the rides being added in the following years.

While unable to match Dreamland for wider appeal, the Rotunda was a site which pulled in huge crowds and which would eventually host the popular Sunday market too.

A second, additional dome building was also built, with children's soft play and cafes on site.

It was not without controversy; in 1999 eight year old Erin Griffin fell from the mini dragon ride and sadly died.

The Runaway Coaster
The Runaway Coaster

Owners Dreamland Leisure Ltd were fined for breaching health and safety laws.

In another incident a carpenter who was working on a ride fell and broke his leg.

And it all came to an end in 2003, when the owner, the late Jimmy Godden, decided to sell the site.

The Rotunda had once been part of Mr Godden’s seaside entertainment empire, which also included the aforementioned Dreamland and Ramsgate's Pleasurama

He said at the time: "People don't want to come to the seaside any more for rides. We can't look backwards. The building was decaying and past its sell by date."

Demolition work saw most buildings gone by 2007, the same year an auction was held to get rid of all the left over equipment and memorabilia.

Today, the area is being transformed into a vast seafront development headed by the Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Development Company (FHSDC).

The Dome can be seen here in Folkestone. Date unknown
The Dome can be seen here in Folkestone. Date unknown
Magic Mouse and the helter skelter can be seen at the Folkestone Rotunda. Picture from 2002.
Magic Mouse and the helter skelter can be seen at the Folkestone Rotunda. Picture from 2002.
Some of the many youngsters who were guests of the Variety Club Children's Charity at the Rotunda, Folkestone
Some of the many youngsters who were guests of the Variety Club Children's Charity at the Rotunda, Folkestone
The Rotunda site in 2003, pictured from the Leas Cliff. Picture: Matt McArdle
The Rotunda site in 2003, pictured from the Leas Cliff. Picture: Matt McArdle
The Rotunda site in 2003, pictured from the Leas Cliff. Picture: Matt McArdle
The Rotunda site in 2003, pictured from the Leas Cliff. Picture: Matt McArdle
Cranes start to demolish the Rotunda. Picture: Dave Downey
Cranes start to demolish the Rotunda. Picture: Dave Downey
The Rotunda in 2002. Picture Dave Downey
The Rotunda in 2002. Picture Dave Downey
Photograph by Matt Rowe of the Rotunda in Folkestone in 2007
Photograph by Matt Rowe of the Rotunda in Folkestone in 2007
Photograph by Matt Rowe of The Dome in Folkestone, 2007
Photograph by Matt Rowe of The Dome in Folkestone, 2007
Folkestone Rotunda, 2007 - Auction to sell off the remnants of the funfair and arcade, including these horses
Folkestone Rotunda, 2007 - Auction to sell off the remnants of the funfair and arcade, including these horses
Folkestone Rotunda, 2007 - Auction to sell off the remnants of the funfair and arcade. Pictured: Dougal Glanville, from the Windshack cafe in Minnis Bay, with his purchase
Folkestone Rotunda, 2007 - Auction to sell off the remnants of the funfair and arcade. Pictured: Dougal Glanville, from the Windshack cafe in Minnis Bay, with his purchase
Folkestone Rotunda, 2007 - Auction to sell off the remnants of the funfair and arcade. The Dome is pictured in the background
Folkestone Rotunda, 2007 - Auction to sell off the remnants of the funfair and arcade. The Dome is pictured in the background
2007 - Folkestone Rotunda's auction to sell off the remnants of the fair and arcade. Pictured: Angela Chilton views some of the lighting
2007 - Folkestone Rotunda's auction to sell off the remnants of the fair and arcade. Pictured: Angela Chilton views some of the lighting
Folkestone Rotunda, 2007 - Auction to sell off the remnants of the funfair and arcade
Folkestone Rotunda, 2007 - Auction to sell off the remnants of the funfair and arcade
The old Rotunda site at Folkestone pictured in 2007. Picture: Robert Mouland
The old Rotunda site at Folkestone pictured in 2007. Picture: Robert Mouland

Pleasurama, Ramsgate - closed 1998:

In 1926, a section of railway line between Broadstairs and Ramsgate Harbour including a tunnel to the seafront at Ramsgate was abandoned.

Following this, the land was sold to the Ramsgate Corporation who leased the prime spot to be used for 'leisure'.

Merrie England at Ramsgate Sands. Date unknown
Merrie England at Ramsgate Sands. Date unknown

The site, next to the sunny beach, underwent a transformation and for decades was a popular funfair, known as Merrie England and also Pleasurama.

Over the years rides at the beloved site included a helter skelter, Waltzers, House of Fun, Ghost Train, carousel, Ferris wheel and fairground games including fish for a duck.

The seafront site was also home to a bathing pool, zoo, mini golf, bars - including Long Bar -, amusement arcades, a bingo hall and restaurants.

With the introduction of cheap abroad holidays, its popularity declined.

And in May 1998 Pleasurama was destroyed by a fire, and soon after everything was demolished.

After years of sitting empty, work has now started on the site, which, when complete will include107 luxury apartments, a 60-bed hotel and leisure facilities, including shops and food outlets.

Staff at Ramsgate's Pleasurama bingo hall in the late 1960s. Picture: Lesley Dudeley
Staff at Ramsgate's Pleasurama bingo hall in the late 1960s. Picture: Lesley Dudeley
Taken in Ramsgate near Pleasurama, date unknown. Picture: Holly Finch
Taken in Ramsgate near Pleasurama, date unknown. Picture: Holly Finch
The old Pleasurama site in Ramsgate in 2009, destined for the 'Royal Sands' development
The old Pleasurama site in Ramsgate in 2009, destined for the 'Royal Sands' development

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