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A timeline of Margate’s Dreamland theme park

By Oliver Kemp

Dreamland has had a long history of highs and lows over the last century.

The Margate amusement park has died and been resurrected numerous times in its 99-year life-span, and today it was revealed the site will be sold by Thanet District Council to the current lease-holders for an undisclosed sum.

This leaves the park’s fate in the hands of Sands Heritage Limited, who have been running the site since 2015.

The park has been through a lot in the last 99 years

The council cited "unsustainable" current and future costs as the reason for deciding to put the park back in the private sector.

Dreamland’s history goes right back to 1863, when catering company Spiers and Pond opened a dance hall and restaurant called ‘The Hall by the Sea.’

After a number of years, owner George Sanger decided to add a pleasure garden complete with a lake and circus animals to attract more visitors.

In 1911 Sanger died under mysterious circumstances, which led John Iles to purchase the site in 1919.

He named it Dreamland, overseeing the construction of a number of rides including the world-famous Scenic Railway.

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.

In 1920 alone the wooden ride carried half a million passengers on its mile-long tracks, and is now the oldest rollercoaster in the UK.

The railway suffered fires in 1949 and 1957, until in 2008 when a suspected arson attack destroyed almost half of the structure.

The ride became Grade II listed in 2002, and was resurrected again before the park’s grand re-opening in 2015.

The Scenic Railway blaze in 2008.
The Scenic Railway blaze in 2008.

Iles' vision to create an American-style amusement park set him back half a million pounds, which is the equivalent of £15 million today.

As Dreamland became a destination for visitors, Iles added a cinema in 1932, replaced by a much larger seafront cinema in 1935.

The cinema was given a £1.8 million restoration which was completed in 2017, but is still sitting empty today.

Dreamland cinema in its heyday. Pic courtesy of Cinema Treasures.
Dreamland cinema in its heyday. Pic courtesy of Cinema Treasures.
The empty refurbished cinema now. Pic courtesy of Google.
The empty refurbished cinema now. Pic courtesy of Google.

During the Second World War, the government requisitioned the park during the Dunkirk evacuation and 2000 troops were stationed there.

The restaurants, once bustling with people, were used as treatment areas to help injured soldiers.

In the 1950s the park reopened and continued to be a holiday destination for people all over the country.

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 ballroom became a big draw for weekend revellers throughout the 60s and 70s, hosting DJs and musicians including Bill Haley and Slade.

Since its revival music has continued to play a big part in the park, with acts such as Gorillaz, The Libertines and The Happy Mondays all performing at Dreamland.

In the 80s the park experienced a decline, as holidays abroad became more affordable for people.

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.

New owner Jimmy Godden gave the park a minor revamp in the 1990s to try and entice new visitors, though the works on a new version of the River Caves ride had to be stopped when workmen reported ghostly disturbances.

After struggling to stay open in the early 2000s the park finally closed in 2005.

Declining visitors and another fire which reportedly caused £5 million damage meant keeping the park open was unsustainable.

During this time the Save Dreamland Campaign and the Dreamland Trust were formed, in the hope of once again resurrecting the site and protecting its historical significance.

During the renovation of Dreamland.
During the renovation of Dreamland.

The renovation of the park and restoration of the Scenic Railway cost a total of £28m.

Dreamland opened once again in June 2015, but the troubles were not quite over.

Sands Heritage Limited, the company in charge of the restoration, had to apply to the High Court to arrange the payment of £2.9 million in debt in December 2015.

This was after Thanet Council announced that capital overspend on the new revamped theme park had reached £2m.

Gorillaz performing at Dreamland in 2017.
Gorillaz performing at Dreamland in 2017.

In its first year of reopening more than 300,000 people visited Dreamland, and 40 bands performed.

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

Administrators Duff and Phelps were confident of a bright future for the park, and announced free entry with a new pay-per-ride scheme.

The park announced coming out of administration just six months later, after a successful summer of events.

Summer events are helping to secure Dreamland's future.
Summer events are helping to secure Dreamland's future.

On the announcement of Thanet Council selling the site to Sands Heritage Limited, Leader Cllr Bob Bayford (Con) said: “Now is considered an optimum time to dispose of the site to the lessee and operator Sands Heritage Limited to safeguard its future and support regeneration.”

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

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