Hold on tight for a roller coaster ride around some of Britain’s classic theme park attractions.
We take you back to pre-WWI Blackpool Pleasure Beach, where Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machines wowed straw-boater-wearing thrillseekers, and then through the decades via one-of-a-kind log flumes, a charming carousel and game-changing roller coasters at Chessington World of Adventures Resort and Alton Towers.
Scroll down for a nostalgia trip with some amazing ups and downs…
Dreamland Margate – Scenic Railway
The Scenic Railway roller coaster in Margate opened to the public on July 3, 1920. It’s pictured here in 1951
The wooden ride is now a Grade II-listed structure and the oldest roller coaster in the UK
The Scenic Railway featured in the classic Only Fools and Horses feature-length episode Jolly Boys Outing in 1989
The roller coaster was damaged by fire twice, once in 1949 and again in 2008, but rose twice like a Phoenix from the ashes
The Scenic Railway at Dreamland Margate has certainly had a lot of ups and downs.
The wooden ride, which is now a Grade II-listed structure and the oldest roller coaster in the UK, opened on July 3, 1920. Around 500,000 visitors experienced its climbs, drops and bumps on its mile-long frame in its first three months of operation.
According to the Dreamland website, the ride to the coaster’s first hill ‘afforded thrillseekers a panoramic view of the seafront, with their screams on the way down being audible in the High Street in the peak season’.
It was badly damaged by fire in 1949, then restored, and in 1989 it featured in the classic Only Fools and Horses feature-length episode Jolly Boys Outing.
The ride was damaged by another fire in 2008 and, following years of fundraising for a major restoration, unveiled to the public in 2015 in a re-imagined Dreamland.
Alton Towers – Corkscrew
The Corkscrew opened to much fanfare at Alton Towers in 1980. It was the first major attraction at the theme park
The Corkscrew closed in November 2008 to make way for the Thirteen ride. It is pictured here on its last day of operation
The Corkscrew would thrill riders by hitting speeds of 40mph and sending them around two inversions
Six-hour queues for a ride on the Corkscrew were not uncommon when it opened in 1980
The Corkscrew was a gamechanger for roller coasters in the UK when it opened to much fanfare at Alton Towers in 1980.
It was the first major attraction at the theme park and propelled thrillseekers – after climbing to a height of 85 feet – at speeds of up to 40mph around a track that included two corkscrews, which turned guests upside down.
In Britain, at that time, that was extreme.
The ride lasted just one minute and 30 seconds, but such was its allure that in the months after it opened six-hour queues were not uncommon and Alton Towers even had to close early on several occasions to avoid being overrun.
The Corkscrew thrilled riders for almost 30 years before it closed in November 2008 to make way for the Thirteen ride.
But it hasn’t left Alton Towers entirely – a section of the track is on display at the park entrance.
Wicksteed Park – Water Chute
The Water Chute at Wicksteed Park in Kettering, which was built in 1926. It is pictured here in the late 1920s
A group of children laugh after getting a soaking on the Water Chute in the 1950s. The ride is the oldest water chute in Britain
The chute was built by designer and philanthropist Charles Wicksteed, who created Wicksteed Park
In 2016, the chute was given listed status by Historic England due to its ‘significance to the heritage of Britain’
The Water Chute at Wicksteed Park in Kettering was built in 1926 – and it is still making a splash 94 years later.
The ride is the oldest water chute in Britain, as well as one of the oldest water rides in the world. It was built by designer and philanthropist Charles Wicksteed, who created Wicksteed Park.
In 2016, the chute was given listed status by Historic England due to its ‘significance to the heritage of Britain’.
The park said: ‘Even today when there are ever faster and bigger amusement rides, visitors are still thrilled to slide down the chute and anticipate the inevitable splash.’
Blackpool Pleasure Beach – Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machines
The Captive Flying Machines first took flight on August 1, 1904. Over the years, it has undergone a series of modifications. This picture was taken in 1915. The House of Nonsense was clearly another major draw at the time…
Golden oldie: The Flying Machines is Europe’s oldest continuously working amusement park ride. These aeroplane-style carriages were introduced in 1929 and replaced by rocket-style cars in the 1950s
How the Captive Flying Machines at Blackpool Pleasure Beach look today. The ride was originally designed by Sir Hiram Maxim
Behold Europe’s oldest continuously working amusement park ride – Blackpool Pleasure Beach‘s Captive Flying Machines.
They first took flight on August 1, 1904, and were designed by Sir Hiram Maxim, famous for inventing mousetraps and the world’s first portable machine gun.
The ride then was made up of 10 steel arms with a car at each end that was capable of holding several people. The arms rotated from a central driving shaft.
Over the years, it has undergone a series of modifications and redesigns, including the original boats being replaced by aeroplanes in 1929 and those by rocket-style cars in the 1950s, and a Joseph Emberton-designed building added to the base in 1934.
Clacton Pier – Steel Stella roller coaster
The Steel Stella roller coaster started whizzing around Clacton Pier in 1937 and became the most popular ride on the pier
The owner of Clacton Pier, Ernest Kingsman, is pictured here (front left) riding Steel Stella in 1937
The team that built Steel Stella pose in front of the ride in 1937. The roller coaster was destroyed by a fire in 1973
The wooden Steel Stella roller coaster was built on Clacton Pier in 1937 by the then owner Ernest Kingsman. It was the most popular ride on the Pier and helped to pull in around 40,000 people a day through the turnstiles.
It continued operating until August 1973, when a fire in the lift house erupted at the top of the ride. That night performers including Russ Abbott and Jim Bowen were on stage at the adjacent Ocean Theatre. The performers helped usher the audience to safety while Pier staff did their best to contain the blaze with buckets of water from the dolphinarium until the fire service arrived to take over.
Sadly, the damage from the fire left the ride beyond repair and what was left was dismantled in November 1973 and the wood was put out front for residents to collect for firewood.
The current owners – Billy and Elliot Ball – brought in Stella’s Revenge roller coaster in 2011 as part of their plans to invoke the landmark’s past – hence its name. That was taken down earlier this year to make way for the Looping Star Roller Coaster, which will open in 2021.
Chessington World of Adventures Resort – Vampire
Bite-size fact: Vampire was the first suspended swinging roller coaster in Britain when it opened in 1990 at Chessington World of Adventures
Today, Vampire is the only suspended coaster of its kind left outside North America. Pictured is the roller coaster after the park opened in July following lockdown
Here’s a ride with bite.
Vampire, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, was the first suspended swinging roller coaster in the country when it opened in 1990 at Chessington World of Adventures Resort.
The 42mph ride closed in 2001 to have new trains fitted. Now it is the only suspended coaster of its kind left outside North America.
Thorpe Park, Loggers Leap
Above left: Princess Diana, a 10-year-old Prince William and an eight-year-old Prince Harry are filled with excitement as they prepare to go down the final drop of Thorpe Park’s Loggers Leap in 1993 with general manager Colin Davison. This final 52ft (16m) descent made the ride at the Surrey theme park Britain’s highest log flume when it opened in 1989. On the right is an overall view of the final double drop
The royal party clearly enjoyed their flume experience. Their visit was a huge boost for Thorpe Park
Loggers Leap opened at Thorpe Park in Surrey in 1989 and quickly became a firm favourite with thrillseekers. At the time – with a drop of 52ft (16m) – it was Britain’s highest log flume.
The ride received the royal seal of approval in 1993 – and mass publicity – when Princess Diana, a 10-year-old Prince William and Prince Harry, then eight, rode it during a visit to the park.
Endearing images of the Princess and her sons laughing away as they negotiated the rapids were beamed around the world. After Diana’s untimely death in 1997 a plaque was erected in her memory at the ride’s entrance.
In 2015 the theme park took the decision to close the ride saying they ‘felt it had lost some of its magic’. The memorial to Princess Diana remains though.
Drayton Manor Theme Park – Carousel
The Carousel at Drayton Manor Theme Park pictured in 1958, the year it opened
The ride has a maximum capacity of 55 riders, who can choose a seat or ride a horse that ‘gallops’ as the Carousel spins
Drayton Manor’s website describes the Carousel as ‘a truly classic ride that will delight the whole family, young or old’
Drayton Manor Theme Park in Staffordshire has been delighting visitors since it opened with a handful of rides in 1950.
None of the rides from the opening day remain. But one that was built in 1958 is still running – the stunning Carousel, which is the oldest still-operating attraction at the park.
It has a maximum capacity of 55 riders, who can choose a seat or ride a horse that ‘gallops’ as the Carousel spins.
The theme park’s website describes it as ‘a truly classic ride that will delight the whole family, young or old’.