The History of Pleasure Beach Blackpool: The UK’s Number One Amusement Park
Posted by Staff on Saturday, January 28th, 2012
When Alderman William George Bean (or W.G. for short) founded Pleasure Beach Blackpool in 1896, his goal with the amusement park was “to make adults feel like children again and to inspire gaiety of a primarily innocent character.” Over a hundred year later, Pleasure Beach is the most visited amusement park in the U.K, as well as one of the twenty most visited parks in the world. Bean’s commitment to quality entertainment has been sustained through the years by a succession of family members. Today, Pleasure Beach’s managing director is W.G. Bean’s great-granddaughter, Amanda Thompson.
In 1896, W.G. Bean opened two small amusement parks: one in Blackpool and another in Great Yarmouth. By the end of the century, Bean decided to focus full-time on the Blackpool park and teamed up with John Outhwaite to transform it into a Coney Island-style park. Their first major attraction was a ride called Sir Hiram Maxim Flying Machines (1904), which remains popular to this day. It wasn’t until the following year, 1905, that the park was officially christened Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Bean continued to add new rides and attractions until the outbreak of WWI (Outhwaite died in 1911), such as a Water Chute ride, the Scenic Railway, a Hall of Mirrors, The Joy Wheel, and The Whip. Due to the war, development of the park was placed on hold until 1921 when new rides could be imported from the USA.
Between WWI and WWII, Pleasure Beach was taken over by Bean’s son-in-law, Leonard Thompson. With help from architect Joseph Emberton, Thompson redesigned many of the park’s older rides and introduced new ones such as The Rollercoaster, The Pleasure Beach Express, and The Grand National. The Grand National, built in 1935, was Europe’s first twin track racing coaster, and has been voted “one of the best wooden roller coasters in the world.” This roller coaster features two trains racing along parallel tracks towards a finish line. Even though WWII brought the park’s development to a halt, the park remained open and served as an escape from the wartime atmosphere for evacuees and servicemen. This period in Pleasure Beach’s history is also notable for the addition of the world’s first ghost train, a horror story-themed dark ride, designed by Emberton in 1930.
By the 1960s, Pleasure Beach was back on track to becoming the U.K.’s most visited amusement park. This decade saw the addition of Britain’s first commercial monorail and many new rides, including The Monster, The Astro Swirl, and The Log Flume. Also introduced during this area was an Alice in Wonderland-themed dark ride with Cheshire Cat cars that wind through scenes from both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
When Leonard Thompson passed away in 1976, his son Geoffrey took over and added some of the park’s most exciting rides to date. One particularly unique ride, Steeplechase, was created under Geoffrey Thompson’s direction. Custom built by Arrow Dynamics, Steeplechase is a three track racing coaster with horse-shaped vehicles mounted by the ridrs. It is the only coaster of its type in the world today. Much further down the road, Geoffrey oversaw the opening of the world’s largest indoor dark ride, Valhalla, in 2000. Valhalla is a combination dark ride and water ride, and incorporates a wide range of special effects such as fire, water, thunder, and lightening. This ride is notorious for soaking patrons, but this can be avoided somewhat by purchasing a rain cape at the ride’s entrance.
In 2004, Geoffrey’s daughter, Amanda, took over the business when her father and Pleasure Beach Chairman, Mrs L.D. Thompson, both died within nine days of each other. Amanda has been responsible for updating the look of the park, while maintaining many of its historic elements. She has added new sections to the park, such as the food and entertainment district, Bean Streat FY4, in 2009. More recently she closed the Beaver Creek area of the park and reopened it as a new children’s park called Nickelodeon Land. This children’s park features new rides based on Nickelodeon characters, such as SpongeBob Squarepants, but also includes older rides like the Blue Flyer, which first opened in 1934. Today, Pleasure Beach welcomes 6.2 million visitors a year, earning it the title of “Entertainment Adventure Capital of the World.”
image source: http://www.tuxfordhotel.com/Blackpoolpleasurebeach2007.html