Gala Land: Did You Know…?

This is a follow-on post from Scarborough Aquarium: Did You Know…?

In 1925 Scarborough Aquarium re-opened as Gala Land, under the management of the enterprising Scarborough Corporation, who had recently overseen the building of Peasholm Park, and had recently purchased the Northstead Estate, which would later host attractions such as the Northstead Manor Gardens and the North Bay Bathing Pool.

What follows is a collection of short stories and facts about Gala Land, which eventually closed in 1966. Two years later it was destroyed to make way for an underground car park. Before that happened, did you know that…

1) The ‘Televisor’ was once on display at Gala Land

In 1931, the Televisor – one of the first predecessors of modern television (developed by Scottish engineer John Logie Baird) came to Scarborough. Visitors to Gala Land could take a seat in front of a camera, and have their images transmitted to three receivers in separate rooms, which must have been a novelty at the time. It would be many years later before television began to make its way into the homes of the general population.

Above: John Logie Baird – Scottish inventor (source)

Alderman Sir Meredith Whittaker, proprietor of Scarborough Evening News, was the first Scarborough resident to be filmed by the Baird’s equipment. The result would have been a far cry from the HD footage contemporary audiences enjoy from their living rooms.

2) The venue regularly hosted an all-female orchestra

The Thelma Hammond Orchestra consisted entirely of female musicians, who frequently graced the stage at Gala Land. Consisting of twelve ladies, the orchestra performed up to twice a day, including both afternoon and evening performances; apparently to sell-out audiences. Numbers included the William Tell Overture and Morning, Noon And Night – music that was audible from the nearby Cliff Bridge, via the Gala Land ventilation system.

Hammond’s orchestra began its life many years earlier, consisting initially of just five musicians, including Thelma herself, who played alto saxophone, violin and clarinet. Others also doubled up, with most of the group being proficient in several instruments. Indeed, female orchestras and bands thrived during WWII, when many male musicians were called away to war. Having said that, Thelma and her fellow female bandleaders struggled to maintain their ranks, as women were called away to work in factories and other workplaces typically staffed by men during peacetime.

Stories From Scarborough has thus far found few accounts of the Thelma Hammond Orchestra, but the ensemble reputedly performed in Llandrnidod (Wales) in the 1940s, before becoming regulars at Scarborough in the 1950s. A picture of the orchestra can be viewed at Scarborough Library, in their collection of old newspaper articles relating to Gala Land.

3) Visitors could ride a rollercoaster

It is difficult to imagine a rollercoaster being squeezed into the underground venue, but all the same, a mini Big Dipper snaked its way around one of the palatial rooms, reputedly making a terribly loud clanking sound, and offering a bumpy ride for those who dared to board its small carriages. Interestingly it was known as the ‘Scenic Ride’ – a strange name for an indoor rollercoaster!

4) There was also a maze

And a scenic railway. And a swimming pool. Furthermore many of the features from the aquarium days were retained, including automatons, slot machines and remnants of the menagerie of animals that formerly entertained the masses. There was also a Peeping Tom machine.

Above: The Peeping Tom machine utilised the mutoscope design (source)

Also known as ‘What The Butler Saw’ – which became synonymous with the mutoscope – this machine offered the viewer a peep hole, through which pictures of ladies (in various states of undress) could be seen. Such machines remained popular right up until the 1970s, although are more typically museum pieces today.

5) Zulus danced there

It is unclear whether or not the Zulu dancers were genuine or simply local dancers masquerading as the above. Either way, these performances occurred at Gala Land during the early years of the attraction, wielding spears and feigning mock aggression towards terrified audience members, who paid twopence to attend.

Above: Zulu dancing (source)

Another performer, The Spider Lady, would poke her head through dark curtains, painted to resemble a spider web. It seems that the entertainment on offer was just as strange as it was during the days of the aquarium. Indeed, the venue was known for being jam packed with things to do and see, with older Scarborough residents remembering it fondly, according to the Scarborough News.

Nostalgia aside, Stories From Scarborough is always on the look out for new facts, stories and memories. Perhaps you or a relative actually visited Gala Land – if so, then it’d be great to hear from you. As always, either leave a comment or send an email to help the project.


Most of the material behind this post can be found in the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library, which notably includes old articles from the Scarborough News. See also, the additional source below for more about Thelma Hammond.

Professional music in Llandrindod Wells

12 thoughts on “Gala Land: Did You Know…?

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  5. I remember visiting Gala Land and there was a big slide I am sure it was just as you went in then it sort of turned at the bottom

      • Dear Sarah

        I was very interested in all the information about Gala Land. I have a vivid memory of going there with my Dad when we were on holiday in Scarborough in 1965. I was only 11 at the time but I was struck by the somewhat gloomy and cavernous atmosphere of the place and remember I had never seen anything like it. Although it was summertime, Gala Land (one of the main attractions in Scarborough according to the town brochure) was deserted and I honestly think we were the only visitors at that particular time. My Dad chatted to the attendant who grumbled about the lack of custom and mentioned that the place was soon to be demolished. I also went on the slide and I wandered around looking at the rows of Victorian amusement machines with their cast iron and wood cases. I was desperate to look at ‘what the butler saw’ for the princely sum of one old penny, but couldn’t risk it in case I got into trouble! Sad (but not surprised) to hear that they had been smashed up during the demolition. I confess also that I came away with a sense of disappointment because at the time I liked modern one armed bandits and I suppose I was expecting Gala Land to be full of them – thus failing to appreciate what a unique place on the verge of extinction it was. On another visit to Scarborough many years later, I could not find any trace of it and began to wonder if I had imagined the whole thing. So good to read the other memories of Gala Land.

        Best wishes
        Roy O’Neil

      • Hi Roy,

        Thank you for sharing this memory – I have found very few records of Gala Land/the aquarium, so every memory is really useful!

        Best wishes,

        Sarah (Stories From Scarborough)

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  9. i remember gala land , going there with my dad and mam.
    it would be in the sixtys . iremember the couloured flashing lights and the electrical and grease smell of the machines / rides etc . I also remember the many penny arcade machines it was a magical place

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