This obscure little attraction sat next to the Princess Cafe on Scarborough Sandside, and the building it occupied is now part of the Penny Arcade Amusements – see far left on the illustration below.
Dates of operation are sketchy, but references are made to its existence from as early as the 1970s until the first few years of the 1990s. The front sign was bright yellow with red text, and visible from the outside was a ticket booth and an escalator, ascending into darkness. According to some, this escalator (deliberately) ran backwards, making entry somewhat complicated. This detail has yet to be verified, however.
There is some speculation as to what was inside – some recall wobbly floors and comedic obstacles, designed to make navigation difficult. However, this may be a case of mistaken identity – similarly named Funhouse rides boast such features, and are often found at fairgrounds and amusement sites. Coincidentally the first one, which operated in 1900, opened at the real life Coney Island in New York, USA – the site that gave Scarborough’s former Turkish Baths (now amusements) its current name.
Above: An example of the Funhouse ride (image credit below)
Others make the case for a dark, maze-like interior in which terrifying figures (attraction staff) emerged from the gloom. These varying accounts make the Madhouse all the more intriguing. In the absence of official accounts or documents, the only clues left are memories – often flawed and mixed up with other recollections.
Do you remember the Madhouse? What do your recollections tell you? What was really inside?
Even the proprietor’s name has been difficult to verify. A number of sources suggest that the Madhouse was the brainchild of amusements owner Charles Enoch Doubtfire. Like other local seafront entrepreneurs, such as Jimmy Corrigan and Henry Marshall, Doubtfire had a fairground background, and operated arcades on the South Bay. In the late 1970s, according to telephone directories, he owned or at least rented the building in which the Madhouse once stood, and a nearby arcade bore his name.
Sometimes referred to by his middle name, Enoch, Doubtfire married the daughter of another fairground supremo – Enoch Farrar, and later inherited at least one of his father-in-law’s rides.
You can view images of some of Doubtfire’s rides at the National Fairground Archive.
He caused controversy in 1981 for putting up a waxwork version of the Yorkshire Ripper at the Madhouse entrance. Considering that Peter Sutcliffe, the aforementioned murderer, had only just been arrested in January of the same year – the waxwork was considered in poor taste.
In a further twist, whilst memories of the Madhouse may or may not be mixed up with memories of the similarly named Funhouse fairground staple, there was also, apparently a Funhouse in Scarborough – it stood on the Foreshore, possibly during either the 1960s or 1970s. Once again, like the Madhouse, it has so far proved virtually impossible to trace.
This is where you, the readers come in. Tell Stories From Scarborough about these places. A sentence, a rumour, even a guess. Anything and everything provides valuable clues and helps with the research. Many of you have got in touch with little pieces of information which have opened up entire new research directions – please keep these clues coming! If you’ve been to either the Funhouse or the Madhouse, please share what you know – otherwise these places will vanish into obscurity.
Sources & Image Credit