Memories From Marvel’s

Marvel’s Amusement Park, formerly Scarborough Marineland and Zoo, was located on the top of the hill behind the current outdoor theatre in Manor Gardens, Scarborough. It opened in 1984 and closed in 2002. You can read more about it on the links below:

Marvel’s Amusement Park (brief history)

Scarborough Zoo and Marineland (pre-Marvel’s)

Thrill-seeking at Marvel’s and Scarborough Zoo (rollercoasters and rides)

Great Crested Newts at Kinderland and Marvel’s (links with local wildlife)

Marvel’s Now (the current status of the site)

The following post contains memories of Marvel’s submitted by Mark, who previously shared his recollections of Kinderland with Stories From Scarborough. Although the zoo closed before he first visited the site, he does recall one clue as to its former existence:

From what I can remember, there were no Animals remaining, by the time I was old enough to visit Marvel’s (it was somewhere that was ‘off limits’ in the first couple of holidays that I can remember, as mum felt it was for older children than myself at that point.). One thing I do seem to remember, is during the earlier visits, there was still a blue-coloured ‘pool’ – I feel this may have been where the performing dolphins, sealions etc were previously located?

He also mentions the chairlifts, which have inspired a costume and art installation here at Stories From Scarborough, as well as a memory from another reader.

At first, once we started visiting, we used to go up via the road way, rather than the chairlifts – this was mainly my prompting, as I was fairly terrified of the chair lifts – I was convinced they would knock me off my feet, or that I would fall out of it once I was onboard!

However, I did get used to them, and from that point onwards, we always used the ‘green’ chairlifts to get up to marvel’s. We would often go up in the evening, using the chairlift whilst it was still open, and walking back down, and around Peasholm Park in the evening on the way back to the hotel.

We would also, sometimes, ride up during the day, crossing the site to the red chairlifts, and using them to get down to the northern end of the north bay. This would sometimes just be for the trip, sometimes to get to the sealife centre – however being a fan of the railway as well, I’d often be quite torn as to whether to use the train or the chairlift! We used the red chairlifts less often overall – the first time we used them, mum dropped a shoe, and I had to go back and fetch it afterwards – this probably put us off them slightly!

As for the other rides, he recalls the fearsome Big Dipper, and the more appealing Go-Gator:

Thinking about the rides, then… The Big Dipper, I only rode on once – mum was not keen on it, and I’d never been on any rollercoaster quite that large – or at least, it seemed very large to a young me. At the end of the sole ride I had, the brakes applied so sharply that I smacked my jaw into the hand/grab rail. It didn’t take long for me to decide that the go-gator was a much safer option, which I enjoyed, and therefore stuck with. I have a vague recollection of a ferris wheel there, too, but that may not be the case.

However, it wasn’t just rides that Mark remembered:

Although I remember the dinosaurs being there, I have little real memories of them, I’m afraid. I remember the model village quite well – the concept of being taller than buildings was quite entertaining to young me. I also remember the model village becoming quite run down towards the end of Marvel’s days, which kind of upset me, at the time. There was also a crazy golf course up there, which was something that had to be done every year – it was just ‘part of the holiday’.

I don’t remember Marvel’s doing souvenirs at all – they may have done, but I was too focused on the rides and other activities, I guess. They did have slot machines, however – this was something we did often on the evening trips – Marvel’s was much closer for an evening of slot machines, than the south bay. The main building I remember with them in, was fairly close to the top of the steps and benches that came up from the old ‘open air theatre’ area.

He also flagged up some new information that has not yet been covered here at Stories From Scarborough:

There was also a ‘water cannon’ type thing near the top of the stairs – you put money in (I think it was 10p at that point) and tried to hit targets with a spray of water – for no reason other than to do so, there was nothing to win, yet it was somehow very entertaining.

I remember they used to do a fireworks show, too – this often worked out on the week that me and mum visited Scarborough (or they may have done it every week, I can’t be sure on that) – so mum used to take me, and D, who was one of the sons of the hotel owners (same family I still holiday with, even now) up to see the fireworks display. Whilst we were standing around, waiting for the display to actually take place, the slots were great for keeping us occupied!

Once again, thanks to Mark for generously sharing his memories – written memories can be just as vivid as images, if not more so, and Stories From Scarborough is keen to hear from more of you if possible! It doesn’t matter how detailed your memory is, or how long or short, everything is relevant.

Did you ever visit Marvel’s or Scarborough Zoo? Or even the tennis courts that stood on the site before both attractions? Did you go on any of the rides? Climb the fibreglass mountains and/or dinosaurs? Take the chairlift? What was the model village like? Or the crazy golf?

Please comment or get in touch.

Thrill-seeking at Marvel’s and Scarborough Zoo

Marvel’s Amusement Park and its predecessor Scarborough Zoo featured a number of rides for thrill-seeking visitors.

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Above: A Marvel’s Poster featuring a list of rides (from the author’s personal collection)

The National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield, holds an impressive collection of photographs online, featuring many of the rides that once operated at both amusement park and zoo.

For digital security reasons these images cannot be reproduced here, although relevant links will be provided where appropriate.

One of the most prominent rides on the Marvel’s/Zoo site was The Big Dipper, not to be confused with the famous Big Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Below: The better known Blackpool Big Dipper – a very different ride (source)

The Scarborough Big Dipper was a much smaller model, which opened in 1973, as part of Scarborough Zoo. Manufactured by Pinfari, this ride, unlike its larger wooden Blackpool namesake, was made from steel.

You can view another image of the ride here, courtesy of the NFA Digital Archive at the University of Sheffield.

In 1999 the roller coaster was moved to Knowsley Safari Park, where it became known as Viper and operated between 2000 and 2006. Afterwards it may have been sold to a Spanish company, although confirmation of this has been difficult to find.

Above: The Viper logo (source)

Below: The ride at Knowsley Safari Park (source)

There was also a junior roller coaster for children, known as the Go-Gator, which ran from 1973 until 1999, just like the Big Dipper.

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Above: Go-Gator ride (from the author’s personal collection)

An alternative view of the ride can be seen here at the NFA Digital Collection, University of Sheffield.

Another steel ride, manufactured by Wisdom, the Go-Gator featured a gently undulating track, traversed via carriages that resembled a cartoon alligator. There are still a number in operation today.

Above: The Go-Gator at nearby Flamingoland (source)

Scarborough Zoo also built up a collection of fairground staples, which its later reincarnation – Marvel’s – inherited. These included:

Waltzers

Dodgems

Paratroopers

Jets

Click the links to see photos from the NFA Digital Archive – images cannot be used or reproduced unless permission has been granted from the NFA at the University of Sheffield. Many more can be found by typing ‘Scarborough’ into the search box.

Some bore the name of Scarborough Zoo’s founder, Don Robinson. Others had more creative names, such as Super Cyclone Twist, and Stargazer.

 

Above: Cardboard copy of the Stargazer sign (source)

When Marvel’s replaced Scarborough Zoo in 1984, the attraction focused more on rides and thrill-seeking than ever before. It’s new name (Mr Marvel’s Showtime USA Fun Park – quite a mouthful!) and those of the rides suggested a desire to emulate the success of famous US theme parks. Indeed, when Don Robinson first developed the site back in the late 1960s, he recalls being inspired by Disneyland.

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Above: Another Marvel’s poster (from the author’s personal collection)

In line with this American-style re-branding, the chairlifts – once painted in different colours – were re-painted in a vivid red, and the publicity material featured a cartoon character dressed in the stars and stripes of the USA (see above).

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Above: The red chairlift (from the author’s personal collection).

Thanks to this timely makeover, the park survived for just over another decade. But as before, with the zoo, visitors were eventually lured away by bigger and more impressive theme parks. Attractions such as nearby Flamingoland boasted huge and terrifying roller coasters that dwarfed the humble Big Dipper at Marvel’s. Other North Bay attractions were also struggling at this time – when Marvel’s closed in 2002, neighbouring attractions Kinderland and Atlantis were both descending into financial difficulties, and would each close down several years later.

Does this then mean that the local funfair or amusement park is dead?

Visitors haven’t completely abandoned smaller attractions. Luna Park –  the fair near Scarborough Harbour – still survives, and travelling funfairs continue to exist. However, committed adrenaline junkies are drawn in greater numbers to bigger, scarier rides in regional parks (and those abroad); attractions better equipped to invest in the newest and most advanced rides. Nonetheless, the older rides offer a quaint nostalgia for adult passengers, and an introduction for younger riders, eager to begin their thrill-seeking adventures. Unfortunately Marvel’s can only offer memories now – the derelict site has lost its once exciting rides, and with them, its former identity.

Do you remember the rides at Marvel’s or the Zoo? Were you a thrill-seeker? Or did you prefer the gentler attractions at the amusement park? Please leave comments/corrections below.

Sources

National Fairground Archive

Roller Coaster Database

Joyland Books

Urbex Forums

Scarborough News

Scarborough Zoo and Marineland

Marvel’s Amusement Park in Scarborough had a former life –  as Scarborough Zoo and Marineland.

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Above: Postcard depicting Scarborough Zoo and Marineland (source)

The zoo was open between 1969 and 1984, and was home to a vast collection of exotic animals. These included dolphins, sea lions, a snake pit, an elephant, wolves, bear cubs, llamas, squirrels and an aviary. There were also chickens, rats, mice and squirrels.

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Above: Newspaper clip detailing the attraction (source)

Many of the animals endured long journeys to reach the attraction – the dolphins originally came from the US, and one homesick sea lion escaped into the North Sea for three weeks before being returned to the zoo, not long after his initial arrival. There is however some debate as to the truth of this story.

The sea lion in question – ‘Sammy’ –  also had a companion named Samantha – like the dolphins they were recruited to perform in regular shows across the summer season. Pictures show packed audiences during the zoo’s heyday in the 1970s.

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Above: The dolphin show (source)

The Zoo was certainly an ambitious and popular attraction – it didn’t just feature animals. There were dinosaurs too, although these were made from fibreglass, and remained when the Zoo became Marvel’s. So too did Main Street – a feature inspired by Disneyland.

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Above: Main Street during the Zoo era (from the author’s collection)

Below: A somewhat grander Main Street in Disneyland Paris (source)

The addition of a Big Dipper in 1973 gave the Zoo a further thrill factor – the ride was bought by Knowsley Safari Park in 1999. However, pre-1984, Scarborough Marineland and Zoo was perhaps best known for its diverse collection of animals. Nowadays animal welfare is a more pertinent issue, and this in part explains the closure of many smaller zoos – ill equipped to deal with the complex needs of their animals. The idea of a chimpanzees’ tea party for instance (a staple entertainment feature during the years of Scarborough Zoo) would perhaps be seen as demeaning and exploitative today, although performing animals still exist in selected shows and venues across the UK.

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Above: A chimpanzees’ tea party – not from Scarborough – such attractions were once very popular (source)

In this video interview by Scarborough News, founder Don Robinson also describes the role of better nature programming, both on TV and online, plus a greater willingness to travel to bigger regional zoos with superior facilities and collections, as reasons behind the decline of local zoos.

The redevelopment of Scarborough Marineland and Zoo into Marvel’s was a bid to move with the times – by changing the focus from animals to rides and amusements, the site kept drawing visitors for nearly twenty more years. Again, today’s public are more mobile, and willing to travel to bigger attractions such as nearby Flamingo Land, which, coincidentally, Don Robinson was also involved with.

Do you remember Scarborough Zoo? Are any of the above details incorrect? Comments welcome below!

Sources for this post include:

Scarborough News

Marine Animal Welfare

Zoochat

Stuart Vallantine’s Blog