Kinderland Opens!

On May 25th, 1985, queues of excited children and families could be seen on Burniston Road in Scarborough. As clocks across the town struck 10am, Kinderland – the North Bay’s newest attraction – opened its doors for the first time.

Above: An early advert for Kinderland from 1985 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

It had been a nail-biting few days for Dudley Wallis (the park’s founder) and his team. Construction workers, impeded by poor weather, had been laying grass and installing fixtures up until midnight on May 24th. Some parts of the attraction, such as the swing ball and quoits games, were yet to be installed, and finishing touches were needed. Not only that, but the park had faced fierce opposition from local residents – from the early planning stages right up until the opening day.

Nonetheless, the first visitors to Scarborough’s latest children’s attraction were greeted by sunny skies and warm weather – perfectly timed for Kinderland’s big day.

Kinderland was dreamed up in the early 1980s, when founder Dudley Wallis was watching TV. A German attraction with the same title provided the name, and an idea formed that Wallis described as follows:

…good old fashioned fun, the way it used to be, with no slot machines or electronic wizardry.

(Scarborough Evening News, May 1, 1985)

However, Wallis was initially unsure about how he, as an adult, could truly imagine what the children of the 1980s wanted from a seaside attraction in Scarborough.

The problem in being 58 years of age is in seeing things through the eyes of a five-year old, so I have spoken to my own children about the design. I hope Kinderland will be an asset to the total holiday scene.

(Scarborough Evening News, May 25, 1985)

The attraction truly was a family affair, with Dudley’s brother Stanley and his mother Edith both contributing to the financial investment required to create the park. Funding was given a substantial boost by the English Tourism Board, who awarded a grant of £125,000. The Board’s chairman Duncan Bluck even arrived in a helicopter to tour the site on Burniston Road, award the cheque and plant a maple tree to mark his visit. The location of this tree was not specified – perhaps it still exists somewhere in Scarborough?

However, before building could commence in October of 1984, extensive plans were made. There was to be an indoor play area containing 47, 000 plastic balls and fibreglass slides. There would be new boats and canoes for the boating lake in Northstead Manor Gardens, which was leased out to Kinderland during the attraction’s tenure, along with the Water Chute – both this and the boating lake had been in existence since the 1930s.

Above: The Water Chute was constructed in the 1930s (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Kinderland was to be as visitor and family friendly as possible, with baby changing areas, a lost child point, first aid centre and extensive provision for disabled visitors, including wheelchair-friendly walkways and accessible entrances. Bizarrely Wallis also purchased 3 traditional red telephone boxes – in the 1980s many of these were being decommissioned and sold off. Bought for £500 apiece, these were placed around the park for the use of visitors.

The venue was capable of hosting 1450 people and was to have two entrances – one near to the Water Chute and the other further up Burniston Road. There were even plans to create a Kinderland Club, with savings to be had for frequent visitors and local Scarborough residents.

Above: Kinderland had plenty of frequent visitors (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

May 25th must have been an exciting day for the Wallis family – perfect weather and plenty of visitors, no doubt drawn in following an extensive advertising campaign that included numerous adverts in local papers and beyond. The North Bay was then becoming a tourist haven – Marvel’s, Waterscene, Peasholm Park, Manor Gardens and more. The area is a much quieter one today.

Above: Former entrance to Kinderland in 2014, seven years after closure (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Courtesy of the North Bay Railway Company, visitors to Scarborough can still enjoy the Water Chute, but the gates leading to the former Kinderland site remain closed. Once a lively adventure park, and before that, allotments, this overgrown patch of land sits waiting amidst long held promises of re-development.

What do you think should be done with the Kinderland site? Did you visit when the park first opened? Do you remember the allotments that stood on the site before 1984? Please comment or get in touch.

All information from this post comes from old articles in the Scarborough News, viewed in the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library.

The Kinderland Controversy

In the early 1980s, Dudley Wallis – former owner of the Wallis Holiday Camp at Cayton Bay – proposed a new attraction for children in Scarborough.

Kinderland was to be an adventure playground for youngsters, and plans were made to transform local allotments on Burniston Road into a thrilling play area for tourists and locals alike. However, for those who lived in the nearby area, the North Side’s status as a peaceful residential location, was under threat.

A protest group, consisting of local residents, and led by Major Ron Soper, objected strongly to proposals concerning both Kinderland and the new water slides at the North Bay Bathing Pool – part of a larger scale development that would transform the venue into Waterscene later that year (subsequently known as Water Splash World and then, in 1995, Atlantis). Protestors were concerned about noise levels, and the effect that the attraction would have on the area.

Above: Waterscene’s slides were impressive, but not everyone welcomed them (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

In spite of these concerns, a leaflet campaign (around 2000 were distributed locally) and a petition to stop Kinderland being built, Scarborough Council approved the proposal and granted permission for the development of the site. Construction began in October, 1984. C. B. Booth Ltd was the Beverley-based contractor overseeing the work, and a Leeds firm known as Architectural Design Partnership designed the park.

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Above: Kinderland was designed to facilitate old-fashioned outdoor play and games (from the author’s collection)

Accepting that Kinderland would be built regardless, local objectors, later known as the North Side Action Group, turned their attention towards other matters. Firstly they sought out an old statute (the Sunday Entertainments Act of 1932), to prevent the proposed park from opening on a Sunday. In doing so they hoped to secure some peace and quiet from the anticipated noise and commotion that Kinderland was predicted to attract. However, subsequent amendments to these regulations allowed the park to remain open all weekend; indeed, times were changing and many businesses had flouted the act for years.

Undeterred, objectors turned their attention to the size and proposed placement of attraction signs – namely those marking the two entrances on Burniston Road, and one opposite the boating lake and water chute in Northstead Manor Gardens. Chairman of the action group, Leslie Binns, made the following statement to the Scarborough Evening News in 1985:

We have written to the council objecting to the plans. We think these three signs are absolutely staggering. They will be totally out of place both in the area and in the gardens which are there for both residents and visitors alike to enjoy.

(Scarborough Evening News, 1 May 1985)

It is easy to see both sides of this argument in retrospect. On one hand, Dudley Wallis wanted to create a play area for old-fashioned fun – climbing frames and real physical play away from the slot machines and noise of the newer attractions on the South Bay. Local residents wanted a quiet place to live and were worried about the impact of yet another North Bay attraction on their doorstep. They were frustrated and felt ignored by the council, who, along with Wallis and those supporting the development appeared to have little regard for public opinion on the matter. It is understandable that they would feel compelled to voice their concerns by protesting.

Above: Kinderland advert from the early days of the attraction (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Nonetheless, Wallis still hoped to create an attraction for Scarborough that would be loved by both tourists and locals. It has certainly left a legacy of memories, and it is touching to know that local residents campaigned to save it in 2001. Sadly, just as the campaign to prevent its creation ultimately failed, so too did the fight to keep it. Kinderland closed in 2007 and the site now lies dormant – a barren wasteland like the former Marvel’s site, which occupies the hill at the other side of Northstead Manor Gardens.

Now it is newer designs and planning proposals that attract disapproval and concern, as Scarborough continues to juggle its dual role as both a tourist destination and as a place to live and work. The question, as always, remains – who has the right to decide what is best for a seaside town such as Scarborough? Tourism boosts the local economy, but which types of attraction are truly best for Scarborough as a whole?  Is it possible to satisfy visitors and locals in equal measure?

Sources

The information above is based on articles in the Scarborough News (1983 – 1986), viewed in the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library.