A Cable Car Conspiracy?

On Monday May 22nd, Scarborough’s brand new North Bay chairlifts suffered what initially appeared to be a minor setback.

Above: A leaflet for the zoo advertises the new chairlifts (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

A bizarre malfunction briefly hospitalised four adults and two young children, passengers on the cable car system that connected Scarborough Zoo and Marineland with the North Bay Promenade.

The exact details of the accident were murky from the outset. Passengers, witnesses and those responsible for the chairlifts all disagreed as to what happened. It seemed that one car, carrying a Mr and Mrs Thompson (who were staying at Colley’s Holiday Camp in Scarborough) slid backwards, knocking into another car and the chairlift station below. This was followed by another car, carrying Mr and Mrs Child (from Dringhouses, York) and their children Sarah and Michael, aged five and eight respectively. Varying accounts describe passengers flung from the chairlifts, suspended in precariously rocking carriages, and in some accounts the cable car partially, if not fully, came away from the cable that carried it.

Above: The original North Bay chairlifts (from the author’s collection)

The only certain facts were that the two women mentioned above – Mrs Child and Mrs Thompson – sustained greater injuries than their partners and children (to the back and chest respectively), and all concerned were treated for shock.

However, the accident and its coverage in local press uncovered a can of worms for Scarborough Zoo.

Zoo director Don Robinson stressed that the cable cars did not and could not escape the cable – in this case, he argued, they merely slipped backwards. However, he did not take the incident lightly, and the system engineer, Norman Dicken, travelled from Sheffield to inspect the chairlifts. His company, McKenna & Sons, had created the infrastructure, and he reported the following:

Yesterday one of the cars slipped on the bottom section, but we have not found the cause. The people were rocked about quite alot.

(Mr Dicken, quoted in the Scarborough Evening News, May 23rd, 1972)

No one was able to discover any fault with the chairlifts, in spite of numerous tests on the system, during which bags of sand were used to simulate the presence of passengers.

chairpostcard2

Above: The chairlifts were later revamped several times, changing shape and colour (from the author’s collection)

Following the accident, a number of witnesses came forward with further information. Mrs B. Patrickson (from Sheffield) was staying with her family at one of the North Bay Chalets at the time of the incident, and watched the events unfold. She claimed that after the chair carrying the Thompsons slipped, the Child family, whose car was further up the cable, were:

…stuck in the car for twenty minutes, several pylons up after the first car accident

Then…

The second car slipped back down the cable, hit part of the support, and came right off the cable, falling to the ground and throwing the four people [the Child family] out.

(Quoted in the Scarborough Evening News, May 24th, 1972)

This version of events was further supported by a Mrs Rickatson and her son Neil, the former adding:

…it was completely untrue to say that the car did not come off the cable. [We] saw it happen.

(Quoted in the Scarborough Evening News, May 24th, 1972)

To make matters worse, another witness came forward to describe an earlier accident. Mrs V. Simmonds (of Scarborough) reported that on Sunday April 9th, during the early days of operation, her two sons, daughter in law and granddaughter also suffered an accident whilst riding the chairlifts to the zoo.

The car slipped off the cable and ran back to the starting station, damaging the railings and the car. This was all kept very hush, and nothing was done about it. It ought to be looked into before a serious accident occurs involving someone’s life.

(Quoted in the Scarborough Evening News, May 25th, 1972)

This ‘first’ accident was brought to the attention of Scarborough’s then Safety Officer by two witnesses, but was dismissed on the grounds that the lift had passed all safety tests. Apparently nothing was found wrong after this initial incident, and owner Don Robinson was reportedly unaware of this earlier accident.

So what became of the chairlifts?

The last report stated that the ride would be closed for further tests, and whilst no date of reopening was mentioned in subsequent weeks, the chairlifts went on to enjoy nearly thirty years of operation. You can still see the struts today. Were the accidents merely flukes? Was a secret problem fixed? The 1972 cable car malfunction remains an unsolved mystery.

Did you ride the chairlifts? Do you remember any accidents or faults? What do you think the explanation might be for this strange little story?

Sources

All information in this post was obtained from old copies of local newspapers held in the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library.

Scarborough’s North Bay Chairlifts

Scarborough’s North Bay chairlifts transported holidaymakers to the town’s Marineland and Zoo (later Marvel’s Amusement Park) between 1972 and 2002. Although the Zoo opened in 1969, the chairlifts took a little longer to arrive. When they did, the first passengers embarked at a small station close to the beach, and paid a small fee to ascend (or descend) the hill behind the Open Air Theatre in Northstead Manor Gardens.

Above: The North Bay chairlift route (source)

At the summit were animals – dolphins, bears, parrots and more. When the site was renamed Marvel’s Amusement Park in 1984, the zoo was replaced by a multitude of rides, and in the mid 1990s a second chairlift departure point was added at Peasholm Gap – squeezed between Water Splash World (later Atlantis) and the entrance to Manor Gardens.

Above: The new chairlift route is mentioned on the right (source)

Local businessman and Scarborough Zoo creator Don Robinson was the man behind Scarborough’s chairlifts. Indeed, cable car rides had become a popular addition to UK seaside resorts from the 1960s, and after the zoo opened in 1969, Robinson was keen to capitalise on this. Yet in order to understand their appeal and development, it is necessary to look even further back.

Above: The first chair lift at Sun Valley, Idaho, with designer James Curran (source)

Airborne cable car systems were originally designed for skiing enthusiasts. The development of ski lifts, which began in the 1930s, enabled skiers to travel to the tops of mountains more efficiently and effortlessly than was possible on foot. Funnily enough the single rider lift was based on devices that unloaded bananas from cargo ships! The first functioning design was, according to the sources viewed, designed by American James Curran, and was installed at Sun Valley – a resort town in Idaho (US).

Above: Examples of cargo conveyer devices upon which the first chair lifts were based (source)

These new chairlifts were typically installed at ski resorts, and it was not until the 1960s that they became more widely popular, largely assisted by new ‘gondola’ designs that enabled several riders to board a single lift. These new developments occurred in the late 1960s, by which point chairlifts began appearing across the UK at various resorts and tourist destinations.

Above: One of the early chair lift models at Alton Towers in the UK (source)

Alton Towers had chairlifts from 1963, and the company that provided them – the London Company of British Chairlifts Ltd (a subsidiary of British Ropeway Engineering Company Ltd) – also supplied a number of popular tourist destinations, including many of the Butlins camps. The camp at Filey, only a few miles from Scarborough, also boasted its very own set of chairlifts.

Above: Former chairlifts at Butlins in Filey (source)

The popular chairlift systems were thought to add an exotic, sophisticated and perhaps continental flavour to British resorts. Certainly these airborne cable cars conjured up images of Alpine (or American) adventures, stunning panoramas and dramatic heights. However, whilst Scarborough’s views are certainly worthy of great praise, the hill ascended by its chairlifts was far removed from the mountains of Switzerland for instance, or even some of the dramatic routes taken by other UK-based chairlift systems.

Above: An impressive view from the chairlifts at Butlins Pwllheli in the 1970s (source)

It is not known if the British Ropeway Engineering Company Ltd supplied Scarborough’s original system, although it has been reported that the structure and cable cars were constructed in Sheffield, before being transported in pieces and re-assembled on site. Furthermore, the cabin styling and colouring changed several times during the duration of the attraction.

Above: The early chairlifts were similar to the ones above, pictured at Alton Towers (source)

This initial, box-like design gave way to a more minimal, curving structure – similar to the Skyride at Pleasureland, Southport and the system at Butlins in Skegness.

Above: The former Skyride at Southport (source)

Below: Similar designs at Butlins in Skegness (source)

Like those pictured above, Scarborough’s chairlifts were initially multi-coloured. The Marvel’s rebranding of 1984, in line with its American theme, gave the cars a red hue. The newer alternative route – introduced in the 1990s –  was painted green.

Above: The red route at Scarborough (from the author’s personal collection)

The UK still boasts a number of operational cable car systems, suggesting that there is still a demand for this kind of ride, particularly when impressive views are involved.

Above: The cable cars in Llandudno are still in operation (source)

Dreamland, in Margate, collects, restores and re-imagines former rides and paraphernalia – its collection includes the chairlifts from Pleasureland in Southport, which were similar in design to Scarborough’s own. It is reassuring to know that projects such as this are working hard to preserve the rich heritage of UK attractions. Sadly it is too late for Scarborough’s chairlifts, and the rides at Marvel’s, which have long gone following the park’s closure in 2002.

marvelsderelict

Above: The site shortly after most of the main structures were cleared (source)

The mild hill behind the Open Air Theatre makes any potential resurrection of the chairlifts an overly optimistic endeavour. Even back in the 1970s, Don Robinson noted that the novelty of riding them seemed to wear off quickly, with many passengers opting to walk back from the attraction, rather than take the chairlift both ways. Yet it is the chairlifts, or rather the remnants, that endure today, the rusting structures still standing tall against the North Bay skyline.

You can read about one reader’s chairlift memory here, and another here. Maybe you’d like to share a memory of your own? If so, please do get in touch.

Sources

Butlins Memories

Cableway Information Page

The World’s First Chair Lift

Dreamland

Alton Towers History

Please see other posts about Marvel’s and Scarborough Zoo for further sources used.

Marvellous Images (Of Marvel’s)

Marvel’s Amusement Park is the most popular attraction on Stories From Scarborough; or rather it seems to attract the most clicks from curious visitors. You can read more about the site and its history by visiting the following links:

Marvel’s Amusement Park (brief history and introduction)

Scarborough Zoo And Marineland (pre-Marvel’s history)

Thrill Seeking At Marvel’s And Scarborough Zoo (rides at the park)

Marvel’s Now (current status of the site)

Memories From Marvel’s (Mark’s memories of the attraction)

For everyone who is curious about Marvel’s, this post offers more clues as to what the park once looked like, starting with the enticing adverts that brought visitors in their thousands.

All images in this post have been kindly donated by Leonie, who also shared these images of the Millennium Experience, and this video of Atlantis. More of her collection can be viewed on the new Stories From Scarborough Flickr Page. See the disclaimer for copyright regulations.

Above: Newspaper article from 1995 (source)

On the top left are the famous chairlifts. The chairlifts were originally proposed during the early days of Scarborough Zoo, which opened in 1969, but numerous delays meant that they didn’t take any passengers until 1972. Once painted in a multitude of colours, they were later colour coded red (for the North Sands route) and green (for the newer Peasholm Gap route).

Above: Promotional design from 1995 (source)

The colourful pictures in this poster contrast sharply with the overgrown ruins that stand on the site today. It is barely even possible to guess where each feature stood, apart from the chairlifts – remnants of which can still be seen.

Above: The Smuggler’s Inn (source)

Below: Quad bike track and bouncy castle (source)

Images like these are crucial in ‘remembering’ the different parts of the former amusement park, which underwent several makeovers between the zoo years of 1969 – 1983, and the Marvel’s era of 1984 – 2002.

Above: A stunning view from the ‘red’ chairlifts in 1992 (source)

Apparently the chairlifts took more passengers to the park than they did away from it, a trend that initially puzzled founder Don Robinson during the early years of their operation in the 1970s. Perhaps the novelty quickly wore off? Nonetheless, there was always plenty to do once visitors arrived at the attraction.

Below: The Astroslide – one of the many features in 1992 (source)

Note the American flag – indeed, when Don Robinson originally proposed the development of this site, back in the late 1960s, he promised a mini-Disneyland, inspired by the blockbuster parks in the USA. Marvel’s original name was Marvel’s Showtime USA Fun Park. Stories From Scarborough also holds images of promotional material from the Scarborough Zoo era, but that will have to wait for another post!

Once again, thanks to Leonie for the photographs, and please do get in touch if this has triggered any memories. All contributions are welcome!

Please note that all images in this post are copyright protected via Stories From Scarborough – please read section 1 of the disclaimer to find out how to link to this material and how it may be used. It is important that all donated material is protected from improper or unauthorised use.

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.

Marvel’s Now

Photographs of the derelict Marvel’s site by far outnumber images of its glory days online.

All of the images in this post (except one) are the artist’s own and must not be reproduced without permission.

Above: The former Marvel’s site (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Derelict sites are a magnet for photographers, but also for those seeking out things to vandalise and destroy.

Above: A vandalised chairlift strut (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Marvel’s is easy prey for both. The site is easily accessible via a steep road, just opposite the miniature railway station at the Northstead Manor Gardens entrance.

Above: Looking down the road to Marvel’s – train station at the bottom (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

At the top is a huge stretch of empty land – presumably grey and barren during the winter, but in the summer, a blaze of colourful wildflowers and green leaves. Beneath this oasis lie traces of a former life – flat concrete shapes, forgotten fixtures, and, most poignantly, the crumbling chairlift complex.

Above: The remains of the chairlift complex (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Its rusting red pillars and cavernous stations still loom large in the landscape, albeit obscured by the ever surging growth of new plants and trees.

Above: A colourful display of flowers, trees and weeds block out the blighted concrete (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Below: Not all of the structures, however, have been consumed (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

The ground is paved with a chaotic mosaic of broken glass. Bottles from drunken ‘visitors’ reduced to tiny hazardous fragments.

Above: The glitter of glass is just visible in the dirt (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Older images of the site depict fibreglass remnants of the dinosaurs and ‘mountains’ alongside recognisable archways and structures.. Now it is difficult to distinguish between piles of concrete, bricks and dirt – most of the parts that once survived have since crumbled away.

Above: Part of a tiled floor (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

However, it’s easy to talk about this site in these tired, clichéd ways. To solemnly condemn the deterioration of the site; to wax lyrical about the ‘old days’ when the park was full of life and fun.

Above: The steps and paths no longer lead anywhere in particular (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

There is a certain charm here. Maybe it doesn’t lie in the broken beer bottles and scorch marks (although it might, depending on your aesthetic preferences!), but there is a beauty in Nature reclaiming its territory; slowly but surely. The biggest surprise, perhaps, is the wild ‘garden’ that has emerged. The broken tiles, piles of bricks and concrete sections evoke an old ruin, but also a sense of mystery.

Above: Strange metal coils/sprints (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

But this is turn, perhaps, is an artistic cliché. Dereliction is a popular topic for photographers and artists, as mentioned above, and in either case, sadness is a prevailing emotion. Does it need to be? Such sites do not necessarily need to be defined in terms of loss. Nor must the remains define the memories.

Above: Chairlift costume design for a Marvel’s themed performance (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Later this summer the site will host some unusual performances, courtesy of Stories From Scarborough. However, for now, here’s a lovely memory about the chairlifts, kindly sent in by Malcolm:

My ( now wife) and I had just met at work and were in a relationship but wanted to keep it private.
We went to Scarborough in 1988 for a weekend and walked Marine Drive then through Northstead Manor Gardens. When we went back to work it was ” We know were you have been this w/e.”
We were seen by someone from work who was on the chairlift as we walked underneath.

So much for trying to keep a secret.!!!

Thanks Malcolm!

Do you remember Marvel’s or Scarborough Zoo? Or the chairlifts? What do you think of the site now? Should it be redeveloped into something new? Or should Marvel’s be brought back? Or should it be left to the flowers, plants and trees?