Sensational Swimmers and Daring Divers

From the Turkish Baths to the South Bay Pool, Scarborough has long provided visitors with places to swim, bathe and even watch aquatic acrobatics.

South Bay Bathing Pool

Above: The South Bay Pool (source)

The Scarborough Aquarium had its very own subterranean pool, and the North Bay Pool was once compared to a mediterranean paradise, before being transformed into an oasis of slides and fountains.

Waterscene

Above: Waterscene – later Water Splash World and Atlantis, formerly the North Bay Bathing Pool (source)

Nor must the pool at Scarborough Zoo be forgotten, although it is now acknowledged to be less than adequate in size for the dolphins that performed there.

Dolphins at Scarborough Zoo

Above: A dolphin emerges from the pool at Scarborough Marineland and Zoo (source)

Swimming and diving have never been purely recreational – indeed, the South Bay Pool was redeveloped in 1935 to accommodate growing audiences for aquatic shows, and the North Bay Pool opened only a few years later with a grand display of diving and acrobatics.

South Bay Pool

Above: Note the diving board and seating for audiences at the South Bay Pool (source)

Featured in this article are the stories of three exceptional female swimmers, all in some way connected with Scarborough, famed for their mastery of the water and noted for their athleticism.

Miss Gertie Perkin (active late 1800s, early 1900s)

Gertie, short for Gertrude, was a swimming instructor, pier diver and competitive athlete, who performed, taught and competed at the beginning of the twentieth century. She is described in the Yorkshire Evening Post as follows:

…a well-known expert and instructress in swimming and physical culture. Miss Perkins holds the Royal Humane Society’s certificate and medal for “life-saving” efficiency and will also be recollected as one of the chief competitors in the All-England Beauty Contest.

(from The Yorkshire Evening Post, Friday November 23, 1904)

Before the North Bay Pier tragically succombed to a storm in 1905, Gertie was pictured diving from the structure, into the turbulent North Sea.

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Indeed, pier diving was a form of entertainment during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and saw a range of brave (or foolhardy, depending on your opinion!) men and women perform dives from ornamental piers across the country.

North Bay Pier

Above: The North Bay Pier prior to destruction (source)

Gertie competed in swimming contests and provided displays of ornamental aquatic displays for venues across Yorkshire and the North West. She also made glowing endorsements for a cream called Zam-Buk:

I have found Zam-Buk very efficacious for a chafed skin. When the ZamBuk arrived I was in despair about my face. I have an exceedingly fine skin, and the recent wins played havoc with my face. The skin all dried and I looked a pitiable object. I had tried about half a dozen creams, but had derived no benefit. I applied Zam-Buk to the affected parts, and much to my surprise, i found my skin quite smooth the following morning. So I think I have discovered a boon in Zam-Buk, as I could not find anything to produce the same good effect until I used Zam-Bu. When I have had an engagement for pier-diving at seaside places the effect of the salt water on my skin has smites been maddening. I now known that Zam-Buk will be a remedy for this. After the benefits I have derived from Zam-Buk I shall be pleased to recommend it to my physical culture and swimming pupils, as well as to my friends generally.

(Gertie Perkin, quoted in The Yorkshire Evening Post, Friday November 23, 1904)

It has been difficult to locate sources about Gertie or her life, but it’d be fascinating to know more about her pier dive at Scarborough.

Ada Webb (active late 1800s, early 1900s)

Miss Ada Webb has already been mentioned here at Stories From Scarborough, for having performed at the Scarborough Aquarium in the late 1800s. Like her sister Louie, Ada was a renowned natator (another name for a swimmer), champion diver and able to perform all kinds of feats underwater, including eating, drinking, and, supposedly, smoking.

Miss Webb attracted many grand titles, including ‘Empress of the Sea ’ (after Britannia), ‘Champion Lady High Diver of the World’ (following her impressive diving from heights of up to 56 feet) and ‘Queen of the Crystal Tank’ (after her customised performance space).

A report described how she ‘rescued’ a number of ladies who were apparently in danger of drowning at Bromley Swimming Baths. Apparently such rescue feats were commonly used as publicity by professional swimmers, divers and aquatic acrobats at the time, making it difficult separating fact from fiction.

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Ada performed across the country – she opened Latchmere Road Baths in 1899 and regularly appeared at London venues.

You can see an advert for one of her performances by clicking here.

However, professional swimming and aquatic performances were a young person’s domain, and, as her own prowesses diminished,  Ada began to comandeer her own group of performing lady swimmers, and became a successful manager. Ornamental swimming of this sort peaked in popularity between the late 1800s and 1910s, although aquatic feats of endurance and acrobatics continued to draw audiences well into the twentieth century.

Eileen Fenton (1928 – present)

Eileen Fenton, a Religious Studies teacher from Dewsbury, is perhaps the most remarkable of all three ladies mentioned here, given her incredible achievement of swimming the English Channel in 1950, at the age of just 22.

On the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page, John remembers her training for the event:

Remember when Fenton was the superintendent there and his daughter Eileen trained morning and evening for a cross channel swim.

Interestingly enought, the first swimmer to make the 22 mile crossing was Captain Matthew Webb, who also famously swam for 74 hours in Scarborough Aquarium’s pool in 1880. After Webb’s successful Channel swim in 1875, only nineteen swimmers had successfully made the crossing between then and 1950, when Eileen entered a new competition, organised by the Daily Mail, to complete the feat.

At first the competition organisers were doubtful of her suitability to participate. Reportedly a slim lady of only 5ft tall, she was deemed ‘too small’ although eventually proved her ability by swimming across Scarborough Harbour in temperatures close to freezing. She later swam for up to ten hours at a time in the town’s North Sea, in order to build up her endurance and tolerence for the cold.

Of the Channel swim, Eileen made the following comments:

It was pitch black and very cold. We could see nothing but the light on the boat we needed to follow. When I got to nine hours I could see Dover harbour, but my arm stopped working and I had to do a front crawl with one hand. I was too weak to get over the tide and I was pushed back by the current. It took me over six hours.

(Quoted in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 19 August, 2010)

Only nine out of twenty four competitors finished the race, and Eileen was one of them. Not only that, but as first lady, she received a huge prize of £1000, then enought to purchase a small house!

You can watch a video interview with Eileen here, and see footage of the rapturous reception she recieved when returning home here.

She remarked that after the freezing cold waters of Scarborough’s North Sea, the Channel waters were pleasantly mild! Eileen later went on to train a number of Channel swimmers and recieved a number of awards for her winning 1950 performance.

Do you know any more about these inspiring ladies? Or do you have any stories about swimming or swimmers in Scarborough? Any comments and/or corrections welcome!

Sources

Gertie Perkins

Yorkshire Evening Post – various articles

Lancashire Daily Post – various articles

Ada Webb

British Sporting Legacies

Latchmere Road Baths reference

Louie Webb

Eileen Fenton

Huddersfield Daily Examiner

My Yorkshire

Video of Eileen Fenton

British Pathe – video

Open Water Swimming Article

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.

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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 During The 1980s

The 1980s was a key time for many of Scarborough’s best loved attractions. In 1984, Scarborough Zoo and Marineland was given a makeover. The animals left and more attention was given to rides and amusements, under the new name of Marvel’s Amusement Park. In the same year the North Bay Bathing Pool received two huge slides (the longest in Europe at the time) and a new name – Waterscene.

Only a year later, Kinderland opened on Burniston Road, and two years later Waterscene became Water Splash World. Across town the South Bay Pool closed in 1988. Scarborough was changing in a bid to keep the tourists coming back.

One reader, Simon, has kindly shared some of his holiday photographs from the 1980s, many of which feature some of the attractions that Stories From Scarborough is investigating. The full set can be seen on the Stories From Scarborough Image Archive, but for now here are a few highlights.

Please do not copy or use any of these images without permission.

First of all, there are some splendid images from the final years of Scarborough Zoo.

Above you can see the performing dolphins, and below – a bear. There was once a whole host of animals at the zoo, including parrots, snakes, even farmyard animals and huge fibreglass dinosaurs!

There was also a small racing track (above), and the Astro Slide (below). The latter survived into the Marvel’s era. There was also a larger version at the Scalby Mills Complex, which was built in the 1960s and demolished to make way for the current day Sea Life Centre at the start of the 1990s.

There’s also a lovely shot of the Hispaniola on the Mere.

The company that built the Hispaniola back in the 1940s – Charles Pearson Ltd – also constructed many of the miniature boats for the Peasholm Park Naval Battles, which also feature in Simon’s collection.

And then of course there’s Kinderland – every visitor remembers the Muddlebugs (pedal cars), and how difficult to steer they were.

A huge thank you to Simon for sending these in. You can see more on the Image Archive website.

Do you have any photographs of the attractions listed on this website? Your images could really help both the archive and the research – often small details in a picture can lead to new avenues of investigation. If you’d like to donate images, please get in touch. Modern day images also welcome (e.g. photographs of the Hispaniola today, the derelict Marvel’s site, water chute etc) as too are opinions of the sites. Do you like the new developments? Or should the original attractions be restored?

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.

Scarborough Zoo: Did You Know…?

Scarborough Marineland and Zoo operated between 1969 and 1984, and was located on the top of the hill behind the Open Air Theatre seating in Northstead Manor Gardens. The remains of its successor, Marvel’s Amusement Park (which retained many of the zoo’s rides and features, minus the animals) can still be seen today, although the site is derelict.

The following post is the third in a series, which brings together some of the shorter facts and stories about former Scarborough attractions. You can see the previous two on the links below:

Scarborough Aquarium: Did You Know…?

Gala Land: Did You Know…?

So without any further ado, did you know that…

1) Scarborough Zoo was built on tennis courts

Before Scarborough Zoo was built, the site was home to a large number of tennis courts and a small cafe. By the 1960s these courts were falling into disrepair, although they were also used by local schools, to carry out cycling proficiency tests. You can see the old courts on the map below:

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Above: Map of Northstead (from the author’s collection)

2) A dolphin died

Various animals made the long journey to Scarborough, to be part of the zoo. Dolphins were amongst them, and were transported all the way from the US, which must have been an arduous and stressful journey for these seafaring mammals. So much so that one died after the long expedition – from New York to Britain by plane. The surviving dolphins, named Mo, Jenky and Artie stayed in a specially adapted building during the colder months – zoo staff did not want to risk another death by flying them to warmer climes abroad.

Above: One of the zoo’s performing dolphins (source)

Today, the captivity of dolphins and other marine mammals is considered potentially detrimental. Highly social and intelligent creatures, better suited to vast expanses of ocean than cramped tanks and enforced public performances, dolphins and the like are now much less likely to be seen in smaller venues (although bigger parks such as SeaWorld still recruit them).

3) The chairlifts were made in Sheffield

Originally titled  as the ‘cabin lifts’ the chair lifts were constructed in Sheffield, before the parts were transported to Scarborough and put together – rather like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The construction schedule overran, and the chairlifts ended up making a late appearance, opening on May 5th, 1972. Back then the ride was known as the Commando Cable Way.

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Above: The original chair lifts (from the author’s collection)

The opening was conducted by Mrs Sheila Smith of Avoncroft Hotel, the recently selected ‘most lovable landlady in Britain’ by a BBC programme. There was a jazz band playing, and a steamer called ‘Pride of New Orleans’ was also launched on the same day.

4) There was a special North Sea Fish Tank

This contained species local to the North Yorkshire coast, including skate, cod, whiting, mackerel, crabs and lobsters. Not far from the fish tank, was a farmyard, where children were able to milk and feed goats, alongside other domesticated animals.

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Above: The farmyard is shown on the left of the postcard (from the author’s collection)

5) The Zoo was officially opened on June 14th, 1969

Mayor and Mayoress Councillor and Mrs Norman Fuller conducted the ceremony at 11am, after which the zoo was opened to the public at 12am. Entry was charged at 4/6 for adults and 1/6 for children, with the venue proving to be an enormous success – 20, 000 visitors within the first two weeks!

Above: The zoo site (source)

6) The chimpanzees had a tantrum

In 1975 the UK was in the grips of a sugar shortage; a situation which did not go down well with Scarborough’s three chimpanzees, according to this article. Due to the crisis in supply, their keeper was forced to reduce the sugar content of the chimpanzees’ nightly cocoa treat.

“They didn’t take it at all kindly,” zoo owner Don Robinson said. “Smashing mugs, drenching their keeper – for a while there we were awash in cocoa.”

(source)

The chimpanzees would, during the 1970s, perform tea parties for zoo visitors – such a spectacle would be considered ethically questionable today, and perhaps the anger shown by the animals was not just a reflection of their fondness for sweet treats.

7) Visitors could go inside a Magic Mountain

The mountain was one of the zoo’s large fibreglass constructions, which also included large dinosaurs. The mountain contained models, including a town, fairground, toymaker and his toys, according to articles viewed in the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library. Other quirky features of Don Robinson’s ‘mini Disneyland’ included a teddybears’ picnic, chihuahua show, and a rotating barrel ride. Dick and Dottie, the musical geese, also starred, alongside a parade of penguins.

Scarborough Marineland and Zoo boldly declared itself The Happiest Place In The North, on its promotional material. But was it? Do you remember the zoo? Please comment or get in touch if you do.

Most of the information in this post was sourced from material held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library; particularly old articles from the Scarborough News and the Doris & Cyril Prescott Collection. See other links in the post for further references.

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?

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

Back To Childhood

This is the second in a series of detailed posts about my artistic responses to former Scarborough attractions.

To see the first – The Making of a Chairlift – please click here.

Although I still regularly visit Scarborough as an adult, and am moving to the town this summer, most of my most enduring memories are of childhood visits during the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s.

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Above: In Kinderland (from the author’s personal collection)

As an artist who wears costumes and performs characters – it made sense that I should create a child character for Stories From Scarborough. Indeed, the imagined rider of my chairlift costume is a child:

Above: As shown in the previous post (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

The pigtails, dungarees and frilly collar are references to a childhood outfit I often wore. However, I wanted to design something slightly different for the adult ‘me’ – still dungarees, but white or gingham ones with patches; worn with a t-shirt, pumps and frilly white socks.

The first step was to design some memory-inspired patches for my costume – I combined existing images, my own drawings and photos to create a series of digital patterns inspired by Marvel’s Amusement Park and its predecessor Scarborough Zoo.

Above: One of a series of Marvel’s memory patches (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Below: Combined patterns (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

If you look closely you can see chairlifts, promotional material from Marvel’s and references to Scarborough Zoo. From a distance I imagined a series of these patterns resembling red gingham. I wondered whether they should cover the dungarees or not.

Above: Dungaree pattern superimposed over a template (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

But more importantly, was I to make the dungarees from scratch, or to buy a plain white pair to experiment with? In the end I found an affordable pair of white builders’ dungarees on eBay, with a handy pouch in the front. I also paired them with a cheap red t-shirt and summery pumps, similar to those I sometimes wore as a child during the summer.

Above: Costume paired with a handmade sign (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Even just wearing these new clothes made me feel like a child again – my whole body language changed. The handmade sign is a nod to the Kinderland March – I decided that Marvel’s deserved a protest against closure, even over a decade after the occasion!

So what about the memory patches?

Well, after making the digital design I printed an acetate positive to create a screenprint of the pattern onto a cut up white cotton bedsheet. Not all of the prints turned out quite right though:

Above: An artistically imperfect print! Oops! (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

Nonetheless, I got enough decent patches to sew some onto the dungarees – I opted against completely covering the white, instead settling for a series of strategically placed samples.

Above: Costume plus patches but minus pigtails (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

I was very happy with how it turned out and even customised the costume with a handmade badge or two:

Above: Dungarees with badges and memory patch (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

And some more:

Above: More badges (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)

This character will be hoping to have some adventures in Scarborough this summer and beyond, and she might be doing a sneaky preview performance in Manchester before I leave. Watch this space!