Dreamland Margate

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Dreamland Margate
Dreamland shortly before its closure in 2005
Location Margate, Kent, England
Coordinates 51°23′11″N 1°22′33″E / 51.3863°N 1.3759°E / 51.3863; 1.3759Coordinates: 51°23′11″N 1°22′33″E / 51.3863°N 1.3759°E / 51.3863; 1.3759
Owner Thanet District Council
Opened 1920
Closed 2006
Previous names Bembom Brothers White Knuckle Theme Park
Operating season None since 2006
Total 1

Dreamland Margate is an amusement park located in Margate, Kent, England. It is currently owned by Thanet District Council (TDC)[1] and is closed to the public. Thanet District Council served a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on the site after failing to reach an agreement with MTCRC to buy the land. Dreamland Live appealed against the CPO leading to a public enquiry, but the CPO was approved in August 2012.


The Dreamland site was a salt marsh known as the Mere that was inundated at high tide until 1809 when a causeway and seawall were built. In 1846 a railway terminus was built on the present Arlington site for the South Eastern Railway, followed in 1864 by a further terminus, for the rival London, Chatham and Dover Railway on the site of what is now Dreamland Cinema. The LCDR subsequently failed to secure Parliamentary approval for its Private Bill, so the station, already built in the expectation of receiving Assent to the Bill, remained unused and unconnected to the railway network.

Dreamland’s origin dates from 1863 when the railway catering contractors Spiers and Pond opened a restaurant and dance hall in the unused railway terminus on the Mere causeway. Not being very successful the ‘Hall by the Sea’ was bought by the Reeve family of Margate in 1870 for £3,750 who gradually also acquired the low-lying land at the rear of the Hall.

In 1870 circus entrepreneur George Sanger went into partnership in the Hall by the Sea with Thomas Dalby Reeve, the then Mayor of Margate. After Reeve’s death in 1875, Sanger became the sole proprietor of the Hall and the land behind it. The land behind the Hall, the former ‘Mere’ was turned into pleasure gardens with a mock ruined abbey, lake, statues and a menagerie – as well as sideshows and roundabouts. Cages and gothick walls on the Dreamland western and southern boundaries (listed Grade II) date from this time. One of the main purposes of the menagerie was to act as a breeding and training centre for the animals used in the travelling circus.

The first amusement rides were installed as early as 1880 when ‘Sea on Land’ machines were installed. Passengers sat in ‘boats’ that were made by a system of levers to pitch and roll as though at sea – a direct antecedent of the contemporary ‘flight simulator’ rides. In 1893 a large skating rink was built. Shortly after this the park gained some notoriety as the venue for the murder of a prostitute by the local circus strong man.[2]

Sanger died in 1911 during a scuffle arising from the attempted murder of a friend (although Sanger himself may have been the intended target) and the park entered an uncertain period as part of the attraction was the charisma of the man himself. In the end the site was purchased from his estate in 1919 for £40,000 by John Henry Iles who had already set up theme parks all over the world including at Cairo, Berlin, Petrograd and Pittsburgh.

Inspired by Coney Island which he had visited in 1906, Iles renamed the site Dreamland and initiated work on the construction of the Scenic Railway rollercoaster in 1919 having purchased the European rights to the Scenic Railway from inventor and patent holder LaMarcus Adna Thompson. The ride opened to the public in 1920 with great success, carrying half a million passengers in its first year.[2] Iles also bought other rides common to the time to the park including a smaller roller coaster, the Joy Wheel, Miniature Railway, The Whip and the River Caves.

A ballroom was constructed on the site of the Skating Rink in 1920 and in 1923 Iles built his Variety Cinema on the site. In 1926 Iles was responsible for the building of the Margate's lido on the seafront. Between 1920 and 1935 he invested over £500,000 in the site, constantly adding new rides and facilities and culminating in the construction of the Dreamland Cinema complex in 1934 which stands to this day.[3] Iles ceased to be a director in 1938 and the business was taken over by his son Eric. Most of the Dreamland site was requisitioned by the Government during World War II with the park reopening in June 1946 with Eric Iles as manager and, from 1947, investment from Butlins.

Three generations of the Iles family – John Henry, Eric and John, were to control Dreamland from 1919 until its sale in 1968. The new owners, Associated Leisure introduced many innovations to Dreamland, including squash courts and, in an echo of the Sanger era, an ice rink and zoo. Much of the planting of the pleasure gardens dating from the 1870s survived until the 1970s when the gardens were removed and the rides expanded. 1980 saw the opening of a 240-seater 148 ft high Big wheel.

In 1981 the site was purchased by the Dutch Bembom Brothers. They already owned several other amusement parks in continental Europe and renamed the site Bembom Brothers White Knuckle Theme Park,[4] bringing in a new headline attraction in the form of the Anton Schwarzkopf-designed Looping Star roller coaster. The name change lasted until 1990, when it was reverted to Dreamland.[5] Amongst other changes that they made included ceasing evening opening and charging for admission, rather than per ride. They also introduced many new ‘high-tech’ rides that updated the park and made it, by the late 1980s, one of the top ten most visited tourist attractions in the United Kingdom.

In 1996 the Bembom family sold the site to local entrepreneur Jimmy Godden who had previously operated the Rotunda Amusement Park at Folkestone and Ramsgate Pleasure Park at Ramsgate. At this time they removed a number of the rides to other theme parks that they owned. The Looping Star (Great America) went to an amusement park in Budapest with the looping boat ride The Mary Rose. The Looping Star's sister ride made a brief appearance for two seasons at Margate (previously at Camelot Theme park). The loop was in the middle of the ride rather than at the front of the ride before leaving again for its current home Loudon Castle theme park where it is called the Twist n' Shout.

After his purchase of the park, Godden was able to secure European and regional grant aid to assist in an initial £3m redevelopment.[6] However during Godden's tenure many of the rides were sold off, including the big wheel which had dominated the Margate skyline for two decades but was dismantled and sold to a park in Mexico.[7]

In 2003, Godden announced that Dreamland would close and the land would become a retail and commercial site. Public opinion supported continued use of the Dreamland site as an amusement park, along with a government report in 2004. As a result, Dreamland was sold to Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company in 2005 for £20m. A number of local residents have formed the Save Dreamland Campaign. The campaign proposes to turn Dreamland into a Heritage Amusement Park consisting of a number of vintage rides and attractions from other British amusement parks. Some rides have already been obtained by Save Dreamland and are currently in storage.

Although it was initially announced that Dreamland would close in November 2003, it did indeed operate during 2004 and 2005. Dreamland was closed to the public in 2005 and all of the rides apart from the Scenic Railway were removed from the site. The Scenic Railway had been granted Grade-II listed status in 2002 and could not be moved or dismantled.

Part of the Scenic Railway was destroyed by fire after an arson attack on 7 April 2008.[8] About 25 percent of the structure, the station and storage sheds were destroyed along with the trains and had to be removed as irreparable. The physical security of the site was upgraded and the surviving structure surveyed. Some of the surviving machinery and chassis from the cars was salvaged and stored on site. Another suspected arson attack was carried out on the site on 28 May 2014, but this was confined to a disused building near the Scenic Railway and did not damage any of the actual railway. [9]

On 25 April 2008 the Dreamland Cinema had its Listed building status increased from Grade II (buildings of special architectural or historic interest) to Grade II* (particularly significant buildings of more than local interest). The Cinema, which featured a Compton theatre organ,no longer operates after it was closed in 2007 following the opening of a new multiplex cinema at Westwood Cross.The buildings are currently under renovation (Winter 2011/12) and the Dreamland Sign on the front tower has been refurbished with LED lighting and shines brightly at night.

The cinema has been sold by the current site owners. This was before the result of an court appeal by the current site holders to stop the council taking possession of the theme park.[10]


The Scenic Railway forms the focus of the rejuvenation of Dreamland as an amusement park of historic rides as overseen by the Dreamland Trust. This will see the Scenic Railway repaired and restored and new trains built or acquired. On 16 November 2009, the Dreamland Trust was awarded a grant of £3 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund with further funding of £3.7m and £4m coming from the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Thanet District Council respectively, to restore the Scenic Railway and to develop the former Dreamland site as necessary for rejuvenation.[11] Some historic rides from other parks have already been donated to the Dreamland Trust for installation at Dreamland, the majority of unique old rides from Pleasureland Southport were donated which include the 1940s Caterpillar ride, King Solomon's Mines wooden roller-coaster (formerly of Frontierland, Morecambe and later moved to Pleasureland Southport), workings from the Ghost Train and River Caves, the Hall of Mirrors, Mistral, Haunted Swing and the Skyride (Chairlift ride). The Junior Whip which stood at Pleasure Beach Blackpool was also donated.

Wayne Hemingway, his wife Gerardine, and the 'HemingwayDesign' team have been appointed as designers of Dreamland. This includes transformation and branding for the £10m heritage theme park.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

Dreamland was the subject of a 1953 documentary film, O Dreamland. It was also visited by characters in the 1989 Christmas special of BBC Television sitcom, Only Fools and Horses. Some of the rides seen in the sitcom were renamed and repainted at Loudoun Castle Theme Park in Scotland (now closed). The Mary Rose was renamed the Black Pearl and is now at Lightwater Valley in North Yorkshire.

The park was also the filming location for the 2007 film Exodus and featured prominently in the 2000 film Last Resort, about a young Russian immigrant seeking asylum in England.

Dreamland is frequently alluded to in Graham Swift's 1996 novel Last Orders, as well as the 2001 film adaptation.

The Romford-based band Five Star shot the majority of the video for their 1984 single "Crazy" at Dreamland.


  1. ^ "Keys to Margate's Dreamland handed to council". BBC News. 3 September 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Mills, Magnus (18 June 1994). "The Things I've Seen: Margate Scenic Railway". London: independent.co,uk. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  3. ^ The Prince's Regeneration Trust: Dreamland, Margate Conservation Statement
  4. ^ 1989 Bembom Brothers White Knuckle Theme Park Flyer. Archived Copy
  5. ^ 1990 Dreamland White Knuckle Theme Park Flyer. Archived Copy
  6. ^ Gardner, Darran (13 July 2003). "Fairground attraction; Darran Gardner takes a white-knuckle ride with Henk Bembom". The Sunday Herald. 
  7. ^ Gold, Mary (8 February 2003). "Death of a seaside dream". The Times (London). Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  8. ^ "Dreamland rollercoaster blaze 'probably started deliberately'". Kent Messenger. 7 April 2008. Archived from the original on 10 April 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2008. 
  9. ^ "Dreamland fire: blaze breaks out at Margate theme park". Kent Online. 
  10. ^ Brown, Thomas (29 April 2013). "Dreamland cinema sold as Margate awaits decision on amusement park". www.thisiskent.co.uk. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  11. ^ "Margate Dreamland gets £3m lottery funding". BBC News. 22 November 2011. 
  12. ^ "Margate Dreamland: Wayne Hemingway to design new site". www.bbc.co.uk. 7 November 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 

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