Historic England names Dreamland in top ten places telling the tale of UK tourism

Photo Dean Spinks

Dreamland is one of ten sites featured by Historic England in its top places that tell the story of travel and tourism in England.

The ten were chosen by the organisation’s travel and tourism category judge, Dr Bettany Hughes.

Dr Hughes notes that Dreamland is home to the Grade II* listed Scenic Railway and that the site dates back to the British railway boom and the early 1870s when, in its original form, the ‘Hall by the Sea’ was operated by a circus tycoon, the self-proclaimed “Lord” George Sanger.

Where did it all start?

Photo by Frank Leppard

1870: A restaurant and dance hall, known as the Hall By The Sea, was bought by entrepreneur George Sanger and Thomas Dalby Reeve, then Mayor of Margate.

After Reeve’s death in 1875, Sanger went it alone and the hall and land behind became pleasure gardens with a mock ruined abbey, lake, statues and a menagerie.

Photo from Dreamland Revived by Nick Evans

1920: Dreamland opened on the site of a seafront zoo and gardens. It was owned by showman CC Bartram and businessman John Henry Iles who owned rights to the Scenic Railway.

1938: Dreamland was taken over by Iles’s son Eric but closed following the outbreak of the Second World War.

June 1946: Dreamland reopened on June 6, with money from Billy Butlin, who was chairman of Dreamland from 1946 to 1950.

1980s: The site was taken over by the Bembom Brothers who turned it into a white-knuckle theme park

1996: The Bembom family sold the site to Jimmy Godden who secured grants to assist in an initial £3 million redevelopment.

An illustrated Bembom Brothers map via Dreamland

Read here: Dreamland in the Bembom years of admission fees and the Looping Star

2002: The Scenic Railway was granted Grade II-listed status.

2003: Mr Godden announced that Dreamland would close and be redeveloped for shops and offices.

2005: Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company, (MTCRC) which had shareholders including Mr Godden, bought the park for £20 million. Dreamland closed to the public and all rides, apart from the Scenic Railway, were removed.

2007: Ideas were put forward for the site by Thanet council which included a mixed scheme with the majority of the site kept as an amusement park, along with homes.

2008: The Scenic Railway was partially destroyed by fire after an arson attack on April 7. The owners pledged to rebuild. Thanet council threatened to compulsory purchase the site if it was not repaired. Dreamland Cinema was upgraded to Grade II* status on April 25.

2009: The Save Dreamland Trust unveiled plans for a heritage theme park and a £3.7 million government grant was awarded to help bring the park back to life.

The £12 million project hit a financial problem. Thanet council stepped in to pay £4 million. The rest came from a £3.8 million government grant, £3 million from the Heritage Lottery fund, and local groups.

2011: A compulsory purchase order was served. Listed buildings were repaired after council served urgent works notices. Legal battles pushed the park’s opening date from 2012 to 2013.

MTCRC put forward alternative plans for the site in an attempt to stop the CPO.

Peek Drones

2012: Jimmy Godden died. MTCRC became DreamlandLive. In August the government approved the CPO to Thanet council after an inquiry.

2013: After prolonged legal arguments a notice to quit the park was finally served. Designer Wayne Hemingway’s company was hired to create plans for the park.

May 2014: Another fire hit the park. Dreamland Expo: A Past, Present and Future visitor centre opened. Work to restore the rides began.

November 2014: Sands Heritage agreed in principal to be the park operator.

June 19, 2015: The Dreamland revived park reopened to the public.

December 2015: Sands Heritage Ltd entered into a voluntary debt plan.

May 2016: Dreamland put into administration.

June 18, 2016: Free entry to Dreamland and a weekend of first birthday celebrations.

July 16, 2016 – A record number of people visit Dreamland with 10,000 recorded in one day

July 2016 – The Scenic Railway is closed for repairs and the Octopus Garden children’s area is also shut for repairs after a leak.

August 4,2016 – A creditors’ meeting is held by administrators Duff & Phelps with those owed money by Sands Heritage Ltd. A report reveals creditors are owed £8.34m and the company has a deficit of £14m.

Coombs, based in Canterbury, announces it will carry out £1.8 million restoration works at the former Sunshine Café and cinema entrance foyer at Dreamland.

September 2016: Administrators shut down the Vintage Arcade at the park. The same month sees the opening of the iconic Hall By The Sea.

October 2016: Former Dreamland owners MTCRC offer £1m to take back the park and end the legal dispute with Thanet council over land compensation

January 2017: An extension to the administration period is granted meaning the park could continue to run. Offshore firm Arrowgrass increases its loan amount for the park to just under £10million

February 2017: A £15million overhaul of Dreamland is announced with more funding from Arrowgrass. Plans for new and restored rides, landscaped gardens, festivals and street food are unveiled

March 2017: Gorillaz announced to stage Demon Dayz festival in June, the park’s rare menagerie cages are restored, the neon signage is also restored, and Arrowgrass announce another £10million of investment.

Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty

May 2017: Dreamland reopens, welcoming thousands of visitors to the new-look park. Artist Tracey Emin unveils the Dreamland neon sign, Rachel Wilberforce opens her exhibition and visitors get a first look at the newly refurbished Cinque Ports pub and Ziggy’s rooftop bar

Photo Thanet from my perspective

Summer 2017: Gorillaz kick off the jampacked music programme with the Demon Dayz gig. Jess Glynne pops in for Sunset Sessions and the park hosts By The Sea and the Undercover festival as well as free DJ sets and two weeks of the world’s biggest bouncy castle.

Photo Frank Leppard

October 2017: Dreamland hosts Screamland for its second year,

November 2017: Sands Heritage Ltd officially comes out of administration on November 4. BBC south east to film Child

December 2017: The Frosted Fairground will be at the park, and this year it will include a real ice rink.

Photo from Dominic Winter Auctioneers

Read here: Rare collection of Lord George Sanger circus photos sold at auction

1 Comment

  1. This is fantastic news but, Don’t get me wrong the Grade II-listed status railway has been totally replaced with completely new timbers. How and why should it now be listed. ?

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