As we come to the close of the 100th anniversary of the opening date for Dreamland and the Scenic Railway we give a nod to John Henry Iles.
A personal tribute from Margate resident John Cripps, who was DJ in Galleon Tavern in Dreamland in the mid 70s, says: “On July 3, 1920, John Henry Iles OBE opened the Scenic Railway at Dreamland Margate having got the idea from a visit to Coney Island in America,
“He left us with the most iconic structure in the town and today we celebrate 100 years since that day,
“John Henry was born in Bristol in 1871 and died on May 29, 1951, after living his final years in Cliff Road, Birchington.”
Just before Christmas 1919, and almost exactly one year after the end of the Great War, John Henry Iles purchased Margate’s The Hall By The Sea, thus initiating the history of what would become Dreamland. Iles had a vision for turning the dance and music hall, previously run by the colourful showman ‘Lord’ George Sanger (whose ostentatious tomb can be seen in Margate Cemetery), into an American-style amusement park. This vision would come to shape culture, employment, architecture, politics and entertainment in Margate for most of the next century.
Iles bought the site for £40,000 but spent £500,000 developing his vision, which is the equivalent of about £15million today. As a mark of intent he built the now iconic Scenic Railway amidst the pleasure gardens and amusements. The wooden roller coaster was a unique addition to the town and 500,000 visitors sampled its climbs, drops and bumps in the first 3 months of opening in 1920.
The ride became both a favourite of visitors and locals, with its mile-long wooden frame being visible from vantage points around Margate. A ride to the first hill drop afforded thrill seekers a panoramic view of the sea front, with their screams on the way down being audible in the High Street in the peak season.
The Scenic Railway is very much at the centre of the plans for the new Dreamland. It was badly damaged in a fire in 2008, but has come back from a similar tragedy in 1949. The ride is Grade-II* listed and is restored to its original glory for new riders to experience once again.
With thanks to Dreamland for additional details