A look at the Dreamland journey

Dreamland Photo Frank Leppard

(updated February 2021)

The Dreamland estate is now back in private hands after Thanet council sold the freehold to operator Sands Heritage Ltd for £7million – Dreamland park, cinema, scenic railway, rides and intellectual property, completed on December 18, was sold for £2.3million and the exchange of contracts for the sale of the former council owned car park, which took place on the same day and should be completed in April, was for £4.7m.

Some £19.4 million funding from the Department for Culture Media and Sport’s Sea Change programme, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Thanet District Council, which had contributed £8million, was made prior to the first reopening in 2015. Funds in excess of £25million were invested in the park by Arrowgrass, a hedgefund which bought out the Sands Heritage shares after in entered administration in 2016.

Where did it all start?

Lord George Sanger

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.

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.

An illustrated Bembom Brothers map via Dreamland

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.

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. The Save Dreamland Campaign was set up to fight for the future of Dreamland.

2005: Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company, (MTCRC) which had shareholders including Mr Godden, bought the park for £20 million.

2006: Dreamland closed to the public and all rides, apart from the Scenic Railway, were removed.

2007: The Dreamland Cinema is closed. Ideas were put forward for the site 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 Dreamland Trust, which was created through the Save Dreamland campaign, 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.

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.

Eddie Kemsley at the 2015 Dreamland opening Photo Frank Leppard

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. 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. Thanet council appoints real estate adviser, GVA, to find an operator for the former Sunshine Cafe building.

May 2017: Thousands turn out for the opening of the newly improved Dreamland and the event is attended by artist Tracy Emin. The bank holiday weekend attracted some 50,000 people to the park.

June 2017: Official opening of Ziggy;s rooftop bar and thousands enjoy the Demon Dayz gig.

October 2017: Dreamland exits administration and Arrowgrass hold talks about purchasing the Arlington freehold as part of a new masterplan for the site

March 2018: Dreamland announces a £5 park entry fee, which includes a single go on a ride of a visitor’s choice, or the daily Day Dreamer food and drink offer.

April 2018: Dreamland announces 9 new rides will be installed at the park over the summer

The Dreamland Drop arrives

June 2018: The Dreamland Drop sky tower ride arrives at the park. Plans for a 120 bed seafront hotel are revealed

January 2019: Former Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley returns to head up the Margate amusement park once more

Margate Estates Dreamland hotel image

February 2019: The Dreamland hotel plans, which means the demolition of two buildings including Ziggy’s rooftop bar, are approved

April 2019: The £5 park entrance fee is dropped and footfall soared by more than 380% with 105,433 visitors between April 6 and April 22, compared to 21,988 visitors during the 2018 Easter break.

The same month  Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley told The Isle of Thanet News Dreamland wanted to  look at ways to increase the number of hotel beds in Margate and to hold more events out of the main season, creating a 12 month business and the permanent employment associated with that.

August 1, 2019: Thanet council Cabinet members agree the sale of the freehold for the entire Dreamland site -including the council car park and cinema building – to operaters Sands Heritage Limited.

The sale is subject to agreement from external funders regarding the removal of ongoing grant obligations upon the council, and subject to legal advice.

The sale will include the full complex, rides and the TDC restored cinema and Sunshine Café building, containing the ‘Dreamland Bars’, later famous for being the ‘Bali Hai’.

August 15: A meeting is held to discuss the decision after it was called in – meaning a request was made for it to be re-examined – by Labour, Green and Thanet Independent councillors on an authority scrutiny panel.

September 2019: Dreamland bosses say it is “business as usual” at the park following news that funders Arrowgrass Capital Partners planned to close down its masterfund after a slump in capital and requests from investors to withdraw funds. It came on the heels of a legal wrangle over the exit of an Arrowgrass senior executive. The same month Labour councillors ask for a rethink on the inclusion of the authority-owned car park in the deal to sell the freehold

December 2019: Turner Prize awards held at Dreamland

March 2020: Dreamland cancels Easter events as covid crisis takes hold

May 2020: Dreamland gives 52 members of staff notice of redundancy from July 1 due to the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Marking 100 years despite covid Photo Dik Ng

July 3 2020: Dreamland and the Scenic Railway had been due to celebrate the 100th anniversary but covid means only a low key press call can take place.

December 21 2020: Ownership of the freehold of Dreamland is transferred from Thanet District Council toSands Heritage Limited (SHL). The sale, one of the biggest asset disposals in Thanet council’s history, includes the TDC restored Dreamland cinema and Sunshine Café building, containing the ‘Dreamland Bars’, later famous for being the ‘Bali Hai’. The terms include a restriction prohibiting housing development at the site for 10 years. The deal for the car park sale is due to finalise this April 2021.

February 2021: It is revealed that the Dreamland estate was sold by Thanet council to park operator Sands Heritage Ltd for £7million. Sale of Dreamland park, cinema, scenic railway, rides and intellectual property, completed on December 18, was for £2.3million and the exchange of contracts for the sale of the car park, which took place on the same day and should be completed in April, was for £4.7m.

Part of the sale income has paid the compulsory purchase order compensation to the park’s former owners DreamlandLive -formerly Margate Town Centre Regeneration. Total CPO compensation and related costs will amount to £5.8 million, of which £2.15 million has already been paid.

2021: Thanet council’s statement of accounts for 2019/20 shows that the revaluation of Dreamland  required as part of the reclassification from a Heritage Asset valued at £21.9million – the sum that had been invested- to a Current Asset Held for Sale at £7million – the market price. The audit shows a revaluation loss of £19.5 million when including the increased capital provision for the CPO. These figures are based on value reflecting funding input and then actual market value.


  1. 2029 – TDC give permission for 500 houses. Sands Heritage, after years of slowly making sure Dreamland doesn’t make a penny, finally get their
    wish.The reason they bought the site in the first place.

  2. 100 years ‘Covenant’ on Dreamland funfair site. No other building permission to be asked for or granted, except maintenance to the site.
    With the exception of the proposed Hotel, this should go ahead.

  3. Record numbers of visitors of 10,000 in 2016? In the 1960s Dreamland catered for 100,000 visitors a week…

Comments are closed.