Margate's Dreamland theme park opens to revellers

Media caption,
Dreamland opened its doors to hundreds of visitors

A funfair that formed the centrepiece of seaside days out for generations of day-trippers has reopened after an £18m restoration.

Dreamland has 17 vintage fairground attractions from funfairs around the UK in its reincarnation as a heritage amusement park.

The site on Margate seafront has been closed for 10 years, with campaigners fighting to save it from development.

But it reopened without the Scenic Railway star attraction.

Image caption,
The opening was delayed for about an hour while organisers applied finishing touches to Dreamland
Image caption,
The organisers said they had sold thousands of tickets to the opening day

Revellers were due to be let into the site at 10.00 BST but the ribbon across the entrance to the park was not cut until 11.00 BST.

BBC South East reporter Simon Jones said: "Dreamland has missed its 10am opening time. It was always going to be tight."

The organisers apologised to the crowds of people waiting outside, saying they were doing a "bit of tidying up".

'Dreamland is iconic'

The wooden Grade II*-listed rollercoaster, badly damaged in an arson attack in 2008, was not restored in time but Dreamland hopes it will be ready in the coming months.

Chris Wells, leader of Thanet District Council, said it was disappointing the Scenic Railway was not ready yet but such delays were "unforeseeable".

"It's fantastic to see the culmination of so many years of hard work by so many people finally come to fruition. Dreamland is iconic and means so much to not only Margate and Thanet but Kent and beyond.

"Dreamland is synonymous with Margate's heyday and signals the continuation of this vibrant regeneration, already well under way with the Turner Contemporary and the revival of the old town."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Grants from Thanet council, the government and the Heritage Lottery Fund have contributed to the restoration
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The heritage amusement park has 17 vintage fairground attractions from around the UK
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Hundreds of workmen have been putting the finishing touches to Dreamland this week

See more pictures of the refurbished Dreamland on our Facebook page.

Dreamland holds happy memories for Margate residents as well as the thousands of Londoners who flocked there in its heyday.

Patricia Briscoe, now 85, met her husband, who was serving in the RAF at nearby Manston airport, in its ballroom in 1948.

"He was dancing but saw me and came and asked me to dance," she said.

"He was so lovely, and I went back to my friends and said, 'I like him'.

"We have been married 64 years, since 1951."

Image caption,
Margate resident Patricia Briscoe met her husband of 64 years dancing in Dreamland's ballroom

The funfair, with its weekly fireworks displays, added to the fun of Margate as a traditional seaside destination.

"When we were kids everybody was there - all the Londoners used to come down every weekend," said Jim Needham.

"They'd all be singing in the pubs and the kids would be on the beach.

"We used to to go into Dreamland for the whole day and get lost.

"It was a shame when it shut.

"I can't wait for it to open again - the grandchildren are buzzing."

100 years of fun

1920 Dreamland opens with Scenic Railway rollercoaster

1939 Site requisitioned by the government and closed for the duration of World War Two

2002 Scenic Railway rollercoaster gets Grade-II listed status

2005 Site sold to Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company. Save Dreamland Campaign set up

2008 Scenic Railway badly damaged in arson attack.

2012 Thanet District Council approves compulsory purchase order. Wayne Hemingway becomes theme park designer

2013 Council takes over ownership of the site

2015 First phase of new Dreamland opens on 19 June

Dreamland's decline coincided with Margate's own.

The rot began to set in for many traditional seaside towns during the 1960s as holidaymakers were lured abroad by sunshine package holidays.

"The world moved on and we have now got to make this a site that moves with the world," said Wayne Hemingway, Dreamland's artistic director.

Image source, Rob Ball
Image caption,
The Scenic Railway fell into disrepair after an arson destroyed sections of it in 2008
Image source, Rob ball
Image caption,
Vegetation was growing through the rails of the Scenic Railway before restoration got under way
Image caption,
The Scenic Railway renovations were not finished in time for the opening day

The restoration work, funded by contributions from the council, the government and the Heritage Lottery Fund, has been hit by setbacks including a fire in the roof of a two-storey building in May.

But Ms Kemsley insisted everything except the Scenic Railway would be ready on opening day.

Hundreds of workmen have been on site all week, and were still adding finishing touches on Thursday.

The park reopened at 11:00 BST on Friday, with acts including Chas and Dave - whose single Margate reached number 46 in 1982 - and Marina and the Diamonds playing to sold-out crowds in the evening.

"We will be ready to go - absolutely," chief executive Eddie Kemsley said before the park reopened.

"We're so excited. We're sold out and we can't wait to let people through the doors."

Media caption,
Generations of Londoners used to flock down to Dreamland

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