origins of Dreamland
The beginning of an entertainment Empire at Margate, created by the Victorian circus entrepreneur “Lord” George Sanger
1860s - 1910s
The origins of Dreamland as an entertainment venue go back to the late 1860s when an unused railway terminal on the current site was turned into a restaurant and dance venue, known as the Hall-by-the-Sea.
In 1873, the Victorian circus entrepreneur “Lord” George Sanger refurbished the building into a restaurant by day and a ballroom by night.
It reopened on 27 June 1874. The former swampland behind the hall was turned into pleasure gardens with a mock ruined abbey used as a bandstand, and a lake, statues, sideshows, roundabouts, and numerous fishponds and fountains.
However, the greatest attraction was Sanger’s menagerie – lions, tigers, leopards, bears and wolves – which he bred there for his travelling circus. The animal cages and gothic walls on the present Dreamland western and southern boundaries (now Grade II listed) date from this time and are shockingly cramped by modern standards.
“Lord” George Sanger – he earned the nickname “his Lordship” from his father, for his smart dress – was the head lion trainer with Sanger’s Circus. He oversaw the breeding and training of the animals and on occasions would share his cottage in the grounds of the park with up to 20 lion cubs who needed hand-rearing and constant bottle feeds.
Sanger was elected the first president of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, a post he held from 1890 until 1909. In 1905, he sold his zoo and circus and wrote an autobiography, Seventy Years a Showman, which contained accounts of the ups and downs of his career: “A showman’s life, my friends, is not all glory. Beneath the glitter and the tinsel is many a heartache. The open road is often strewn with thorns …”
The hall’s ownership then passed to Arthur Reeve, and his wife, Harriett, (Sanger’s daughter). They began to focus on dance programmes and grand balls including regular masquerade and costume balls in the hall and skating rink and gardens. The aim was to attract a “better class” of customer who would have otherwise gone to Cliftonville and the Winter Gardens.
Business dipped in the First World War and, with their style of entertainment going out of fashion. The couple retired and sold the business for £40,000 in November 1919 to John Henry Iles, 47, who owned an advertising agency and had the vision of turning the site into an American-style amusement park. Iles already owned one of Britain’s earliest scenic railways, in Blackpool, and had developed other amusement parks.