A DREAM IS BORN
John Henry Iles purchased Margate’s The Hall By The Sea, thus initiating the history of what would become Dreamland.
Just before Christmas 1919, and only 13 months 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 three months of opening in 1921.
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 new Dreamland. It was badly damaged in a fire in 2008, but came back from a similar disaster in 1949. The ride is Grade-II* listed and has now been restored to its original glory for new riders to experience.