With the threat of permanent closure looming over Dreamland, the community united together to save their park
Rumours of closure, demolition and a potential change of owners were all rife as the new millennium was ushered in, with empty spaces on site prompting further speculation about the park’s future. One item of major concern for amusement park enthusiasts and historians was the future of Dreamland’s 1920s Scenic Railway, so moves were made to have the structure declared a listed building. This campaign was successful and the ride received a Grade II listing in March 2002, which was the first time such a listing had been given to a ride.
It was thought that the listing of the Scenic Railway would ensure the future of Dreamland as an amusement park, yet owner Jimmy Godden declared that the park may still close for commercial redevelopment, prompting the formation of the Save Dreamland Campaign in 2003.
The group rapidly grew in number to 13,000 supporters in the UK and around the world, gaining influence with important bodies such as English Heritage. Buyers attempted to save Dreamland as a going concern, but they were put off by the prices being quoted. In a property boom it seemed that the site was worth more levelled to the ground than as an operating tourist attraction. In 2005, the controlling ownership of the sometimes open, sometimes closed Dreamland passed to the Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company, with Jimmy Godden retaining a 40% share.
The Dreamland Cinema also suffered, closing in 2007 after a gala screening of The Smallest Show on Earth. The cinema had been used to premiere the film of the 2006 Artangel project Exodus, which was filmed in and around Margate. The filming saw a giant ‘waste man’ built on the Dreamland site by sculptor Antony Gormley. The waste man was burnt at a climactic moment in the film, while the fire brigade doused the Scenic Railway lest any stray sparks should do damage.Sadly, the fire brigade were not so close by when the Scenic Railway burnt for real in April 2008. The arson attack destroyed the middle section of the track, the station and the workshop containing the Scenic’s distinctive trains. Though the disaster did not deter the Save Dreamland Campaign, who pressed ahead with its own vision for the future of the site: to revamp it as an amusement park of historic rides, encompassing the cinema. Work on site also uncovered rare animal cages from the period when ‘Lord’ George Sanger housed his menagerie at the pre-Dreamland site of The Hall By The Sea, now listed for their historical significance.
The Dreamland Trust grew out of the campaign to achieve this aim, receiving backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Thanet District Council and the Sea Change Fund.