On 24th July 1896, the Liverpool Mercury reported on the state of New Brighton and the proposed new Tower. The report was not very complimentary about the state of the town, describing it as being ‘behind the times’ with the ‘ugly frontage’ of the Ham and Egg Terrace and with a ‘limited choice of recreation’ for the visitor. The report goes on to describe the plans of the New Brighton Tower and Recreation Company to buy the Rock Point Estate, former home of the late Captain Molyneux. The estate extended to about 21 acres of wooded land to the south of the pier, with an extensive frontage to the river.
The company’s plans, apart from the 544ft octagonal tower, included a football ground, a full size bowling green, an open-air platform for dancing, a lake, half an acre in extent, which would be available for water polo matches and other aquatic sports and an al fresco tea ground modelled on the Parisian plan. The syndicate also planned to buy Wallasey Tramways, in order to extend them to the site, and to run a tramway along the beach in front of the promenade.
The venture does not seem to have been helped by the Corporation of Wallasey, for example, it was decided to open the tower grounds for the Whit holiday in 1897, so on 2nd June, 1897 Mr Rollwagen, licensee of the Albion Hotel, applied to Wallasey Petty Sessions for a license to sell intoxicating liquor for six days during the Whit Holidays, in the Japanese Tearoom and other buildings where meals would be served, and the 1st and 2nd class bars underneath the grandstand at New Brighton Tower. No opposition was offered to the application, however, it was refused.
The Tower Grounds opened on Whit Monday, 7th June 1897. Some additional land had been bought, making a total of 25 acres, about 3,000 trees had been cut down to enable the various attractions to be built, the tower itself was only partly built when the grounds opened, it would be another year before it was completed, opening on 30th May, 1898.
1897 was also the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, the New Brighton Tower Company had a medallion struck, this had a bust of Queen Victoria on the obverse and picture of the tower on the reverse. The aluminium medallion was probably sold to visitors on the opening day.
An existing large pond had been enlarged and deepened to form a miniature lake with a water chute running in to it. The water Chute had specially built boats which ran down rails on a 130ft incline into the lake.
The boats then travelled across the lake to a landing place where the passengers disembarked. The boat was then drawn back to the top of the incline ready for the next group of passengers. On the bank of the lake was the Japanese Cafe.
A 14,000 sq ft dance platform was constructed in front of the site where the tower was being constructed.
A switchback railway (this may have been the ‘Himalaya Railway’, although the National Fairground Archive lists this as arriving in 1898) was built, and behind this was the menagerie and Lion House.
In 1905 the ‘Figure of Eight’ roller coaster was installed near the entrance of the grounds, this would remain in operation until the grounds closed. In 1908 the ‘Himalaya Railway’ was replaced with a scenic railway.
On the athletics ground and cycle track, a full program of athletic and cycling events were arranged from the opening day onwards. In order to attract people to New Brighton in winter, the tower company formed New Brighton Tower Football Club in 1897. In 1901, the team having failed to reach the first division of the football league, the company withdrew its support from the team. A new club was formed in 1921 but they didn’t play at the tower ground until after the war when their own ground was requisitioned for housing. The team finally disbanded in 1983.
In October 1899 the S F Cody Cycle, Horse and Variety Tournament performed on the Athletics ground., this ‘Wild West’ show, which toured the variety theatres of England, was not related to Buffalo Bill Cody.
The area between the athletic ground and the lake were the pleasure and recreation grounds, these were used for travelling shows, on the opening weekend these included a circus, a cinematiograph show and Japanese perfomers.
For Whit 1899 three Venetian Gondolas, complete with their native gondoliers, arrived to convey visitors around the lake.
Most of the rides and sideshows in the fairground were owned and operated by individuals who paid the Company rent for their space. One of the better known of these was Tommy Mann, a showman who ran the Marine Lake on the promenade, he rented the space between the figure of eight and the promenade.
A Kiddies area was formed in this space, and in the 1930s and early 1940s there were, successively, two miniature railways. Nothing is known about the first of these, but it is known that the second , the Jungle Railway, was 22in gauge and was hauled by a Fordson petrol engined locomotive. Both of these railways were short lived.
In 1947 Tommy Mann bought the remaining equipment from a closed railway at Jaywick Sands, near Clacton in Essex. The equipment was 18in gauge and consisted of three saloon coaches and a strange steam locomotive based on a Sentinel steam car. The vertical boiler was in the dummy coal bunker and the oil tank was in the smoke box, the Stanley steam car engine was slung between the frames and drive to the axels was by means of chains, the locomotive was named ‘Tim Bobbin’
The line, which was officially called the Fairy Glen Miniature Railway, was only about 200yds in length. It started by running straight, parallel to the promenade, and then turned into the old quarry where there was a tight loop the train returning to the station along a track parallel to the outward track. Part of the loop was covered over to form a tunnel with a illuminated miniature fairground on a ledge inside.
A new locomotive, was designed for the line, this was called ‘Crompton’ and was a conventional anthracite burning steam engine, it was delivered on 3rd May 1951. By 1955 Charlie Mann had taken over running the railway and inn 1959 the railway bought an ex-war department diesel locomotive.
The railway closed at the end of the 1965 season.
The Kiddies fair also contained the oldest ride in the grounds, this was a set of Dobby Horses which, it was claimed, dated from 1820. Some of the other rides which have been in the grounds
The caterpillar was built in 1929 by Henry Iles and moved to New Brighton in 1935. It was operated by Green Brothers and was scrapped when the grounds closed in 1969.
The octopus was built around 1947 by Lusse at Blackpool, its first home was the Tower Grounds, were it was operated by Peter Wilson and then later by Ernie Brennan. It probably remained in New Brighton until the closure of the grounds, when it was shipped to Ireland. It still existed, although in a modified form, in Ireland in 1993.
The Waltzer was built as an Ark in Germany by Ortons in 1930, between 1946 and 1950 it was converted into an 11 car Waltzer. It arrived in New Brighton about 1950 and was operated by Leo Clarke. It was last recorded in 1966 when it was photographed in the Tower Grounds.
The Ark was built in 1933 by Orton and Spooner, it arrived in New Brighton in 1939 and was operated by Bob Ryder. After leaving New Brighton it was converted into a Waltzer in 1983 and is still operating.
The chair lift was installed in 1960, it took passengers up to the roof of the Tower Building. Although it was called a chair lift, passengers had to stand in the small carriages. Following the closure of the grounds it was shipped to Ireland.
In the early hours of Easter Saturday 1969, the day the grounds were due to re-open for the 1969 season, a fire started in the Tower Theatre, this rapidly spread throughout the building. The remains of the building where declared unsafe and where demolished.
Some attempts where made to re-open parts of the grounds, but these failed. The picture below claims to show the derelict site in 1992. (Please see following posts concerning the date of this picture). Other related threads
: New Brighton Tower New Brighton Fair