The Beast of Barry
The legendary Scenic Railway at Barry Island

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Following Dave Page's summer visit to Barry Island Pleasure Park in the September 2001 Issue of TheGalloper.com to see one of the park's newest rides, NICK LAISTER takes a trip back in time to look at the park's biggest ever attraction: the much missed Scenic Railway.

On this site back in September, readers may remember a very harsh assessment of Barry Island's 'down-at-heel' Pleasure Park and a sun-bleached set of Gallopers. But wondering around this colourful little park towards the end of the 2001 season, I couldn't help but disagree.

The park seemed well maintained, with a nice selection of rides, from its traditional Waltzer and Jackson toy set to the fantastic Haunted Mine dark ride. This park seems to represent everything that is good about our seaside amusement parks.

There is no denying that Barry Island the resort is well past its heyday, and it is difficult to see what the future will be. Many shops are empty, White's Cosy Corner amusement park has been destroyed by arson and the Butlin's holiday camp has recently been demolished to be replaced by housing. But I hope that the considerable care and attention to detail that the Rogers family has invested in this park won't be the final curtain call of this seaside town.

Looking around the park on a sunny Saturday afternoon, as the 2001 season was drawing to a close, I couldn't help but think what it must have been like thirty years ago. It would have been a very different place back then. Not one ride in the park now would have been there in 1971.

But the biggest difference would have been that half of the park was covered by a single, massive wooden structure. One of the biggest amusement rides ever to stand in this country had stood at the park for over thirty years: the great Barry Island Scenic Railway. Few people visiting back in that summer of decimalisation could have realised that this beast was nearing the end of its life.

This is a ride which has long fascinated me, and over the past few years I have sought information and photographs of the machine. This has not been easy as very little has been published on the subject of British amusement parks and roller coasters. But I have managed to piece together the history of this ride from a number of sources, and this will form part of a forthcoming book on the history of British amusement parks.

Installed in the park in late 1939 by park owner and legendary showman, Pat Collins, the Barry Island Scenic Railway was one of the last to be built in the United Kingdom. The ride had been constructed at a cost of £150,000 by John Collins (Pat Collins' son) for his 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, where it had formed part of Billy Butlin's amusement park.

It was a copy of Collins' 1932 Great Yarmouth Scenic Railway. According to the book Roller Coasters, Their Amazing History, by Robert Preedy, the ride was taken to Leige in 1939 for the International Water Exhibition, but was rapidly dismantled following the outbreak of war and rushed over to Collins' Barry Island Pleasure Park.

The ride opened in March 1940 and was an instant success. At a mile long, and with a first drop of 72 feet, it was one of the biggest wooden roller coasters in the country, and ran virtually the full length of the park. For added effect, and in common with many other Scenics, the ride's wooden structure was covered in scenery giving the effect of a mountainous landscape. This scenery, which was turquoise in colour, remained intact until the ride's demolition.

By 1966 the park was under the control of Pat Collins' nephews, Pat and John. They purchased the freehold of the park in 1969 and the Scenic Railway was still very much the central attraction. Unfortunately, the ride was severely damaged by a gale in 1973 making its repair uneconomical. The ride had to be demolished. The great giant was bulldozed, and one of the country's last surviving Scenic Railways was gone.

The ride wasn't truly replaced until 1980, when the present Log Flume was constructed, but the wood from the structure was used to construct the Wacky Goldmine (now the Haunted Mine) and formed part of the Log Flume's structure. Both rides still run to this day, but the future of the Haunted Mine is now uncertain. A park employee told me that the ride is to be demolished to make way for new attractions.

The ride experience, however, is not lost. The Scenic Railway at Great Yarmouth is an identical ride and can still be enjoyed to this day, one of only two surviving scenics in the country (the other is at Margate).


Nick Laister is editor of the Joyland Books website, the Internet's leading amusement park and fairground bookstore.

www.joylandbooks.com

 

This article reproduced by kind permission of

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