Wonderland – ‘Curiouser and curiouser!’, said Alice.
Our Wonderland on the North Promenade, is perhaps not the one that Lewis Carroll had in mind when he wrote ‘Alice in Wonderland’, but nevertheless has been an exciting and curious place for young and old for many years.
On 21st June 1902, a 150ft tall tower opened for business (located where Wonderland is now). It transported people to the top in a circular lift and for some time, remained the only visitor attraction open in Cleethorpes on a Sunday. It was known as the Warwick Tower.
Then in 1911, Wonderland was developed and opened by East Coast Amusements. It copied an American idea and was the first of its type in the Country. At that time it was said to be the ‘Coney Island of Britain’. It was all the idea of an American steel magnate, Mr Anthony Hill, who made his money in Pittsburg. He had as his partners a well-known British M.P. of that time, J.H.Thomas and a Cleethorpes business man, Matthew Douse, who had several other interests in the resort.
Wonderland at that stage was not under one roof but included a figure eight and a big dipper which had a steam operated miniature railway which ran round a Boating Lake on which small motor boats puttered away, all sited below the big dipper. Three attractions in one place! One of the engines used on the railway, ‘Henrietta’, returned back to Cleethorpes in 2012. It is little wonder the place attracted thousands of visitors.
In 1921 the park was bought by George Wilkie who was responsible for further developments and he organised the moving of the big dipper to the very end of the promenade. More importantly he built an indoor arena. This he achieved by placing a huge roof over many of the other amusements, such as the spider and fly attraction, the madhouse, the waltzers, the dodgems, the ghost train and the fairground roundabout (galloping horses) run by a steam engine.
This simply meant more visitors, as regardless of the weather, there was something still available to attract tourists. These building alterations were all achieved well within a six month period.
Boom times then commenced for Cleethorpes as a whole and Wonderland was a massive success but it wasn’t to last, for the prospects of War loomed and indeed 1914 saw the beginning of the First World War.
Blackouts were the order of the day and though much of Wonderland kept going, even the big dipper had to be run in total darkness at times, with only the light of a candle to get people on and off.
After the war came the Depression, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that huge numbers of visitors were back in Cleethorpes. Unfortunately war again intervened and this time in 1939, Wonderland was closed altogether for the duration of the Second World War.
The building itself was immediately requisitioned for Army motor maintenance. Then in 1943, the Ministry of Supply took the building over to assemble American vehicles which arrived as parts at Grimsby and Immingham docks. Many of these vehicles were eventually used at the landings on Normandy beaches during the invasion period.
The building came back into public use in Easter 1946 and great efforts were made to recover and repair the equipment, in order to have a grand reopening that Whitsuntide. Somehow this was achieved within the necessary six week period and Wonderland was again open for business.
However gradually all seaside places were in decline, due perhaps to the cheap package holidays which became available overseas. Wonderland itself unfortunately also suffered a massive fire in 1952, and eventually closed down its attractions and converted it’s building into a 5,500 sq. ft. Sunday market. This traded with great success for over 10 years, attracting massive crowds every Sunday.
So successful and rewarding was this venture that for a while there was a huge waiting list for new traders wanting to rent a spot to trade from this venue. The author’s family were one of the lucky traders who operated in those times and remember how packed the market became, often so that the public could only shuffle along. Indeed so crowded did it become sometimes, that it was extremely difficult for the visitors to move at all!
Eventually the building was taken over by Dudley Bowers who, on his retirement (1993), sold half his business to his son Dudley Bowers (Junior).
Unfortunately another massive fire hit the building, doing massive damage in 1999. But by 2001, the building was reopened yet again.
The next owners were Town and Country Markets in 2005 who put the premises up for sale in 2011, though it was not sold until 2013. The sale this time, was for the land and not the building as a going concern.
All market traders were given notice but many were able to start again in a building close by, pending development plans by the new owners. Meanwhile and recently (2014), two young entrepreneurs have been allowed to start a new venture on the site called East Coast Airsoft. This venture is a new high energy shooting game running over two floors.
Though now in decline, the area still holds wonderful memories of adventures and mystery for many people.
There is a place on earth,
A land full of wonder,
Mystery and danger!
Some say to survive it,
You need to be
As mad as a hatter.
Alice in Wonderland.
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