Britain’s oldest theme park turns 175

Visitors to the park in 1922. Credit: Blackgang Chine

Opened shortly after a visit by Queen Victoria, the historic amusement park Blackgang Chine is a cultural treasure

In 1843 one Alexander Dabell hatched an ingenious plan to turn a spectacular 500-foot-deep gorge on the Isle of Wight’s southernmost point into the country’s first amusement park. Built into the cliffs amid coastal woodland, Blackgang Chine opened as a series of coastal pathways and landscaped gardens to attract the first waves of Victorian visitors.

Queen Victoria gave the royal seal of approval, and Queen Mary was a frequent visitor. The very first exhibit (which Queen Mary bumped her head on) was a Fin Whale skeleton that had washed up on the shore nearby, and is still on display today.

The park has overcome many obstacles, from coastal erosion (at nearly 4 metres a year) to the package holiday boom, and remained defiantly open during world wars as the Luftwaffe flew overhead.

The park is now run by the great, great, great grandson of the park’s entrepreneurial creator, who has overseen the introduction of a few modern touches while retaining its quirky English charm. The same families return year after year, introducing new generations to this much-loved holiday spot.

Blackgang Chine
Credit: Blackgang Chine

The park opened its hall of mirrors – still a favourite attraction today – in 1933, its ‘crooked house’ in 1968 and and Dinosaur Land in 1972 (these days the T-Rex and friends are rendered more lifelike with the use of impressive animatronics). Modern additions include a rollercoaster – making the most of the scenic clifftop location – giant snakes and ladders slides and a cave-like new Underwater Kingdom.

The park is celebrating its milestone birthday with parties every Monday and Wednesday until the 29th of August (10am until late), culminating in a spectacular fireworks display.