12. River Caves (from Pleasureland, Southport)

The party of distinguished guests at the 1922 official opening of Pleasureland sample a gentle boat ride on the River Caves, the oldest ride standing at Pleasureland on its closure in September 2006. (Photograph taken from the book Pleasureland Memories by Stephen Copnall).

The River Caves in the 1920s. (Photograph taken from the book Pleasureland Memories by Stephen Copnall).

The River Caves by night in 1990. (Photograph taken from the book Pleasureland Memories by Stephen Copnall).

River Caves in 1999 (Photograph: Nick Laister).

The wheel that pushes the water and the boats around the waterway, photographed in May 2007 shortly before dismantling. (Photograph: Nick Laister)

The abandoned River Caves pictured shortly before being dismantled by the Dreamland Trust. (Photograph: Nick Laister)

One of the 10 River Caves boats stored on Pleasureland shortly before being lifted into a container for transport to the south of England. (Photograph: Nick Laister)

History: Built in 1923 by Helters Ltd, it is a scenic boat ride lasting eight minutes. The ride is 893 feet long and was originally powered by a gas engine. Other similar rides are found at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Kennywood (Pittsburgh, USA) and Playland Rye (New Yorks, USA). This is a ‘dark ride’, a ride type which became relatively common at amusement parks in the mid-20th Century.

The River Caves was the oldest attraction at Pleasureland. Based on an idea from the USA, where this type of water based ride was often known as 'The Old Mill', the River Caves was originally built in 1908 on the site of the first pleasure park at Southport, the White City. It was moved to Pleasureland and recreated when the park relocated on a larger site. The ride dates at Pleasureland from 1922.

The basic concept is akin to that of the early Scenic Railways, in that it is an ‘educational’ ride as well as designed for enjoyment. There is a water-filled ‘river’ which meanders through artificial caves, in a series of tunnels, where at every turn a fresh ‘scene’ or tableaux is revealed. The decorative boats are slowly wafted through the single-level water course by a strong current, made by a machine which drives a paddle wheel.

There are ten boats, each holding six passengers. One of the interesting points to note is that it is so ingeniously designed that the impression given is of travelling through a much larger ride than it actually is. It takes approx eight minutes.

Dimensions: 893 feet long ‘track’.

Importance: Dreamland featured a River Caves ride from 1924 to 1984, although it differed from Pleasureland's in that the boats were in the shape of 'tubs'. There are now only two River Caves dark rides left in this country, the one at Blackpool and Southport’s. River Caves were also found at other parks, including Southend’s Kursaal. More recently a river caves ride (‘the Stowaway’) was added to the Cinema building at Dreamland, but was dismantled and moved to Loudoun Castle, where it now operates as an open-air attraction.

Latest: The ride machinery, including the pump and paddle, have been rescued from Pleasureland for potential use at Dreamland, as have all 10 boats. The ride effects were removed in 2004 by Pleasureland to be replaced by dinosaur exhibits, which were removed by Blackpool Pleasure Beach after the park closed. The 'track' was of permanent concrete construction and could not be rescued.

If you have any further information on the history of this ride, please email nick@savedreamland.co.uk.

Click on the photographs for larger versions.



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