by Phil Gould
: Added January 2011
The funfair at the Festival Gardens in Battersea opened in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain. Aimed at helping to celebrate what was great about Britain it followed the end of the Second World War and was also intended to help take peopleís minds off austerity measures still in place. While the South Bank event, timed to open exactly one hundred years after the Great Exhibition had taken place, concentrated on showing all that was great and good in an educational manner Battersea was very much focussed on fun.
The Battersea site was not finished in time for the official opening of the Festival on May 3rd but the funfair opened for business a week later with the rest of the gardens opening at the end of the month. It proved to be a great success and when the celebration finished in October 1951 plans were put in place to retain the funfair at Battersea.

Operated for the first few years by London Authorities the funfair was handed over to a private concern, the Battersea Company, from the mid-50s. Over the decades many famous fairground families had attractions at the park including Collins, Grays, Biddalls and Botton Brothers.

I only ever visited the funfair in Battersea Gardens once on a family trip to London. As I lived in a small village close to the Potteries in North Staffordshire the trip to the Capital did seem like a journey to another planet. We set out very early in the morning to get the train to London. I was 11-years-old and had already developed a fascination with travelling fairs and amusement parks. While my family wanted to see Big Ben, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square and Oxford Street I knew that the only place I wanted to see was the Festival Gardens.

My parents, being aware that I would more than likely be restless until we had visited the park, decided that this was the first place we should head for when we reached the city. With hindsight this probably wasn't such a great idea as we arrived at midday just as the park was opening up for business.

The year was 1972 and our visit was in June a few weeks after the tragic accident on the parksí Big Dipper. I remember walking along the drive leading up to the funfair with big expectations. I could only imagine what sights waited to greet me as this was the first amusement park that I had visited outside of the North West. I had seen glimpses of Battersea on the television when Cliff Richard sung his minor hit Flying Machine at the park on one of his television specials and when Blue Peter had done a piece about the funfair a year earlier.

Looking back there was something of a strange atmosphere hanging over the park, which was hardly surprising in view of the recent accident. The station of the Big Dipper had been boarded up but the massive ride was still in situ dominating the rest of the park. Operated by showman John Collins since the start of the Festival the ride was actually a rebuild of Stephen Hadfield's Scenic Railway at Southportís Pleasureland. It had operated at Collinsí Amusement Park in Sutton Coldfield for four years before being relocated to London. I also recall thinking, just like Belle Vue before it closed, the park had a look of being past its sell by date. Which is a shame as it had some great rides which are sadly no longer with us.

The other large gravity ride was the Water Chute. This was built at the back of the park close to the Big Dipper. It had replaced the Dragon Mountain Roller Coaster, a rebuild of another Southport roller coaster which only lasted for the first four years of the Festival Gardenís operation. Strangely the ride survived on the site for a few years after the rest of the funfair was removed. It opened when travelling fairground rides visited the site. In 1977 it was relocated to Dreamland in Margate, where it remained until 1995.

The Water Chute was operated by the Battersea Company which was also responsible for a number of other attractions. Built directly underneath the aforementioned ride was the World Cruise, which was the parkís version of the once popular river caves. The front of the ride was painted with a bright blue ocean scene. As I never went on the ride I can only assume that you were transported to scenes from different countries. The waterway was concealed in a building in the centre of the Water Chute. The company also operated a Go-Kart track, the Haunted Goldmine - a dark ride constructed under the Big Dipper, a Haunted Mirror Maze at the front of the park and the Rotor.

The latter ride was new at the park that year having been in store at Pinewood Studios for a number of years. It was in a large permanent structure and the front boards were painted exactly the same as a similar ride at Rhylís Ocean Beach. The legend Rotor was painted in massive letters and either side were images of people looking as though they were tumbling through the air. It was odd that this attraction had been brought back as a large Rotor had already been at the park from 1951 through to 1970 before being replaced by a Paratrooper (which had just been sold to the Stanworth family from my home city Stoke-on-Trent). This Rotor had been at the Kursaal in Southend before coming to London. After the parkís closure it was built up at Dreamland, Margate before going back to Southend. By this time both that park and the ride were of greatly reduced in size.   

General view of Battersea Funfair, from the forthcoming book Battersea Fun Fair Memories by Nick Laister and Robert Preedy. Picture: John Barber

The Water Chute dominated the back of the park, and would be moved to Dreamland Margate in 1977. Picture: National Fairground Archive

View across the park with the Water Chute in the background. Picture: National Fairground Archive



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