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month's article is by William Squires
asked the tedious question that goes along the line of ‘What is your
favourite park?’, it is common for one to hear responses of Alton
Towers, Thorpe Park, Drayton Manor, even the occasional plug goes to
Oakwood (why?!). But one park few people care to mention of is The
American Adventure Theme Park. In fact, most people, without ever
visiting the park proclaim it to be rubbish. But why is this? How on
earth did the park get such a terrible name for itself? Well, the
troubles are nothing new for the site.
far back as the late 1970s, Derbyshire County Council earmarked the site
formerly occupied by a colliery for ‘private sector leisure
development’. In 1979 an agreement was formed between the Kent-based
“KLF Group” (no, nothing at all to do with ‘The KLF’!) and the
then Conservative controlled Derbyshire County Council (DCC herein) to
have an exhibition, somewhat ironically based around the best of all
things British. The agreement supported the development of the park,
without a timescale.
here-on is a lot of political too and froing, I have simplified this as
best I can without leaving out important stuff.]
was not long before residents of Shipley showed their opposition to the
plans, and levied a writ against the agreement between KLF and DCC;
their main concerns being traffic congestion and noise pollution from
the ‘fun fair’ KLF had planned. Before this could be dealt with by
the courts, DCC granted KLF a 100 year lease on the site with immediate
effect. DCC had already by this point shelled out £¼ million in
‘reconstruction costs’. The courts eventually found DCC and KLF’s
original agreement invalid on two accounts. DCC appealed against the
court’s decision, but after Labour took control later in the year the
appeal was withdrawn. KLF now took it upon them to charge DCC with
violation of contract on nine accounts; they where cleared of all but
two, for which KLF successfully claimed for a whopping £11.4million in
of political nitty gritty.]
|Britannia Park Concept Art
(Copyright Britannia Park Ltd.)
their 100 year lease intact, and with another £4million from commercial
investors to finance the park, KLF now set about constructing their
dream, Britannia Park. Entry was to be a very grand affair, with
suitable cafés and shops for visitors to enjoy. There would be a
‘traditional village green’ where one could observe a Blacksmith at
work. A Crafts Village would showcase a fine array of ‘British
Crafts’ (that’s thimbles to you and me). A British Ingenious exhibit
would have 8 pavilions that commercial investors could use to highlight
the importance of their product in everyday British life. A ‘small
world’ area would show landmarks from the English-speaking world in
1/25th scale, and an arena would be constructed, with an
annual air tattoo planned. All-in-all, the plans were extremely
impressive, especially with such a low investment.
after successfully hacking off the residents of Shipley, and now every
DCC taxpayer, what materialised had to be brilliant for the project to
regain any integrity. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, it was
from completion, never mind something the country could be proud of,
Britannia Park was opened to the general public on June 27th,
1985, marked by a flyover by Concorde and a speech by former heavyweight
champion Henry Cooper (the thought of which makes me chuckle to this
very day). Ready for 1985 were the grand entrance, five of the eight
‘British Genius’ pavilions (occupied by such fine examples of
British Genious as beer and coal sponsored by Bass Brewery and whatever
was left of National Coal Board by this time respectively) and half a
mile of miniature railway line. The rest of the park could have been
described politely as a mud bath.
|Britannia Park Entrance
(Copyright Derby Evening Telegraph)
seemed to have managed to annoy Mother Nature somewhere along the line,
as the 1985 season was a washout (rather than the knockout Henry Cooper
promised in the advertising material for the park), which severely
hindered further construction efforts as well as reduce visitor numbers
further. Inevitably, KLF went into receivership and Britannia Park
promptly closed on September 9th, just twelve weeks after
a further £3.7million lent, the receiver had hoped to have the park
open for the 1986 season. Ultimately though, the park was just too much
of a challenge, and DCC bailed them out buying back the lease for £2.5million.
stem two stories, the misfortune of Peter Kellard and the KLF Group,
which ended up with the longest trial in UK history (at a further cost
to the taxpayer of £1.8million). Without going into too much detail,
Peter Kellard was several years later found guilty fraud on numerous
accounts, for which he was imprisoned for 4 years. The other story,
steps John Rigby of Park Hall Leisure, usually associated with Camelot
Theme Park, Chorley. In August 1986 Rigby negotiated a fresh 100 year
lease, similar to KLF’s one but without all the strings which meant
DCC could be held liable for their own wrong-doings. Not contempt with
his work at Camelot, John Rigby had big plans for his next project. Far
from the ‘all things British’ theme unsuccessfully executed in
Britannia Park, John Rigby believed there was room in the market for a
fully-fledged Cowboy vs. Native themed park. This was the first
incarnation of The American Adventure.
a good infrastructure already in place, all that needed to be done was
cover over the remnants of Britannia Park and apply his own ideas.
Rigby’s plan was to split the park into two, with the Native Americans
occupying one side, and the Cowboys doing their thing in the other.
Looking at the park map for their first season, it’s clear to see this
Park’s entrance was given a lick of paint and with its new stars and
stripes livery, the area was now a very bold, welcoming place. The
British Genius pavilion, which was now just an empty warehouse, was
covered in fibreglass moulded into faces, as you might find at Mount
Rushmore, and within a huge play area for under 8’s to enjoy; Pioneer
Playland. Down the hill, and visitors would find a convincing replica of
the Alamo structure, and behind it could be found a large arena, in
which horseback stunt shows would be held every day. By the lake was a
Zamperla Buffalo powered coaster similar to the one that can be found at
|1987 Park Map
on there was a petting zoo, featuring many species associated with the
Americas, and an adventure playground. Along the lakeside were several
shops, and a large restaurant, followed by a pirate ship and a
wagon-themed Ferris Wheel, both from Zamperla. Further still and
you’ve reached Silver City, a cowboy tow, looking like something
lifted straight from a Western. Twice daily would be a shootout, and
next door in Lazy Lil’s the girls would put on a show for the winner.
the end of the park was a gigantic fibreglass mountain, with a Log Flume
and Powered Mine Train coaster emerging from either side, both purchased
from Interlink (but likely to have been manufactured by either WGH or
Mimafab). Running the length of the park was an adapted version of the
miniature railway track built for Britannia Park, with a new train. And
what’s more, this was all ready for opening, on time, in June 1987.
Without having visited the park, or actually being alive at this point,
I can tell you with much certainty that this was an exciting time. John
Rigby’s no-expense-spared attitude towards theming was certainly
following year saw the opening of a new area, Fort St. Lawrence, with
its single ride; The Great Niagara Falls Rapids. With an impressive set
of features, and its queue-crunching 12-seater boats, this Rapids ride
is widely considered to this day by many to be the best of its kind
within the UK (having said this, the title is hardly contended). It is
with much regret that I have to tell you that it was about now that John
Rigby left the American Adventure and, funnily enough, The Great Niagara
Falls Rapids was the last ride, in my opinion, to be properly themed at
so the theming was not up to a standard found today at say, Islands of
Adventure, no, but all the same it was far beyond the level
marked ‘acceptable’, especially considering that the only
other true theme
parks in the UK at the time were sister-park Camelot, and the freshly
themed Chessington Zoo. At this point it’s worth baring in mind that
it will be four years before Alton Towers will open its first truly
think it’s fair to say that during its first two seasons, The American
Adventure had probably not been the roaring success John Rigby, Park
Hall Leisure and Granada (who by this time had a strong interest in Park
Hall Leisure) had hoped for. Whilst advertising efforts were in place,
they could be considered as being somewhat drowned out by the ongoing
media attention the Britannia Park calamity was still attracting. The
1989 season, it was hoped, would increase acceleration of guest numbers.
And what would lead to this?
(Image: Kevin Ellis-Baxter)
a Vekoma Boomerang of course! Yes, the new signature attraction for the
park would be ‘The Missile’, a second hand Vekoma Boomerang from the
Glasgow Garden Festival of 1988 (it’s not known whether it was a done
deal that the ride would pass over to the American Adventure the
following season). The ride was plonked at the end of the park, in a new
area, inspiringly themed as a Space Port.
let’s be perfectly honest, the theme extended to a couple of rockets
placed around the place. I don’t think I’ll dwell on this ride for
much longer, but it’s interesting to note that the ride was voted
“Most intense ride in the UK” by the RCCGB, albeit being a clone
copy of a ride installed at West Midlands Safari Park four years prior,
which never received such a glamorous award.
new for 1989, a dark waltzer attraction, named G-Force that sat in a,
well, a warehouse in Space Port. There were also changes to the
infrastructure of the park; The Miniature Railway now did a complete
circuit of the park, complete with an extra train, making the system
early nineties proved relatively quiet in terms of new rides. A Vekoma
Canyon-Trip ride was installed in the Alamo area in 1991, which proved
to be the most popular season for the park, although 625,000 visitors
still left room for improvement. It’s worth noting that by now,
Granada had completely taken over Park Hall, and John Rigby was now
managing the ill-fated Windsor Safari Park (soon to become Legoland).
some point c.1993, a spanner was thrown in the works, and the Cowboys
vs. Native theme was officially thrown out of the window, although
it’s arguable that the theme was not at all in practise after the
installation of The Missile and Space Port in 1989… unless either
party somehow inherited a time machine, zapped forward in time and stole
rocket technology and then took it back with them… to Ilkeston.
out with the cowboys and in with stars and stripes, red and blue paint,
lots of big stuff, red and blue paint, crazy critters… and did I
mention red and blue paint? Well, the park covered over much of the
previous theme with the aforementioned paint.
1993, however, the American Adventure unwittingly found its new
signature ride. And unlike any other park I know of, this was not a
roller coaster, or a large ‘flat ride’, but in fact a Log Flume. At
the time of construction (1987), Cherokee Falls was the tallest flume
ride in the UK, a title soon pinched by Thorpe Park’s Loggers Leap.
American Adventure’s log flume was once again to regain the title,
with the addition of a third drop to dwarf that of Loggers Leap. At 60ft
high, with a rotating tunnel up the lift hill, ‘Nightmare Niagara’
as it was now known (to avoid confusion, the Great Niagara Rapids just
up the way became the ‘Grand Canyon Rapids’ and eventually the
‘Rocky Mountain Rapids’) soon became the star of the park, a real
asset for the park.
pity then, that it was never advertised to any great extent. And with a
major media company behind them, not to mention an ITV franchise holder,
one has to wonder why on earth this was.
1994 was bound to be a not-so-brilliant year for the park from the
offset. Blackpool Pleasure Beach had their marketing gimmick ‘The Big
One’ lined up, closer to home, Drayton Manor had ‘Shockwave’ open
mid-Season. Most importantly though, Alton Towers had the almighty
‘Nemesis’… and to be quite honest, American Adventure had little
to contend it. So down came the shutters, and up went a big closed sign.
Here ends my story. Oh wait…
American Adventure had a go at buying into successful franchises.
Nineteen ninety-four saw the opening of the Motion Master Theatre in the
Mount Rushmore themed area: a 4D experience (although the third
dimension was inexplicably missing) featuring none-other than the bloody
Terminator! Unfortunately though, this came at the price of the
much-loved children’s play area Pioneer Playland. Also for 1994, a
go-kart track was installed at the expense of the Horseback Stunt show
in The Alamo. Never fear though, the show was merged into the Cowboy
Shootout in Silver City with the result of the ‘Cowboy Shootout Show, now
on Horses’, or was it the ‘Horseback Stunt Show, now
with Guns’? I forget.
though, the Terminator, go-karts and horses with guns did not do much to
stunt Alton Towers. As if to kick them up the backside a little more, I
can vividly remember Alton Towers had a large billboard just 200
metres-or-so from the entrance to the park, advertising their new
fangled Swiss beast.
the American Adventure now had something of a conundrum on their hands;
if the Terminator, go-karts and armed horses did not steal punters from
Alton Towers, then what would? The conclusion they came to was a roller
coaster, a big one with lots of loops. It just so happened that
Lightwater Valley, who were at the time in administration, looked to
free up a bit of capital by selling their double-looping ‘Soopa Loopa’
back to its manufacturer Soquet.
(Image: Kevin Ellis-Baxter)
ride soon found its way to Shipley, where it was neatly plonked in the
space previously occupied by Canyon-Trip (which subsequently moved to
Camelot). Conveniently enough, Granada had just taken over LWT, giving
them access to the Gladiators brand, so the Alamo would give way to the
‘Gladiator’s Arena’, and Lightwater Valley’s Soopa Loopa would
be known as the ‘Iron Wolf’.
ride was opened in April 1995 by the Wolf, who ironically enough had
opened Nemesis just a year prior. The ride apparently ran with a
Lightwater Valley bumper sticker on the operator’s booth for a year,
and without a repaint, the outline of the badly etched out Lightwater
Valley logo still showed clearly on the front of the trains, until
eventually being painted over in American Adventure’s trademark blue
and red. Also for 1995, Sooty (another Granada brand) was given his own
‘Wild-West Show’ and Aliens replaced the Terminator in the Motion
soon decided that they weren’t actually so good at the whole Theme
Park malarkey after all, and in early 1997 the lease attached to the
park along with ‘fixtures and fittings’ were sold on to a consortium
by the name of ‘Ventureworld Ltd’, led by Alton Towers
extraordinaire John Broome. By the end of the season, the park had a
pay-extra Skycoaster installed, and all Granada branding had been
hastily removed, leaving the Alamo blue, with silhouettes previously
covered by cut outs of the Gladiators.
Flying Island attraction from Vekoma was placed on Snake Island for the
1998 season, providing some fantastic views of the park. Unfortunately
though, it had a bad habit of getting stuck, and fire crews had a job
evacuating people at such heights and angles.
biggest change for 1998 was the closedown of the grand entrance,
originally constructed for Britannia Park. John Broome’s view was that
the entire park should be on one level, and to achieve this, the
park’s entrance must be at the bottom of the park. Unfortunately, this
meant that the park would no longer unfold before guests eyes in a
somewhat magical fashion. A new grand entrance was promised but never
delivered, and since then a collection of Portoloos have greeted
considered the ‘All American’ theme a bit of a non-starter, so he
planned to rename the park ‘Adventure World’, with the name
‘American Adventure World’ in the interim of the changeover.
John’s plans were certainly grand. Amongst other plans, an Inverted
Coaster from B&M would become the park’s centrepiece, with a
Wooden Rollercoaster from Custom Coasters running along the lakeside.
Most of the park’s theme was to be over time eradicated, leaving
Silver City and Fort St. Lawrence to represent the USA and Canada
respectively. Unfortunately, none of this materialised, and John Broome
was soon ousted.
2000 season saw the park’s name revert back to The American Adventure,
along with the removal of the Flying Island, which I’ve recently been
assured was “purely a commercial decision”.
the next few years a series of pay attractions were installed, and
unfortunately little else. Included in these pay attractions is the
infamous JCB World, in which punters could pay the bargain price of £4.95
to spend 5 minutes using a real, working (sort of), mini-JCB digger. I
really don’t think more needs to be said about this, so I will refrain
from doing so. The nearby Twin Looper (formerly Iron Wolf) was now the
‘JCB Twin Looper’, complete with JCB yellow loops and train.
was increasingly obvious that over time, less and less attention had
been paid to maintaining the existing rides. Amongst other things,
Nightmare Niagara’s tunnel had long stopped turning (apparently the
tunnel disorientated people, rendering them unable to brace themselves
as necessary for the drop ahead), The Missile’s track had gone from
deep grey, to sort of grey, to brown, The Rocky Mountain Rapids had lost
all or most of its features, and everything on park could be described
politely as needing a repaint. Things had to change, and change they
(Image: Kevin Ellis-Baxter)
March 2005, fans of the park were given a nasty surprise, a park map
with the whole of Space Port, Fort St. Lawrence and perhaps most
importantly Nightmare Niagara inexplicably missing. This was, however,
no mistake by the artist; this was the way things were to be from now
on. The park had hastily decided that the new target audience would not
be ‘adrenaline junkies’, but families with children aged 4 – 14
(later amended to 4 – 12). And with this, unfortunately, came a sudden
dependency on flat rides that had never previously been seen at the
American Adventure. For 2005 three rides from Zamperla were purchased, a
kids carousel (the only attraction to arrive in time for the beginning
of the season), a ‘Rockin’ Tug’ and a ‘Fire Brigade’ ride, all
cheap, pre-themed rides, the likes of which can be seen across Europe.
to open the season, the American Adventure had a kids carousel with
Italian wording all over it (except the somewhat strange addition of the
word ‘NASA’, there for reasons best known to Zamperla), a
rocket-themed kiddie drop tower (placed outside Aztec Kingdom) and more
or less half the park standing but not operating. Needless to say, this
was not the most popular season for the American Adventure at all.
June 2005, England suffered the loss of the greatest non-coaster ride to
grace its soil, as Nightmare Niagara met its rusty demise, reluctantly
handing the title of ‘tallest’ back to Loggers Leap. And yet, nobody
seemed to be bothered in the slightest. In fact, as I remember,
Dynamo’s removal from Alton Towers in the beginning of 2004 received
far more attention. How such a ride can go so long without being
commended in the slightest will forever baffle me.
(Image: William Squires)
hindsight, it should probably have been no surprise that the park chose
to close most of their ‘key rides’, including the iconic Missile,
that had long loomed over the lake, and the record holding Nightmare
Niagara, which was still the only attraction to ever receive queues of
any length. Indeed, if any park regularly has numbers of staff
outnumbering numbers of guests, they have serious problems. And perhaps,
dare I say, the change in target audience was necessary, yes.
I spoke with Roger Lloyd earlier this year, he seemed extremely proud of
the progress the park was making. Things such as the mothers and
toddlers group that ran throughout the closed season he described as a
“huge success”, and they seem to be genuinely running off the
feedback they’re getting from such trials.
when I visited the park on opening day this year, there was a definite
feeling that park was moving on. The Missile, which lay standing but not
operating last season, now clearly had a new target (at the time of
writing, deconstruction of the ride has just
finished, with the last pieces of the ride waiting to be shipped off for
a new life at Pleasurewood Hills, Suffolk), perhaps symbolic if nothing
else of the passing of an era.
St. Lawrence has been reopened along with the freshly refurbished Rocky
Mountain Rapids, with more features than I can ever remember being
operational than before. Yes, care is making a belated return to the
American Adventure, although perhaps in not quite a potent form as in
decades gone by. A Zamperla Mine Train (second hand from Gullivers
Warrington) now parades around the site formerly occupied by Nightmare
Niagara’s awesome third drop.
perhaps the best part about the park is the signs left of the past:
Nightmare Niagara’s station remains, as if a tribute to its own former
purpose; all the buildings around Space Port still remain to be seen, as
they were the day they closed in October 2004; buildings which have not
been used in a decade still stand, as there is no need to demolish them.
And the park make no effort to close off these now abandoned areas, so
they lay there, for anyone feeling a little nostalgic to explore.
to answer my original question, how did the park get such a terrible
name for itself? Well, I’d say by never actually selling itself
properly, which was probably down to lack of funding, and poor
management. The awesome Nightmare Niagara should have been regarded in
the same way as Nemesis; a legend. Far from it, I seem to be within a
select few that even remember the ride’s name. During its final
season, I can distinctly remember somebody referring to it as “that
tall thing with ‘oles”. When change finally happened at the American
Adventure, it was too little, too late.
and did I mention, Henry Cooper never got his £10,000 fee for opening
and promoting Britannia Park.
Author: William Squires
and copyright information
Copyright William Squires 2006, authorized for use on
Park Publicity: ©
Copyright Britannia Park Ltd. (in liquidation) 1985
Adventure Publicity: ©
Copyright Park Hall Leisure (Derbyshire) Ltd., Ventureworld Ltd. 1987
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