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A TALE OF SHIPLEY GLEN: THE MIKE SHORT INTERVIEW
Interview by Gary Radice
Article: Added November 2003
The Aerial Glide at Shipley Glen (Yorkshire, UK) was reportedly the oldest surviving static amusement park ride in the UK and the only surviving ride of its type anywhere. This important historical fact had become integral in the campaign to save the ride and the Shipley Glen Pleasure Grounds. Spearheading the campaign was Mike Short. In late November 2003 Mike spoke to themagiceye about his valiant hopes to save the ride and grounds.
For those who don't know anything about Shipley Glen and the Shipley Glen Pleasure Grounds, where and what are they and what is the 'Aerial Glide'?
I will tell you that briefly but I would recommend visitors to this website to go to www.joylandbooks.com/shipleyglen
Here you can find the submission that Mike Short and Nick Laister made to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to have the 'Aerial Glide' protected with 'listed building' status and sections of that document will help explain the geographical, social and cultural context of the Shipley Glen Pleasure Grounds.
There are also some great pictures of the Aerial Glide and Pleasure grounds courtesy of Chris McFarlane of the European Coaster Club.
Shipley Glen is an area of common land of outstanding natural beauty on the edge of Baildon Moor, a hill rising above the world heritage site of Saltaire village in the County of West Yorkshire, England.
It became the playground of the Victorian working classes, mostly mill workers, who lived and worked in the most appalling conditions. Shipley Glen was so popular in Victorian times that tens of thousands flocked to this beautiful place and, in their wake, little businesses and stalls sprang up to take their hard earned pennies away.
There were countless refreshment stalls and a variety of traders plied their wares and it was a popular spot for 'gypsy' (Roma) traders.
In 1887 a wooden switchback railway, probably only the second to be built in the UK and originally erected for the 1887 Saltaire Exhibition, was re-erected on the Glen and renamed 'The Royal Yorkshire Switchback' (closed 1917).
There was a giant camera obscura. In 1889, 'The Aerial Flight' (not to be confused with the 'Aerial Glide'), a cable car ride operating between two huge wooden towers was built (demolished 1920) and, in 1897, 'the Toboggan Slide' opened on the Glen but closed after an accident on Whit Monday 1900.
As the Glen grew as a tourist attraction, it was inevitable that Prod Lane, the track between the Tram Railway and the Glen should also become an area of economic activity.
Vulcan House, now 2 Prod Lane, was built in 1879. By 1900 it was a flourishing tearooms and, sometime later, probably around 1900, the land between the Tramway and the house became the Shipley Glen Pleasure Grounds.
What precisely was there in 1900 is not known but there is one survivor and that is the unique 'Aerial Glide'. The Pleasure Grounds were built on a steeply sloping site. The top was levelled from earth excavated from the bottom but the lower part still sloped downwards.
The builder of the 'Aerial Glide' skilfully used the contours of the land to create the ride.
themagiceye: How is the ride constructed?
Mike Short: A series of steel towers arranged as a rough rectangle carry an overhead gantry and suspensory rail from which the cars hang. The ride now has four single seat cars with plastic seats and these replaced a number of cars with two person side-by-side metal seats.
The rider sits in the chair, a safety bar is closed (it used to be a piece of chain) and the rider is given a firm push. The car descends around the track under the force of gravity down the first long side, rounds two corners where the chair swings out under centrifugal force leading the rider to believe that they will crash into the towers, and along the second long side.
An attendant catches the rider at the bottom then rider alights and has to climb steps back to the top. The car is attached to a pulley drive controlled by an electric motor and sent back to the top.
The car recovery probably was powered by a gas engine just as the Tramway was.
There is a weight limit of twelve stones (168 pounds) but that would have allowed most Victorian adults to ride the 'Aerial Glide' and it must have been very thrilling. (At the age of four, I was certainly scarred stiff!).
The 1930s and 1950s were the heyday of the Pleasure Grounds. I can tell you that the present day train ride, and most of the cars on the little roundabout were there in 1954.
Some of the cars are no more than the children's toy pedal bikes and cars that the more well off families would have had, bolted to the roundabout. There is still a small vintage swing boat set and, in a slot machine arcade, many vintage slot machines.
Along Prod Lane, opposite the Pleasure Grounds, there were 'The Japanese Gardens'. I could write a whole section on this but here I will only record that the Japanese Gardens also had a number of fairground attractions including a tiny boating 'lake', a miniature railway and, at one time, 'The Chicken'.
Originally at Blackpool, the chicken was either a tiny Ford or Morris motor car with the top and back cut away and done up in wood to resemble a giant chicken. I only found out about this a couple of years ago when a visitor to the Glen stopped at my garden gate and told me about it.
Recently I was looking at the 1908 Ordnance Survey map and was astonished to see a circular railway marked on land close to the Pleasure Grounds. I had no idea that this ride had ever existed!
Prod Lane was an unmade track in the 1950s and a number of streams ran across it at that time. There were a number of stalls alongside the road selling all manner of things including eggs, Shipley Glen honey and ice-creams.
There was an ice-cream hut at the bottom of the garden of the house I live in now; the bungalow that shares my drive was a tearooms, and until a few years ago, the base of the gentlemen's urinal of the tearooms patrons' toilets was in the middle of my garage floor. (I got tired of falling over it and dug it up).
What remains today (2003) and who owns the Pleasure Grounds?
Most of the attractions are gone but the Pleasure Grounds remain as does the Tramway. The Teale family bought Vulcan House, 2 Prod Lane and the Pleasure Grounds in 1966 and were the operators.
Mr Paul Teale took over the place and in 1986 leased out the Pleasure Grounds to independent operators who come from four generations of showmen and they introduced some new rides and a bouncy castle.
Mr Teale receives a fair rent and the operators, who are really nice people, make a reasonable return. There are a fraction of the visitors there used to be but there is still a living made.
Shipley Glen is still a big tourist attraction. The world heritage status given to Saltaire should give the whole area a boost.
The Glen, the Glen Tramway and the 'Aerial Glide' could easily be marketed by the local authority (if it showed a bit more interest and had a bit more imagination) as part of a big Victorian heritage package.
Mike, why does the present owner wish to sell the site?
Despite the fact that the site makes money for him and the operators, house prices have shot up - and this is an area of high value desirable housing.
The temptation for the landowner to sell his own house and the Pleasure Grounds for housing development has presumably been overwhelming. It's a tiny site but still big enough to fit 8 houses on it.
Do you have any sympathies for his predicament?
I do have some sympathy for him but he is hardly in a predicament.
What he has to accept is that when you buy into heritage you also buy into a set of responsibilities.
Do you live near the ride?
I live opposite the Pleasure Grounds and have done since I returned to Bradford from London about seventeen years ago. Every interviewer has asked me if it is the proposed housing I really object to - you know, the 'not in my back yard' syndrome. The answer is that housing has never been an issue, the retention of the pleasure grounds and especially the 'Aerial Glide' (coupled with the future of the Tramway if the Pleasure Grounds closed), has always been the only concern.
Four houses were built on what had been part of the Shipley Glen (plant) Nurseries two doors from me on one side, a new house was built in part of what was the Japanese Gardens two doors on the other side of me.
Four large houses were built a couple of doors from Vulcan house a few years ago. Hundreds of houses have been built on fields alongside one side of the road that connects Prod Lane and the Glen to our village of Baildon.
Hundreds more are destined to be built on the other side of the road. I have never objected to those developments: people need somewhere to live.
There is a balance to be made between housing and heritage & leisure needs though.
As The Aerial Glide was in existence for more than 100 years, parts to maintain this beautiful piece of history became sparse. When we think of all parts and pieces that make up this Shipley Glen Pleasure Grounds icon it can become overwhelming. The parts, the bolts and the people that made it run drew quite the crowd to this old classic attraction. Parts found online, such as auto parts found at www.directfitautoparts.com, are not found as easily for the old Aerial Glide. Despite the easy search for auto parts online the availability of coaster parts must have been quite the task for the coaster owner because the sad news of the Aerial Glide came in 2004 when the owner claimed it was more economical to demolish it and ended up doing so.