Interview by Gary Radice
: Added October 2006
During the early 1920s the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens weren't going through the best of times financially. True, there were some amusement rides there, most notably a Figure Eight coaster. Several similar rides existed in other parks in Britain, a nearby one being located at Belle Vue's smaller rival Manchester's White City. By the middle of that decade things changed..

Along came a 'live wire' where amusement rides were concerned, and that 'live wire' was John Henry Iles. He and his family took control of the Belle Vue operation, at the same forming a new company Belle Vue (Manchester) Limited, and marketing the place boldly as:

"The New Belle Vue - The Showground of the World !"

The mid-twenties saw the creation of the Empire Exhibition at Wembley, and among the extravagances created for that event was a Thompson & Iliffe Scenic Railway with which Iles was involved.

At the end of the Exhibition it was intended that all the structures would be destroyed with the exception of the Empire Stadium. However, seeing an opportunity, Iles stepped in and successfully negotiated to bring The Scenic Railway to Belle Vue.
This he did - with a certain amount of assistance from a Mr Fred A Church. Fred Church had already achieved fame in the USA with his uniquely designed roller coasters which had achieved great popularity (or notoriety!) at a number of American Parks. His new association with JH Iles was to lead him to further fame at Belle Vue!

Such was the great success of the Scenic Railway that John Henry Iles soon realised that he just had to have something bigger and better! Who better to help him achieve this but the great Fred Church?

The deal was quickly done and Belle Vue's wonderful new coaster was under construction by 1928.

What then should be the name? Church's coasters in the U.S. went under a variety of names as preferred by those who operated them, but Mr Church made no secret that his own favoured name was Bobs, and some of the American rides were called by that name.

Credit to John Henry is due in that he readily agreed to the name 'Bobs', and by May 1929 his great new ride was completed and ready to thrill millions.

Opening day at Belle Vue was Whit Monday May 20th 1929 (Bank Holiday Monday), and large crowds thronged to be the first riders.
With its wooden structure painted in a deep bottle green Bobs certainly exuded an air of menace!

Either side of the crest of the lift hill were mounted large signboards bearing the word BOBS in bold red letters. A similar sign was affixed on the outer side of the third highest crest at the opposite end of the ride. These signs were picked out in ordinary tungsten light bulbs during night time operation.

The station was painted in contrasting green (brighter than the ride itself) and cream paint. Opposite the platform were erected four large signboards which proclaimed the dire warnings (exact wording:-


Rather oddly these fearsome signs were placed opposite the alighting part of the platform - although they could clearly be read from the boarding area further along and to the right!

In later years a smaller sign - "DO NOT STAND UP" - was mounted opposite the left-hand bend as the trains left the station. Presumably this was for the benefit of those who couldn't quite understand the meaning of KEEP YOUR SEATS!

A 'NO SMOKING' sign was later affixed opposite the loading platform.

I would like to mention Leslie Joseph who was so much involved with the development of ride projects and particularly the Water Chute coasters. He was largely influential in bringing a Water Chute to Belle Vue in the mid-1950s.
Sir Leslie was also involved in the creation of the Battersea Park Fun Fair as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain - a fun fair which outlasted that exhibition by some 20 years.
Sir Leslie Joseph also served as a Director of Belle Vue (Manchester) Ltd for a number of years.

The Bobs towering over the Water Chute. The Bobs was demolished in 1970, but the Water Chute survived until 1978. Image: European Coaster Club.

John Henry Iles in 1948. Image: Robert Nicholls Collection

The Riverview Bobs in Chicago, USA, also built by Fred Church. Image: Sharpshooters Productions

"..Chicago's Riverview Amusement Park was one of the most popular and famous amusement parks ever. After thrilling patrons for 64 seasons, it quietly closed its gates in 1967 without even having a goodbye party." Derek Gee, Riverview Historian

"Really interesting image this one. Look carefully and part of those infamous warning signs can just be seen beneath the canopy. Also one of the trains can be seen just below that sign although it is actually on the side-track. Note also the short boundary fence separating the two halves of the platform." Image: David Wragg Collection, courtesy of Justin Garvanovic and the European Coaster Club.

"This is a 1930s photo as the 'Volcano Effect' structure on top of the Scenic Railway (Hyde Road end) can be seen. This was removed sometime in the late thirties. To the centre right can be seen 'The Hurricane Racer' which featured two electrically powered trains similar in appearance to those of roller coasters racing side by side on twin-tracks amidst a welter of sparks. This ride was sometimes erroneously described as a racing 'coaster'. True, they raced but they certainly didn't coast! It was removed around the beginning of the 1950s." Image: Roy Nicol. The History of the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, Volumes 1, 2 and 3 (Roy Nicol Productions) are available to buy at www.joylandbooks.com.


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