by Phil Gould
: Added January 2011
Let’s take a look at the attractions offered by tenants at the Festival Gardens in 1972. As you entered the funfair, through the turnstiles as you had to pay a small admission fee, there was a large building facing you. I think this was being operated as a Fun House although I know it had been a Dolphinarium in the past.

Next to this was Pat O Neill’s Gallopers. There had been a number of these rides at the funfair. This three abreast was the final set to appear having replaced Botton Brothers' Ride in 1966. Pat owned three other large rides at Battersea. The Caterpillar, a German-built machine which had been imported and operated by Green Brothers since the early 1930s. I remember when I was a kid I had a jigsaw puzzle of this ride. Pat also owned the modern Satellite ride. This had been manufactured by Ilkeston-based company Bennett. I had seen similar rides at local fairs and amusement parks but this one looked different as the standard conical shaped centre had been replaced with a Sputnik shaped piece complete with flashing lights. The final ride in his ownership was a standard funfair ride the waltzer. But Pat’s Cavalcade of Swing Waltzer really stood out thanks to some magnificent decoration from showman’s decorator Fred Fowle. The paintwork really emphasised the speed and spinning motion of the ride with a great extension front too. It had started life as an Ark Speedway before being converted to a Waltzer. It really was a handsome machine and somewhat spoilt when it was bought by Albert Heal who introduced a flat front to the platforms. This ride ended its days on Brighton seafront where it was burnt out in the late 80s.

London showman John Biddall operated a set of Hurricane Jets at the park. This Lang Wheels-built set had been there since 1960 and stayed until it closed in 1974. It had a tall illuminated centre piece and an ornamental trellis around the perimeter of the machine. You can get a glimpse of this machine (and many others at the park) if you look on You Tube. Look for Cliff Richard singing Flying Machine on the Getaway With Cliff special. The park is featured throughout the opening titles. I think this show was recorded a year before my family visit. Biddall’s other machine was next to the Waltzer and was the equally handsome Scramble Ark Speedway (click here to view this ride). This Lakin built ride had been new to Billy Butlin. It had been decorated to an exceptionally high standard, like O’Neill’s Waltzer, by Fred Fowle. I rode this ride when it was owned by Victor Manders and it was a fast ride (click here to see it at Northwich Carnival in 1982). Today it is still owned by the Manders family, who travel the North West, but is a much modernised waltzer.

Botton Brothers had operated rides at Battersea for a number of years as well as having parks in Great Yarmouth and Skegness. They had a massive Dodgem track at the Festival Gardens. It had the ride name spelt out in huge illuminated letters on its top boards which were supported by boxed column pillars and steps leading down from the track. The ride was so big that I understand when it was sold it was made into two different tracks. The family’s two other attractions were close by; a Lighthouse Helter Skelter and a Scrambler Twist which had been mounted on a floor.

The final tenant who owned large rides at the park was Harry Gray. He operated the Ghost Train, huge Monte Carlo Rally Speedway and Double Dive Bomber. In addition he ran the Lightning Swirl. This had an unusual turret roof and went to Southend for a couple of years after Battersea closed. Parts of it were used, along with a number of other skids, to make the ride that is still travelled today by Jimmy Bowery. His final ride was the Flying Saucers Wheel (click here to view this ride). This had been manufactured by Lang Wheels and had been at the park since 1958. It was the first one to be made by the company and in a World’s Fair report it claimed that it was vastly superior to its continental counterpart. The previous ride was made by French company Corbiere. It had appeared at the park in August 1956 but this had been removed by the following year. I think that Lang Wheels were licensed by the French Company to build the wheel in the UK. These wheels turned not only on their vertical axis but on their horizontal base too. I don’t think this was working by the time I visited. As I had already seen Flying Saucers at Southport and in Blackpool Olympia seeing this third ride only reinforced my youthful misapprehension that they were pretty commonplace at British amusement parks.

A new attraction that year was an Octopus. I am not sure who owned it but the cars were painted in plain colours. There had been several types of this ride at the Festival Gardens over the years. Other attractions worth mentioning are the Crooked Cottage, which you can still enjoy if you visit the small amusement park at Dymchurch in Kent. The park was also home to a large children’s veteran car ride and a Peter Pan Railway. Next door was the children’s petting zoo which is still open today.

In the centre of the park was a boating lake. On the far side was a backdrop of a village complete with a windmill. I remember my family sat in the café on the opposite side of the lake and had a snack before we left for the rest of our London day out. Little did I realise that a couple of years later Battersea Festival Gardens Funfair would close its doors for good. There had been talk of redeveloping the site into the UK’s first theme park. But when residents found out about the plans they protested and the scheme never got off the drawing board. So, just like Belle Vue in Manchester, a city centre amusement park and another part of our cultural heritage was lost forever. When I visit Battersea park today it is hard to imagine where the Funfair was although there are a still few clues to the park’s Festival heritage past if you know where to look.

Pat O'Neill's Cavalcade of Swings Waltzer, decorated by Fred Fowle. Click here for a close-up of the cars. Picture: National Fairground Archive

The massive Battersea Dodgem track, owned and operated by Botton Brothers, who also operated parks in Great Yarmouth and Skegness. Picture: National Fairground Archive

Harry Gray's Monte Carlo Rally featured cars racing along wooden tracks. Picture: National Fairground Archive

Inside the Monte Carlo Rally; power was taken from metal strips between the wider wooden strips. Picture: National Fairground Archive

Battersea Fun Fair 1951-1974

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Battersea Fun Fair, London (UK), was a special place. Millions of Londoners would spend their weekends and bank holidays on the many rides and attractions, which included the famous Big Dipper roller coaster and the Water Chute. The park began as the Festival Pleasure Gardens, part of the 1951 Festival of Britain, and closed in the mid-1970s.

In Battersea Fun Fair 1951-1974, authors Robert Preedy and Nick Laister tell the full story of one of Britain's most fondly remembered amusement parks. The book was published on 20th January 2020 and can be pre-ordered exclusively from Joyland Books. More...



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What a great article on Battersea. I would just like to correct you on the Ghost Train. Harry Gray never owned or operated it. I am 99% sure Botton Bros owned it and sold it to an Italian guy called John Burnnerdetto (I think that's how you spell his surname), who was Harry Gray's foreman. John bought ride and was only open with it for one season when the park closed down; his was not a happy bunny. He felt that he was sold the ride knowing the park was going to close down. That was not the case as the tenants were only told about three weeks before the end of that season, the reason i know all this is i took over johns job as foreman and moved to southend with harry's sons henry and young Harry with the Speedway. The Skid was sold to the Kursaal and rented to Len Bibby, who had the Dodgem's. The wheel was sold to Botton Bros and opened the following year at Great Yarmouth. Hope this helps.
Dave Greenwood  

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Battersea Fun Fair 1951-1974
Battersea Festival Gardens 1951
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