by Gary Radice
: Added May 2008

themagiceye: When did your father actually settle in UK?

Rosemary: I cannot say the exact year that he settled in the UK. He was certainly in Whitley Bay in 1928 but I feel he must have been here quite a few years before that, as he met my mother in Southport - no doubt when he was involved in the construction of the Virginia Reel at Blackpool.

I know that he visited Europe quite a few times before he settled in the UK. He also visited Germany to do work there. He was in Germany in 1923 and also in the UK in 1924. He must have come over here permanently in the mid 1920s I guess.

Marjolane: He was naturalised American and then in 1937 when he lived in the UK he became naturalised British.

themagiceye: What are your earliest memories of your father?

Rosemary: At Spanish City in Whitley Bay I used to spend a lot of time on the Autocars (my father’s name for the dodgem cars). I used to love the cars, and one day there was a fire in the Tunnel of Love (I don’t know exactly what the ride was called, but it was a tunnel of love). The Jumping Horses, a lovely carousel ride, was opposite, and I remember sitting on the steps watching my father enter the fire to put out the power. I was absolutely devastated, as I thought that I would never see him again. I had nightmares about fires for years after that.

Also I remember going to his Club with him and sitting on his knee whilst he had a drink with his friends. Him taking us to School, and buying Cadburys Fingers on the way (our School was opposite the Spanish City). Going to work with him when the City was closed down out of season, and ‘working with him’. He used to give me bits of wood, and I hammered in nails; hence my love of carpentry and building (I should have been a boy).

I remember asking him to teach me German, and asking about his childhood. On a Saturday night he used to bring home ‘Surprise Packets’ and put them under out pillows.

The saddest memory I have must have been about early 1940, as the ordinary school we went to was closed down, and we were sent to a private school, Miss Beasterfield’s Preparatory School. It was opposite the entrance of the Spanish City and I can see my father now. He had taken us to school and was on the opposite side of the road, and I waved him goodbye. Not long after that he was taken ill and eventually died of cancer on the 14th August 1940.

Marjolane: I remember he used to have a Whiskey now and then with a raw egg in it. Also, how he used to drive us around the block in the car. As he did not have a British licence he was not really supposed to drive. Mummy did all the driving.

I also remember sitting on his knee beside the Christmas tree and going to see him when he was ill in bed before he died, but of course being so young (5 going on 6) I did not understand what was happening to him. And that's about all.

Most of his time was spent down at the City where he and Mummy went every day. We had a nanny to look after us - Nanny Prendergast.

After his death he wanted his ashes to be interred in Brooklyn in Green-Wood Cemetery in the Riehl vault. They were despatched by ship but the ship was torpedoed and his ashes were lost.

When doing genealogy I tried to find out about this vault, but did not have any luck. I did, however, manage to find the Riehl family in Germany to which he belonged; but of course they were another generation on from him. Being not so far away, Rosemary keeps in touch with this family more than I do.

themagiceye: Can you tell me anything about your mother?

Rosemary: My mother was born in 1902, and was named Martha Woodcock. Her mother died when she was a year old, and her father re-married a woman who already had several children by a previous marriage. They also had children, but I don't know how many. 

My mother left home when she started work at the age of 14 and rented a room from a friend. She was employed as a clerk on the railway, and after a few years worked in Chester, also as a clerk on the railway. She met our father whilst working in the evening as a receptionist in a restaurant, where he ate regularly. They became friendly and one thing led to another. 

Marjolane: I know Mummy did not get on with her step-mother who treated her like Cinderella. When she was fifteen she left home and went out to work - probably in Southport, and I think that is where she met Daddy years later. Martha, our mother, was born on  May 14th 1902. Her father's name was John Woodcock.

I think it was after our mother and father were married that they moved to Whitley Bay.

Rosemary: Yes, they moved to Whitley Bay during the period when he supervised the building of the Virginia Reel at Spanish City. He also erected his own rides at Spanish City Whitley Bay as well.

Towards the end of the second world war my mother sold the business, and opened a Guest House in Newcastle. She subsequently re-married and we moved to Cardiff. Unfortunately she died at the age of 56.

Marjolane: I believe that Daddy also used to go up to Scotland. Griens, a Scottish motion picture company contacted my father, and asked him to travel to Scotland to supervise various projects for them.

themagiceye: Do you have any memories of Blackpool or Southport from your childhood?

Rosemary: Each year, after the season had ended in Whitley Bay, I used to travel with my father and mother first to Glasgow, where I remember visiting the Circus Winter quarters in Kelvin Hall. Then we used to travel across the Pennines to Southport, where we stayed in a lovely hotel – I remember the lights outside (these were a round ball of light on a post). I also had my favourite waiter to wait on me (I really was spoilt).

Because I was only 7 the last time I went there, it is a bit difficult to differentiate between Blackpool and Southport. I remember visiting Blackpool Tower and meeting Henry Hall on his theatre organ – I remember walking down the centre isle of the theatre and meeting him at the end by the stage.

With regards to The Virginia Reel – my father would not allow children under the age of 14 to go on the ride, so unfortunately I was never fortunate to ride on the Virginia Reel, much to my dismay.

I remember visiting Blackpool Pleasure Gardens, and meeting a fortune teller (I think my father knew him quite well). He told my fortune, but I cannot remember what he said. Also I remember going into either the Crazy House, or The House that Jack Built – I cannot remember which. I was absolutely terrified when I went over the grill which sent air up and blew your skirt up. I used to try to jump over the place where I thought the grill was, but invariably I used to land on it instead.

I think it was at the end of one of those houses where one slid down a chute on a coconut mat and ended up in a large wooden bowl at the bottom – I may be mixing this up with another amusement device - but I really loved that.

I didn’t manage to go on the Virginia Reel, but I did manage to go on the Big Dipper (not alone, of course). I also remember a very large dog, and I used to sit on its back – but where this was – Southport or Blackpool - I do not know.

I think my father would have been honoured and thrilled to think that a street had been named after him at Pleasure Beach Blackpool (I know I would).

Marjolane: Yes, I'm sure Daddy would have been delighted to know that he and his ride and all the hard work he put into it is not forgotten even though he has been dead all these years...And I'm delighted too. Perhaps when I get back to England I can take a trip to see what the modern Pleasure Beach is like and take a walk down Reel Street and remember the times we had all those years ago. 

Marjolane: "From right to left you have Daddy, me, Rosemary, Johann (Johann and I are twins, so dressed the same) and Mummy. From the size of us, perhaps Jo and I must have been about four, it would have been taken in about 1938/39. Photograph: Rosemary Riehl and Marjolane Ball

Rosemary, Johann and Marjolane on the seesaw in the Children's Playground at the entrance to the Spanish City, Whitley Bay circa 1939. Photograph: Rosemary Riehl and Marjolane Ball

Marjolane Ball (left) with good friend Colleen Francis. Photograph: Marjolane Ball

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