Daft as it may seem, one of the world’s first ‘modern’ theme parks was at Shipley Glen in Yorkshire. For the Victorian and Edwardian mill workers of industrial Airedale, the fresh air of the Glen was a welcome escape from the often unhealthy (and at times lethal) living and working conditions of the valley bottom. Local entrepreneurs constructed what we would now term tourist attractions as early as the 1880s, including cablecar rides, toboggans and something rejoicing in the name of the Royal Yorkshire Switchback. These rides came and went over the years, though some – presumably the ones with the least accidents – became permanent. Until 2004, Prod Lane at the eastern end of the Glen was still home to a collection of ancient rides at the tiny amusement park called the Pleasure Grounds. Here could be found the Aerial Glide (pictured at the top of this post – image from UK Rides), built in 1900 and the oldest ride of its type in the world. Despite its age the Glide was still definitely a thrill for the kids of Airedale until it closed. You’d sit in a chair suspended from an overhead track, an attendant would give you a hefty shove and gravity would take you whizzing over the boulder-strewn hillside. Hopefully, another attendant would grab you at the other end of the ride where you’d dismount, shaky-legged, to be reunited with your grinning parents who’d taken the same ride in their own childhoods, just as their parents had.
Inevitably, the owners of the Pleasure Grounds realised that the land was prime real estate, so the whole site was cleared in 2003-2004 for – sigh – executive housing, despite attempted protection for the Glide and a lot of legal jousting, protests and heartfelt articles in the Telegraph And Argus. No doubt this unique ride is now being recycled somewhere in China for mobile phone components. It should be pointed out that the little fairground was actually thriving. It was no dead duck.
I was up at Shipley Glen on Saturday, with my dad and grandma, both Pleasure Ground veterans. The place is now a brownfield site with no sign of building work, or even a hint of it. It is literally a waste. The only remaining attractions from Shipley Glen’s themepark heyday is the marvellous Glen Tramway, which I wrote about some years back for Nothing To See Here.
Nearby is a Dodgems, rotting gracefully back into the moor, the original cars hidden under shrouds like corpses. This was functioning two or three years ago – I went on it with my mum – but now it looks likes the kind of ride seen on Scooby Doo.