The Things I've Seen: Margate Scenic Railway

WE WENT to Margate and the sun came out. At the Dreamland amusement park, other people endured the thrills of the Looping Star and the Big Splash; we queued for the Scenic Railway.

'No screaming on this one,' said someone's dad gruffly as the queue moved forward.

Enclosed behind blue planking, the Scenic Railway is Britain's oldest surviving gravity ride, or roll er-coaster. It was built entirely of wood and opened in 1920.

In its first year it carried half a million passengers. There have been two fires since then, and every piece of timber has been replaced, much of it taken from the remains of Lowestoft Pier.

Margate has presented public amusements on this site since the halcyon seaside days of the 19th century. Train-loads of day trippers used to come from London. There was a ballroom with a notice at the entrance that strictly forbade 'close dancing, Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug or any other Negro freakish dances'. And it was here that the Margate Strong Man committed the murder in 1895 for which he was hanged.

The three-car train clattered to a halt. 'There's somebody in it, driving,' said my assistant. She meant the brakeman. In modern roller-coasters, the victims are sent off without such protection. The ride lasted four minutes. I preferred the Big Wheel.

The Margate Scenic Railway is at Ordnance Survey reference number TR351705.

(Photographs omitted)

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