End of the ride for Frontierland

In a recent article I looked at the area we now refer to as the former Frontierland site and traced it right back to its very earliest recorded use as a customs officers' vantage point.

It then was used as a cattle field to rest livestock on its way by boat from Ireland and on to various parts of England.

The land was later a Territorials' gun park and firing range, until a wayward gunner managed to put a hole in a passing passenger ferry.

But its longest continuous use was, of course, as a fun park.

The Figure Eight park there entertained holidaymakers and locals alike for decades.

But in the 1940s in entered a new phase when Leonard Thompson, of Blackpool, added the park to his enterprise.

In 1949, The Visitor announced the grand opening of Morecambe Ice Theatre, with the opening season seeing the two Ogilivies, British Champion skaters and Scottish Champion Margaret Gibson performing in Stars and Stripes, with a supporting cast of 50 performers.

A casino that had been approved in 1939 but interrupted by the war – when building houses took priority over entertainment – eventually opened in May 1958.

New rides had entered the modernised park with a ghost train, dodgems, carousel, smaller rides for younger children and various prize stalls.

A dive bomber ride had been moved from Blackpool (as was to be the case with many attractions) in 1961, after it had been destined for the scrap yard.

By 1970 the Morecambe Pleasure Park, as it had become known, boasted 25 major rides and 10 for smaller children.

In May 1979 plans were approved for a 750,000 monorail to take people from the back of the park across to the prom on 16ft stanchions. This never materialised.

Wheel

In 1980 the park embarked on a course that was to take it into conflict with the local city council.

The Fun City indoor amusement hall had replaced the Diamond Horseshoe bingo centre at the park that year, but it was the arrival of the huge 150ft high Ferris wheel that was to start the controversy.

It carried 240 people at a time and could be seen from the M6 motorway but, though it opened to a blaze of local publicity it did not meet with everyone's approval.

One or two residents on nearby roads complained that the unique vantage point offered atop the ride impinged on their privacy – 'they can see into my window' was typical of the comments (like you'd be

bothered to look when the whole of the surrounding countryside was opening up in panoramic view for your enjoyment!).

Council planners noted the park had not sought planning permission to erect the wheel – the park owner Geoffrey Thompson said they did not need planning permission as it was a moveable structure on their own land.

"It's a fixed structure, you need permission!" said the planners.

"No! It's moveable," said Mr Thompson and, after another couple of years of wrangling, he proved it by moving it to North Carolina.

There was more argument when the park wanted to launch a Log Flume, to protests from Highfield Terrace.

Work was started, again without planning permission, and there was another bit of to-ing and fro-ing before it opened in 1982. At the official opening Lancaster's Mayor Coun Geoff Bryan took a ride.

In 1986, in a bid to revamp the declining fairground, a new frontage was planned and in a 150,000 facelift the place was to jump on the 'theme park' bandwagon and re-launch as 'Frontierland'.

In 1987 TV celebrity Jeremy Beadle joined park manager Jim 'JR' Rowland on a promotional stagecoach ride to open the new-look park at high noon on June 4.

Later that year a massive fire was to claim the Fun City building, though it was later reborn as the Crazy Horse Saloon opened by Grand National legend Red Rum in September 1988.

In 1989 the Sky Ride chairlift was opened by tennis star Annabel Croft, taking passengers in two-person chairs along a ropeway that stretched out of the park and over Marine Road to a tower on the promenade and back.

The Cyclone had been renamed The Texas Tornado.

There was a brief flurry of success for the park before its owners started considering its future, as they poured more and more investment into their Pleasureland venture at Southport.

An application was submitted – but rejected by Lancaster City Council in 1994 – to establish a new retail park on the site.

Another feature from Blackpool – a 170ft tower with a revolving and elevating platform – was brought to Morecambe and launched in 1995 with sponsorship from mint manufacturers 'Polo'. The Polo branding was appropriately displayed on the circular platform.

Baroness Thatcher paid a visit in 1997 in another publicity exercise for the park, but the next year Geoffrey Thompson announced that he would pull out of Morecambe if the council, which had announced proposals to close the seafront Bubbles indoor water park, failed to show more commitment to tourism in the town.

Any interest Mr Thompson retained in Morecambe was seen to dwindle dramatically when, in September 1999, the Texas Tornado and the Wild Mouse rides were advertised for sale in a trade magazine.

Frontierland was stripped of all but a few small rides by 2000, when a blaze in the Silver Mines ride in a suspected arson attack was tackled by five fire crews and the fun stopped forever on that part of Morecambe's front.

Morrisons, which by now had built their store at the back of the site, took over the land and again proposed plans for a new retail park.

There was not to be much movement until – possibly encouraged by regeneration and development company Urban Splash's interest in the adjacent art deco Midland Hotel – JJB Sports and the Homebase chain announced formally, a couple of years ago, plans to locate there.

Clothing retailer Next followed suit in 2006 and work on all three major units can be seen continuing apace today.

Outline planning permission has also been approved for building residential units on the front of the site, but no more detailed plans have yet been submitted.

The land has, in its different guises, always played a major part in shaping Morecambe's fortunes and it looks certain to continue that way well into the future.

n Again, my thanks to the Morecambe Local History Research Group for chronological information and to John and Doreen Read and our own photographic team for images.