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New Brighton Fairground

New Brighton Fairground & Palace Amusements

Following the removal of the New Brighton Tower, the Fairground remained with the Ballroom and other surrounding features until its final fate during the fire of 1969. The Old English Fairground was on a higher level, which in later years, became the motor coach park. The Himalayan Switchback Railway was a great favourite, as was the water chute, with the boats travelling down at speed into the lake. The Railway had previously been at the Brussels Exhibition. In the Lion House were 'Prince' and 'Pasha', two beautiful Cape Lions. There was also a good collection of other animals in the menagerie.

By 1961, the New Brighton Fairground had changed significantly, with several new rides and sideshows. The photograph was taken from the cable car ride, which whisked passengers from the beach level, to the upper areas of the park. The Beatles also around this time played the Tower Ballroom; this was proof of how popular New Brighton was at the time. The Beatles final appearance at the Tower Ballroom took place on Friday 14 June 1963 on a special NEMS Enterprises presentation of their 'Mersey Beat Showcase' series. The Beatles was supported by Gerry & the Pacemakers and five other groups.

Following the fire in 1969 at the New Brighton Tower Ballroom. The outdoor fair was closed and all that remained was Wilkie's fair situated at the New Brighton Palace. Not only was there an indoor and outdoor fair, there was also the Wilkie's Circus. Following its transformation from an early Palace Theatre it transformed into the indoor fair attraction. It was again to see a new facelift to how the building is still structured today. The ‘New’ Palace Amusement Centre opened on New Brighton Promenade and was completed in 1939 at a cost of £11,000. In 1957, Whilma Wilkie left New Brighton to take the Travelling Circus to South Africa, leaving the New Palace to his son George (Bill Wilkie). The New Palace Amusement Centre ran very successfully up until the mid 1960s when customer numbers started to drop due to the fatal tower ballroom fire of 1969 and an increasingly popular ‘package holidays’ abroad, which working class families were now taking in place of the regular British holidays. Sadly, by the late 1980s, when I was a young lad, New Brighton had very little to offer as a holiday resort and the Wilkie's New Brighton Palace and Brightspot arcade was about as good as it got in the seaside resort.

Wilkie's fair still exists at New Brighton Resort in its regular house of the New Brighton palace. The Brightspot has now been demolished and several fairground rides have been placed on the land. With the increase of tourism back on the rise in New Brighton, hopefully the Wilkie's fair will expand and offer more variation to the customers of young and older. Exciting times back in New Brighton, who knows what will happen next!

The Palace, New Brighton

Liverpool Mercury
Monday, 15th April, 1895

This popular place of amusement was opened for the season on Saturday, and throughout the day it was crowded with pleasure seekers, a fact which augurs well for a successful season. Many improvements have been carried out in the extensive buildings with a view of enhancing the pleasure and comfort of visitors. The commodious ballroom, where a full band plays for dancing, is charmingly decorated throughout, as also is the large and cosy theatre. The grotto, which will have a special attention paid to it during the season, together with the open-air terraces, will certainly prove most attractive to those who wish to take a stroll after leaving the ballroom. There are also well stocked aviaries, a shooting gallery, and several other attractions in the place, which will enable visitors to spend a most enjoyable time. Mr. C. Gray Smith, the secretary and manager who catered so well at the Palace last year, is again at the head of affairs, and on Saturday provided a treat for his patrons in the shape of an excellent concert in the theatre, The artistes were Miss Marie Burnett (soprano), Madame Emile Young (contralto), Mr. George Barton (tenor). Mr. Eaton Batty (baritone), and Mr. William Pagan (humorist). There was a large audience present at both the afternoon and evening concerts, and each item of the programme was much enjoyed, whilst in several instances encores were demanded. The theatre orchestra accompanied the various items in a satisfactory manner, under the leadership of Mr. J. Clayton. For today (Monday) further attractions are provided. Entertainments will be given in the grotto by Deskaro, the juggler, and in the rink by Sizi and Casea, acrobats. In the theatre, both afternoon and evening, will appear the Four Aubreys, sketch artists and horizontal bar performers; Patty Yole, song and dance artist and banjo soloist; the Ediinsm sketch artists; Rose Harvey, contralto vocalist; and Winifred Yates and Robert Emslie, who will contribute vocal tableaux vivant's. As regards the future engagements at the Palace, Mr. Smith has made arrangements with some of the best known music hall artists to appear during the season, so that this place of amusement should prove attractive to all visitors to New Brighton.

The Fires At The New Brighton Tower & Ballroom Complex

The First Fire At The Tower

Builders were still working on the higher portion of the tower structure even though the Tower grounds had just opened in 1898. To protect the crowds below the workmen had placed wooden planks around part of the building to prevent injury from falling bricks etc. On 1 April 1898, shortly after 10 pm, Wallasey Fire Brigade were called out who rushed to the scene to find that the wooden planks 172 feet up were ablaze. Their Manual Pump was not powerful enough to reach that height so the Birkenhead and Liverpool Fire Brigades were asked to attend with their Steam Pump.

Birkenhead Fire Brigade agreed to attend but firstly had to obtain permission to leave their Borough from the Council and Liverpool had to wait for the Luggage Boat to steam up. Whilst both Brigades delayed in attending, the Wallasey Firemen had already climbed onto the planks and were tackling the flames.

Tragically a young Volunteer Fireman, Jim Shore, a brickster from Seacombe, fell 80 feet to his death after losing his footing while attempting to reach the fire. By the time the other Brigades had arrived after midnight the fire had burnt itself out.

The Second Fire At The Tower

The second fire happened on Thursday evening on 20 January, 1955. Fire broke out in the cafe on the third floor and, protected only by a wall, nearly spread to the large ballroom. The fire was reported by the Ballroom Manager, Cyril Isherwood, at 7.25 pm and, with the watchman, John Williams, tackled the fire with a mobile extinguisher until the Fire Brigade arrived. The Wallasey Fire Brigade arrived within minutes and fought the blaze that was over 60 foot from the ground. The flames rose to 25 feet whilst the firemen tackled the blaze from two sides of the building. Three Appliances poured water through the office window and after fifteen minutes the fire was under control. The Catering Manager's office was destroyed.

Third Fire at the Tower Ballroom

The third fire at the New Brighton Tower, which had broken out in the Social Club and spreading to the Ballroom, was reported by the general foreman, Alex McIntyre, at 7.30 pm on 17th August, 1963. After raising the alarm, Mr Intyre lowered the theatre's safety curtain and asked the early dancers to vacate the ballroom. The Amusement Park was also cleared. As many as 26 Appliances and 160 men from Wallasey, Birkenhead, Cheshire, Liverpool and Lancashire Brigades were involved in tackling the fire.

For four hours the firemen tackled the flames and prevented it from spreading to the ballroom but the clubroom and balcony were destroyed. Deputy Fire Chief, Frank Fradley, who directed the operations said, "At one stage it was touch or go whether the entire building would become involved but everyone did a magnificent job".

The End of the New Brighton Tower Ballroom

On Saturday 5 April, 1969, a call was received at 05.08 am that a fire had erupted at the New Brighton Tower. The night before, the manager and staff had left the building at 8.30 pm after a routine check but the stage area, which is believed to where the fire started, was not included.

The fire brigade was soon on the scene and were met with large bellows of smoke pouring out of the windows and sections of the building collapsing. With the collapse of the wall it exposed the Ballroom and theatre to the open air and it allowed the flames to reach other parts of the building. Matters were made worse by the fact that the Tower Boating Lake had been drained so the Fire Brigade had major difficulties in obtaining water. Three relays had to be used to pump water from Marine Lake which was some distance away.

With the lack of water it was soon apparent that the Ballroom would be a complete loss. Parts of the roof began to collapse and there were two blasts on the fifth floor as compressed oxygen and dissolved acetylene cylinders were exposed to the fire. Luckily no one was hurt. Firemen had managed to get into the building from the south to the staircase but could go no further due to falling debris from the collapsed roof. Soon after 7.00 am, less than two hours after the alarm had been raised, there was 25 pumps at the scene of the fire and relief crews were being called in from Birkenhead, Liverpool, Chester County and Lancashire County with over 150 firemen being at the scene with 20 pumps and four Turntable Ladders.

The Chief Fire Officer, Mr E.E. Buschenfield, sent for five more Pumps but it was obvious that fire crews lives were in danger as the blaze became far too serious to tackle so a decision was taken to allow the building to burn. It was the end of the Tower. In all, 1191 Firemen and 37 Officers had fought the fire. There were 25 pumps, four Turntable Ladders, a Snorkel, a Heavy Water Unit and a Control Unit on the scene.

An examination of the burnt out remains was not possible due to the condition of the remaining walls. The Deputy Fire Chief, Alec Dean, said: "A thorough investigation of the cause of this fire was made by the fire department in consultation with the Home Office forensic department and the Cheshire County Police. After the elimination of the possible causes it seems that this fire was due to unauthorized entry to the building and subsequent vandalism or accident in the ignition of the stage area caused by vandals. There could have been no other cause. Electricity and gas had been cut off so these were eliminated and there was no other source. There was a lack of direct evidence to pinpoint vandals but it is the only source that was left" Steps were soon taken to have the charred shell of the once popular New Brighton Tower building demolished.

Photos of Fairground & Palace Arcade