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The Belle Vue Scenic Railway – our Special Correspondent writes

Today’s blog post is a guest contribution from Jon Cocks, who not only worked on various of Belle Vue’s attractions, but (luckily for us) took his camera with him. We’re grateful to him for telling us this story, and for illustrating it with these never-before-seen pictures, taken in 1977-8 – the pictures are in his copyright, so please don’t copy or distribute them without his permission. Over to Jon:

Photo looking down from the top of the 'pull-up' on the Belle Vue Scenic Railway, 1977

Looking down the pull-up, 1977

For the 1977 season, I was lucky enough to get a job as a ride operator at Belle Vue Amusement Park. I drove the trains on the Steam Railway and I also worked on other rides such as the Jetstream, Ghost Train, and Magic Cavern. Occasionally I found myself in the rafters of the King’s Hall operating the spotlights for a concert. As well as the Steam Railway one of my other interests was the Scenic Railway.

Photo: a view across Belle Vue to the Scenic Railway

Looking across other attractions to the Scenic Railway – Library’s Marshall Collection

Belle Vue had been the home of a few wooden roller coasters but the only one still there in 1977 was the Scenic Railway. This ride sadly saw its last paying passenger in 1976 when the ride was closed for some minor repair to the track. The repairs were not carried out due to cost and the ride did not operate again.

Photo of the broken track of the Scenic Railway that was never repaired and led to closure.

The repair that never was – a relatively minor repair would have saved the ride

The ‘Scenic’ as it was called affectionately by the park staff, arrived at Belle Vue around 1927 from the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, London which had closed in 1925. I remember a lot of the older staff spoke fondly of this ride as it was all hands on. There were four trains each of which consisted of 2 cars riding on three ‘bogies’. These two cars were joined together on the middle ‘bogie’ where there was a seat for the brakes person and a large lever which applied the brakes when pulled. This was the only means of controlling the train on its entire journey around the track.
As I was ‘staff’ I could go almost anywhere if I let someone know where I was. Health and Safety was different then, so I could explore the Scenic Railway track and workshop as I wished. The station had a wooden platform and the ride started when the brake person released the brake and the train gently rolled round to the ‘pull-up’ (or ‘lift hill’ in the USA) on the other side of the ride. At the bottom of the ‘pull-up’, the cars attached themselves automatically to a moving cable and when the train reached the top the cable released, and the train was then just under the control of the brake person.

Photograph of the bottom of the 'pull up' slope on Belle Vue Scenic Railway, 1977.

The bottom of the ‘pull up’

The train then made a 180-degree turn and then down the 1st drop. This was different from other roller coasters as the 1st drop here was a switchback. The train then went around another 180-degree bend to the 1st drop proper. The track then dropped to just above the ground where the train reached its top speed and then the track rose again before another return bend.

Photo of the view looking down from the top of the second drop at Belle Vue Scenic Railway

Looking down from the top of the second drop

This took the train to another switchback and this was where the repair was still waiting to be carried out. The train went around another 180-degree bend, another switchback and then through a tunnel before arriving back in the station.

The station on Belle Vue's Scenic Railway

The station

Just before it arrived at the station it passed a small siding which led to the car shed and workshop. This shed was quite substantial as it had to house 4 two-car trains and adequate workshop facilities. There was an idea at the time to increase the capacity of the Steam Railway by using the old Scenic Railway cars mounted on spare Steam Railway ‘bogies’ as one of the pictures shows. The Steam Railway would be able to run two trains in busy periods but due to impending closure, this idea was not pursued.

Photo of Scenic Railway cars undergoing conversion for use on the Steam Railway

Scenic Railway cars undergoing conversion for use on the Steam Railway

In January 1978 a local construction company demolished the Scenic Railway. These pictures show the demolition in progress. The trains were dumped on the ground in front of the ride and some of the ‘bogies’ were left in what remained of the ‘Monkeyrama’ display.

Photo of passenger cars from the Scenic Railway dumped as demolition proceeded

Passenger cars from the Scenic Railway dumped as demolition proceeded

Apart from photographs and memories there is very little left to remind us of this fantastic ride which entertained visitors at Belle Vue for nearly 50 years.

The end – demolition of the Scenic Railway marks the end of an era

I believe at least one of the distinctive ‘horses heads’ which embellished the front of the trains was rescued before the demolition. These are like those on the trains that still run on the Scenic Railways at Dreamland in Margate, Kent and Luna Park in Melbourne, Australia. Interestingly, even though the ride was closed, quite a few staff who were not working on a Saturday evening would congregate at the top of the ‘pull up’ for a grandstand view of the Belle Vue Aces performing in the speedway stadium below. I still regret not working at Belle Vue when the Scenic Railway was operating as I may have had the chance to work on this exciting ride myself.
Jon Cocks 2018

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14 Comments

  1. Delya Broadhurst

    1960, Saturday night out, first a visit to the speedway followed by free entry into the fairground. We had very little to spend but my favourite was a ride on the scenic railway. We hoped there wasn’t a long queue because as 15 year old girls we had to be sure of getting our bus home in time for our 10-30pm curfew. Such happy memories and how times change.

    • ferguswilde

      Thanks, Delya! Glad the post brought back some happy memories – we’re hoping to do some more before too long.

  2. Barbara Wallis

    Fantasting article. First proper ride on a rollencounter in 1959 on a lovely hot day. There was a religious vocations exhibition on, then we went to the funfair. I enjoyed it so much I stayed on for three goes. A few days later I rode the Bobs. I was terrified.
    Barbara

  3. MISS KIM STAINES

    So sad to see these pictures. I still remember our family days out at Belle Vue. Belle Vue was such a great place.
    I have found that looking at pictures of Belle View, bring tears to my eyes.
    BELLE VUE… SO SADLY MISSED. ?

    • ferguswilde

      Hi Kim,
      It’s nice to know the blog brought back memories, though we’re sorry to hear how much you miss it. You’re certainly not on your own in wishing Belle Vue hadn’t been closed down. We hope the memories are a bit of a comfort.

  4. John Flowers

    Hmmm Memories!
    I went with my parents to Belle Vue in (I think) the early 60s when I was somewhere just under 10 y/o.
    The Scenic Railway name took my interest and my Mum agreed to take me on it …. and we got front seats!
    It was horrible, I was scared stiff – hadn’t twigged that it was a Roller Coaster.
    Never been able to face a serious roller coaster since – my limit is Thunder Mountain at WDW

    • ferguswilde

      I saw it when I was about eight in the late ’60s, and didn’t fancy it all! Somehow it didn’t look very substantial to me.

  5. Carol Walters

    I was delighted to read this as I have been trying to find out more about this attraction. I was a small child in the early 1950s and my grandad, Harold Flanders drove the train at Belle Vue. I remember when I was older seeing lovely photo of the two of us on his engine. Sadly my mother cleared it out. I would love to see any information from that time.
    Carol Walters

    • ferguswilde

      Hi Carol! Thanks for the comment – we hope to do more on the Belle Vue railways. I’m really sorry to hear the photo got ‘cleared out’ – tidying up is the enemy of library collections! You might want to look at our ‘Virtual Belle Vue’ online exhibition of our Belle Vue collection, if you haven’t already seen it: http://www.chethams.org.uk/bellevue/ is the link. You can browse or search – keep search terms simple, like ‘railways’ or ‘monkeys’. I hope you see something of interest.

  6. S G Groocock

    My grandfather, Alonzo Collinson was the brake rider for many years. My father is still with us and only yesterday told me he was the brake man.

    • ferguswilde

      Thanks SG – Brake rider must have been a lot of fun as well as responsibility. Like so much else at Belle Vue, this certainly seems to bring back people’s memories!

  7. Charles Moran

    My first roller coaster ride – and my only one for about 40 years, as it scared me witless. Went on it aged about 6 with Grandma, thinking it was literally a scenic railway journey (like the miniature one in Southport), so, boy was I surprised when the track suddenly fell away in that first drop! Great to see the pictures though, and sad that nothing of the old amusement park remains: Belle Vue lost its soul when the place was demolished.

    • ferguswilde

      It was too terrifying for me as a kid! I refused the offer of a trip on it and stayed by the zoo! T’hanks for the memory, and it is sad indeed there should be nothing left.