Robert Peel was one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers who gave the Conservative Party its name back in 1839. But what has he to do with amusement parks? And how is an amusement park connected to both Mr. Peel and Thomas the Tank Engine? The answer lies at Drayton Manor, one of Britain’s most popular amusement parks. By Jill Stansfield
This amusement park, which covers 280 acres of lakes and parkland, is situated in the UK’s Midlands, near to the town of Tamworth. In 2007, the popular family amusement park was awarded the title of "the best value UK destination" which must make it attractive to any family wanting to enjoy a day out at an amusement park. It has the world’s first stand up tower drop, "Stormforce" – said to be the best water ride in the country – and an amazing £3m rollercoaster. Oh yes – and Thomas Land!
So back to Robert Peel and his unlikely connection with Thomas and indeed with any amusement park. There is no doubt that Peel was an exceptional man whose achievements included the establishment of the police force. However, how he would have dealt with the fun of an amusement park is hard to fathom. He was a man of great seriousness and a contemporary described his smile as like the silver plate on a coffin. Perhaps even an amusement park on the scale of Drayton would have left him po-faced! His father , a wealthy Yorkshire business man had left the north for the Midlands and built Drayton Manor, which is now the home of the amusement park. Robert grew up there with his family, amidst the lakes and the parkland that today form such a stunning setting for the amusement park , playing host to Queen Victoria [who didn’t like him], the Duke of Wellington and Gladstone [Queen Victoria didn’t like him either!] The grand house was demolished in 1926 and all that remains is the clock tower, still visible in the amusement park.
This is where another remarkable man appears in the story. In 1950, George Bryan and his wife Vera acquired the estate and opened an amusement park with a few simple amusement rides. George’s father, William, was an apprentice at Rolls Royce in Derby and served in what became the RAF in the First World War. In 1927 he invented his first penny arcade slot machine, the Odd Clod, which was not a success. Three years later came "The Clock" which was very popular and then came the crane machines and others and by 1939, the factory in Kegworth struggled to keep up with the demand. Maybe George’s future as the owner of an amusement park had its roots in his father’s business, which produced machines found at amusement parks across the world.
William was once more caught up in war and rejoined the RAF, leaving the service as a Squadron Leader and went back into business. George and Vera began to build their amusement park at Drayton Manor into the huge attraction that it now is. Vera herself had connections with the amusement park industry as her father had run "California in England", which still exists as a country park near Wokingham in Surrey.
Sadly, Bryans Automatic Works was the subject of an arson attack in 2000 but fortunately, Colin Bryan, George’s son, already had the imagination to set up a Bryans Museum at his amusement park, the earliest workshop had been recreated there and the old machinery was safely preserved. (Today, Bryans machines are highly prized )
The amusement park has a strong connection with the Birmingham Children’s Hospital for which a considerable amount of money has been raised. This year, a series of three concerts is being held at the amusement park in August, where the themes are Abba, Elvis and Kylie from which the hospital will benefit .
The amusement rides close at the beginning of November when there will be spectacular fireworks shows at the amusement park and then over the Christmas period there is to be a Thomas the Tank Engine event.
Drayton Manor Amusement Park can be described as total family entertainment for the range of attractions on offer is extremely wide, ranging from the astonishing amusement rides to the zoo and including on the way Thomas Land and the Bryans Museum. Particularly pleasing is the continuing family involvement in the amusement park, as Colin Bryan’s two sons are now involved in the amusement park’s business. It is very refreshing to find good business sense combined with continuing enthusiasm and imagination.
And if you want something completely different from an amusement park, go to pay your respects to Sir Robert Peel who is buried at nearby Drayton Bassett Church!
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