Marine Park
Marine Park This park was opened in May 1894 as the Marine Park Palace and Gardens by father and son Alfred and Bernard Wilshire Tolhurst. Twenty acres of Beaumont estate were enclosed by steel fencing in addition to four acres of the Marine Park recreational annexe. The attractions included a switchback railway, aerial flight, a marine lake adjoining Brewery Road for twenty boats, cricket pitches, bowling greens, cycle track, bandstand etc. In August, the directors decided to forego the opening ceremony on the “Marine Park Palace and Gardens” because the Mayor decided not to perform the ceremony. He sought advice from members of the council who thought he should not function officially in private enterprise. The attractions at the opening included Lieut. Taylor with his performing wolves and boarhounds; high divers and aquatic performers and a fireworks display. Article from a Southend Guide 1898 reports; This, one of the latest and most beautiful attractions of Southend-on-Sea, is situated like a bright oasis in the desert “of undesirables” which are unfortunately located in the Lower Town. It was acquired in 1896 by the Pyramidical Syndicate, Limited, and extensive alterations and improvements have since been made. The Main entrance is in Brewery Road, and close to the beach. The Park is prettily laid out, every nook and corner being utilised to good purpose, Stretching away at the back are the meadows and woods of Southchurch. One cannot tell where the Park ends and Southchurch begins. Nature and Art combining to make a delicious little landscape. In the centre of the park on raised ground is a splendid cycling track, 3 1/3 laps to the mile, which encircles a cricket wicket ground beautifully turfed, on which many a battle will be fought. To the left of these lies a large ornamental lake, over which, as it narrows at its centre, is thrown a pretty rustic bridge. On the right of the entrance is one of the largest switchback railways (Roller Coaster) ever built, and it is safe to say that the “largest” screams of laughter ever heard proceed from its vicinity when visitors try its exhilarating journey. Opposite the switchback is an ornamental canal also crossed by bridges and containing four fountains. Next we come to the dancing platform, again the largest, covering a space of 15,000 superficial feet. There is a pretty rustic bandstand, and at the end of the platform is the open air stage, handsomely decorated and fitted up. In addition to these attractions there are the Indian jungle a shooting saloon, and a bowling alley. A prominent feature of the park is the handsome building which contains the offices and store rooms, and the tea rooms, etc., etc. The windows of the latter are prettily hung with fresh looking curtains and the arrangements for making “tea for the million” are simply perfect. There is also a children’s tea room, which is a decided acquisition. The refreshment bar has a frontage of 180 feet. In the evening illumination is provided by arc and incandescent lamps, the general effect being very pretty. Space fails us to describe the many other point of attraction, but we congratulate ourselves, our visitors, and the manager on what is undoubtedly a boon and a blessing to men, women, and children.

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Luna Park  In 1910 the Kursaal was purchased by Luna Park and the Palace of Amusements Ltd (Southend), which had been newly registered on 14th March 1910 by William Hilton. The park was renamed Luna Park, Hilton became the Managing Director of the park, and opened new attractions, including the Astley's Circus, Figure of Eight Roller Coasters, Harton Scenic Railway, Kinema (cinema) and a miniature railway.  Luna Park was becoming extremely popular, it was reported that up to 100,000 visitors were visiting a week. In June 1911 the park suffered a fire which destroyed two of the park's most popular attractions, the Figure of Eight Railway Coaster and the Joy Wheel. By 1912 Hilton's company had been taken over by trustees, the Luna Park Company in 1915 was dissolved.
The Kursaal and the Morehouse Dynasty In 1915 Clifton Jay Morehouse became the new owner of the park. Morehouse had arrived in London in 1897 from America, settling in Birmingham. Industrialist Morehouse led the park to become one of the most successful in England. In March 1920 Morehouse suddenly died, his son David de Forrest Morehouse then took directorship. In 1934 David de Forrest Morehouse died and a board of trustees took over the Kursaal. In 1948 C. J. Morehouse II took over the Kursaal from the trustees. This period saw the biggest attractions come to the Kursaal, there was, Eric the Whale, the Great Wall of Death and Al Capone’s Car. At its height in the 1950s the Kursaal employed several full-time gardeners and a block of flats on the site housed many of the 400 employees. The complex had its own laundry and Ice-cream factory, which made over 2,000 tons of Ice-cream a day. The Kursaal attracted great affection and loyalty from its staff.
In 1899 there was an outcry all over the country when national papers announced that that Mr. Scott of the Kursaal had arranged a bull fight at Marine Park. The town council ordered the town clerk to take all steps to oppose the bull fight. In fact, Mr. Scott had arranged for a group of performing dogs with their trainer to burlesque a bull fight. July 1901 the Kursaal main building was opened by Lord Claud Hamilton, the design was by George Sherrin and John Clarke, the new facilities included an arcade, ballroom, billiard room and dining hall. Eventually the park owners ran into financial difficulties and the company went into liquidation.
The Decline of the Kursaal In the 1960s the Kursaal was described by the AA as “one of the largest and best equipped leisure and entertainment sites in Britain.” By the 1970s the splendid pleasure dome was a shell. The famous rides disappeared either by catching fire or sold off to the Third World, the scrap metal man or the spare parts shed. The Kursaal ballroom played host to many musical artistes and bands since its opening in 1901, during the 1970s the Kursaal ballroom became well known as a rock music venue hosting famous live bands, many relationships started at the Kursaal. Sadly, the Kursaal had been in gradual decline since the early 1970s, the amusement park closed in 1973, and in 1977 the ballroom closed, with the main building finally closing in 1986.
Luna Park
2012 Kursaal
Dining Room
1898 Map Marine Park and Pleasure Gardens
1939 Kursaal Advert
c1901 New Kursaal Entrance and Palace
The Kursaal Returns After the closing in 1986 the main building lay derelict until 1998, when the Kursaal building reopened after redevelopment by the Rowallan Group, the Kursaal now housed new amusements, bowling alley, casino and a McDonalds. The amusement park was later redeveloped for housing and called the Kursaal Estate. After the refurbishment of the main building and opening in 1998 the first to close was McDonalds in 2008, then in 2019 the MFA Bowl went into administration and the bowling alley closed, the Rendevous Casino closed in 2020. Only a Tesco Express store remains.
2012 Kursaal Dome
The Kursaal Zoo Southend's foremost entertainment venue needed to keep the offer to the public fresh and exciting, which is why in 1916 the owners decided to make a radical move away from the theme park model and build in a zoo. The first of its kind in the town. Located within the grounds of the Kursaal, cages were erected ready to accommodate their new residents, amongst which would include tigers, bears, wolves, jackals and many other interesting animals. The site within the grounds was formerly a tea garden and the cages would be arranged to allow the anticipated thousands of visitors to be amazed at these tropical and wild animals normally seen within a natural encyclopaedia. The Kursaal Zoo opened to the public on 10th June 1916. The animals arrived a week earlier much to the excitement of local people as animal sounds were heard moving through the streets of Southend. The public were eager to inspect, for the very first time animals from around the world. The animals which Mr C. J. Morehouse arranged to have on exhibition numbered over 100, and were known to consume around 70,000 lbs of meat. They belonged to a collection from Maidstone owned by Mr. Tyrritt Drake, who had developed this collection as a hobby called Cobtree Zoo. The collection was started in 1910, and was then thought to be one of the largest collections in England. Some of the animals on show: Australian wild or dingo: These animals in their native country do enormous amount of damage by killing sheep, not merely for food, but also for sport. Timber wolf, North America: The largest, finest, and fiercest of any of the wolf species. Zebu or sacred cow: India, used in carts and for riding purposes. Syrian or Jacob's sheep: Supposed to be the kind of sheep referred to in the Old Testament. Royal cream pony: Only two studs of this variety that existed in the United Kingdom, one of the property of HM the King and the other at Horley, the property of Lord John Sanger, Ltd. Similar ponies were always used by the late Queen Victoria in her bath chair, the "Royal Creams" used on all State occasions are similar in colour, form, and with the same peculiar blue eyes, but stand 15 to 16.5 hands high. Bhal or fighting ram, Northern India: These are the only pure-bred specimens in England. They are used by the Rajahs to give exhibitions of fighting and are trained for the purpose in the same manner as fighting cocks were in the old days of England. Bennetts wallaby or kangaroo, Australia: These animals are easily acclimatised to live in the open in England, and under such conditions will breed freely. Griffin vulture, Spain: These birds have enormous power in the wing. The width of this specimen from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other is 9ft. Crested porcupine, South-Africa: The largest species of the porcupine family. This animal's mode of defence is to run backwards into his adversary, inflicting great pain with its quills. Brown bear, 'Jock’: One of the largest if not the largest brown bear in captivity. Spotted or laughing hyena, 'Squeaks,’ West Coast of Africa: Possessing the strongest jaw of any animal in the world, which enables it to crunch up even the jaw bones of horses with ease. This specimen is extremely tame. Forest-bred lioness, 'Queen Alexandra,' from Abysinnia, born March 1909: This animal as a cub was by special request presented to and caressed by HM Queen Alexandra. She had been taught by her owner to perform many tricks. Forest-bred lion, 'Lami,' from the Cameroons, born March 1911: This animal was brought over by Miss McLeod on her return from her journey across Central Africa. Raccoon, North America: These animals have the peculiar habit of washing their food in water before eating it. A reporter from the Southend & Westcliff Graphic, who visited the zoo wrote: On entering the zoo we were greeted with the bleating of a Sudanese sheep "The noisiest animal in the show" this was the keeper's comment "More noisy than a lion!" He continued to bleat noisily while we passed on to his neighbour, a quiet and docile deer, and next to her was a beautiful specimen of a llama. This was from Peru where it is used for carrying ore from the mountains; it carries a weight of not more than 200 lbs in sacks and "strikes" at any over-loading. A yak and a fighting ram are close neighbours, the latter and one other are the only animals of their kind on exhibition in this country. A beautiful little creature is the wallaby, with its handsome coat. A couple of ostriches were feeding in the open, and after admiring the beauty of their plumage, we came to the cages containing two superb specimens of the king of beasts - a forest bred lion and a lioness. The former has a magnificent head and mane. Though he was little inclined to display it, having only lately finished a meal, and being in no mood for anything else than to be drowsy. A succession of wonderful specimens of nature's handiwork in the animal world next met our view, such as the hyena, with his restless moving up and down the cage; bears (one of which, formerly in Bostock's collection, instantly recognised a former employee who is now an employee at the Kursaal), a panther, wolves and so forth. The panther seemed to be the most upset of all the animals by the journey; he snarled most unpleasantly and would only venture to thrust out his head once, at the same time displaying a beautiful and ferocious looking set of teeth. when his food was first placed in the cage, soon after his arrival at Southend, he did not immediately go to it, but when he thought no one was looking he went with a bound the full length of the cage, and as quickly returned with it into his box. The birds form a very interesting collection, there being some fine specimens of the eagle; while another very entertaining department is that consisting of the freaks. These include the smallest donkey in the world, standing only 29 inches high; a four horned ram. "the old Nick of the animal world"; the largest guinea-pig in the world, weighing seven stone, a giant rat, a three legged duck, and other strange and wonderful creatures. Then there are monkeys, but space prevents our dealing further with the subject. What we have said is sufficient, we think, to whet the appetite of the public of Southend to go to see for themselves this wonderful menagerie which, through the enterprise of Mr. C. J. Morehouse, is now introduced to Southend. What Happened to the Kursaal Zoo? It is interesting to note that the zoo was disbanded at the beginning of the Second World War. There was a distinct fear if the site was bombed the animals could escape and cause mayhem in the streets of Southend. Unfortunately, it was necessary to put most of the animals down. The Kursaal was commandeered for the war effort so no entertainment was on offer during the war years. Afterwards, a new fresh holiday resort in Southend emerged and the thoughts of resurrecting a zoo had long been forgotten.
Website Info:
1949 Kursaal Advert
The Autodrome. Photo: Terry Herbert Collection
Dodge Ems. Photo: Terry Herbert Collection
The Whip. Photo: Terry Herbert Collection
The Rivers. Photo: Terry Herbert Collection
Kursaal Entrance. Photo: Terry Herbert Collection
Aerial View of the Kursaal. Photo: Terry Herbert Collection
Rides and Attractions (excluding entertainment and functions held in the main building) Aerial Flight. Air Sport. Al Capone’s Car. Alpine Ride. Arctic River Caves, a £10,000 superstructure from Earl's Court. Astley's Circus. Autodrome. Bowl Slide. Brooklands Racer. Bumper Cars. Calypso. Caterpillar. Cyclone, a roller coaster and the largest of the Kursaal's attractions. Dive Bomber. Eric the Whale. Figure of Eight Coaster. Ghost Train. Harton Scenic Railway. Jolly Tubes. Joy Wheel. Kelly's House or Kelly's Kottage. Knock the lady out of bed. Laff In The Dark. Midget Mansion. Mighty Mouse. Miniature Railway. Mont Blanc. Morehouse Galloper (The). Mountain Dipper. Never Stop Railway. Noah’s Ark. Petboats. Rotor. Seaplanes. Ski Jump. Skids/Swirls (The). Stratosphere Rocket. Switchback Railway. Toboggan Slide previously Ice Toboggan. Tumble Bug. Tumblers (The). Under & Over. Wall Of Death. Waltzer. Water Chute. Whip (The). Whirlpool. Whirlwind Racer. Wild Mouse. Zoo.
1948 The Chute
1949 Laff in the Dark
1930s Visitors Photo
1930s Visitors Photo
1930s Visitors Photo
H. Childs Ice Cream Parlour and buildings which once stood on the corner plot prior to the Kursaal Entrance and Palace
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Unfortunate Endings The heaviest man in the world at the time, Dick Harrow, aged 38, weighing 40 stones died while on show at the Kursaal. He served in the Royal Artillery in the first World War and was of normal weight, but in 1920 began to put on weight and became so heavy he could hardly move. A huge container-like coffin was made for his body and lifted on to a lorry by crane. He was buried in Sutton Road cemetery in a huge grave, Cannon Gowing conducted the funeral in the early hours to foil morbid sightseers. 1977 Yvonne Stagg one of the famous Wall of Death riders took her own life. Yvonne over her career had broken many bones in her body at least once, one instance she toppled 20 feet off the Wall and a 385lb motorbike landed on top of her, it wasn’t the Wall of Death that reaped Yvonne, but her tangled love life. Gustov Kokos the father of her child was stabbed to death outside her front door by a jealous lover. Yvonne never recovered from the shock.
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