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Dreamland: Margate’s Postmodern Park

19 July 2015 One Comment

The Brutalist Sixties’ block that towers over the Helter Skelter, Big Wheel and Scenic Railway of Margate’s Dreamland makes for a distinctly British seaside scene. And a fitting backdrop to a pleasure park that takes its theme from the good, bad and ugly of its own social history.

Dreamland Margate

Inspired by American amusement parks, the ‘UK’s original pleasure park’ dates back to the early 1920s and has seen as many ups and downs as its Grade-II listed railway ride.

Requisitioned to treat injured troops evacuated from Dunkirk in the Forties, a hangout for teenage Teddy Boys and Girls in the Fifties and top music venue throughout the swinging Sixties, it changed hands, names and directions several times before slowing to a grinding halt at the end of the 20th century.

Dreamland and Arlington, Margate

In the early Noughties the Save Dreamland Campaign was founded to combat commercial redevelopment, only to suffer more setbacks in the form to two devastating fires. Yet after successful Lottery and Government funding bids its upward trajectory was back on track by 2010, and given a turbo boost as Wayne Hemingway MBE took the helm of the rebrand in 2012.

As is his MO, Midcentury-mad Hemingway has drawn on the optimism of post-war era Dreamland to inject the project with Festival of Britain-inspired positivity.

Dreamland Big Wheel, Margate

Knowing it can’t compete with the million pound crowd-pleasers of Britain’s biggest amusement parks, Dreamland instead celebrates the history of its carefully curated collection. Iconic rides such as the Chair-O-Plane, Dodgems and Born Slippy slide have been given exhibit-style bios and are as likely to raise a smile with misty-eyed parents and grand-parents as they are excited screams from the kids.

The free-entry Pinball Parlour also sets vintage mechanical games alongside modern arcades and the retro Roller Disco is sure to be popular for parties.

Dreamland roller disco, Margate

But what really makes Dreamland special – and is likely to prove key to its diverse tourist draw – is the park’s perfect packaging.

Dreamland Margate

Endlessly Instagramable fonts, colours and slogans, cheery neon-lights taking no shame in illuminating a rusting tin roof and staff uniforms that channel Fifties-cool have given the venue its smile back.

And it’s contagious. In the town, chatter among traders is of a good summer, a different vibe and new beginnings. The work of independent designer-makers is showcased and sold in the eclectic Dreamland Emporium and locals who worked at Dreamland during its previous heydays are back on the books.

Dreamland Margate souvenirs

With a handful of rides still to be opened, a packed summer events schedule and refurbishment of the Dance Hall soon to add to the evening attractions, there’s a lot to look forward to. All of which can only bring hope to that other conservationist group, Friends of Arlington Margate, who have equally grand plans for their own Midcentury masterpiece.

Margate: The VB Little Black Book

Where we stayed: The Reading Rooms – a restored Georgian townhouse offering treats including a roll top bath, room-service breakfast fit for a king and sea views from the top floor, all wrapped up with deliciously distressed interior details.

The Reading Rooms, Margate

Where we ate: The Ambrette for contemporary Indian fine dining on night one, followed by traditional fish and chips à la knees on the harbour side from The Fish Factory. Our tastes are nothing if not diverse.

Fish and chips, Margate

Where we shopped: Madam Popoff Vintage in Margate’s Old Town is a name that often pops up in mainstream fashion as well as vintage press, and for good reason. Owner Debs has a keen eye for wearable and collectable vintage, with current stock ranging from cute cotton dungarees at a high street rivalling £30 to Ossie Clark crepe maxi dresses reaching into the hundreds.

Madam Popoff Vintage, Margate

What we saw: No trip to Margate is complete without a visit to Turner Contemporary – currently proud host to a major Grayson Perry exhibition encompassing pottery, prints and tapestries – and the mysterious Shell Grotto, which throws up lots of questions and very few answers.

Turner Gallery, Margate

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