Alton Towers – A History Of the UK’s Top Theme Park!

Alton Towers Resort - A History!

Whenever someone asks someone from outside of the UK to name a theme park located here within the British Isles you can probably bet your bottom pound coin (keeping it British there) that the first park they will have spring to mind is most likely this one.

Alton Towers Resort, based just outside the small rural town of Alton in Staffordshire her in the UK is without a doubt possibly one of the most magical family tourist destinations to open it’s gate to the public in the last 50 years!

It was infact this season gone (2020) that Alton Towers was officially set to celebrate it’s 40 year anniversary in style, however as we all know by now the current pandemic of course had other ideas meaning that we sadly never got to see the sheer scale of the celebrations that the resort will have likely had instore.

Alton Towers of course wasn’t always a theme park, infact the site itself originally started out as just a small fun fair located at the rear of the towers (where the entrance to HEX: Legend of the Towers  is located today) and it is therefore only in the last 20 years that the resort has really become the land of pure imagination, escapism and magic we know today.

Context and Background

The name Alton Towers does of course refer to the estate itself which over the decades has seen so much history and change that it’s actually hard to believe that this magnificent ancestral home has ended up being the theme park and resort it is today.

The estate originally opened up it’s grounds to the public however back in the 1860s following the opening of the Alton Towers railway station (now defunct).

An agreement was therefore put in place between the railway operators and the earl at the time whereby the public would have the chance to visit the spacious gardens attached to the house and in return funds raised from the railway would go towards the upkeep of the estate’s beautifully majestic gardens.

It wasn’t however until 1924 when a group of estate agents formed Alton Towers LTD that the etsate itself would start it’s journey to becoming the magnificent tourist hot spot it is today.

It wasn’t until the 1950s however that owners of the estate would decide to begin the journey into the realm of rides and attractions with the addition at the time of a small fairground which they hoped would increase footfall and attract more families alongside the estate’s usual clientele.

By the 1970’s this also included the once famous boating lake (the lake at the bottom of Towers Street) and a chairlift (the skyride).

It was however in 1973 that the park officially fell into the hands of the one and only John Broome following his marriage at the time to a majority shareholder of the estate.

It was from this point onwards that Alton Towers started it’s journey to the highly successful resort and theme park we have all come to know and love today!

From this point onwards rather than running fairground attractions Mr Broome decided that it would be much more beneficial to the park’s overall future to start the installation of permanent rides and attractions as opposed to temporary ones.

Image Credit - Towers Times.
Rides of the Past

Over the years since the transformation of the estate into the resort it has become today Alton Towers has probably played host to some of the most famous rides and roller coasters known within the industry to date!

These include rides such as the truly iconic Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop coaster  – Thunderlooper, the indoor outta space themed steampunk masterpiece – The Black Hole and of course the one and only Corkscrew – A Vekoma MK-1200 roller coaster.

Although the resort has played host to many famous roller coasters however, Alton Towers has also seen the likes of the quacking splash filled masterpiece The Flume (aka. The Log Flume), the one and only Haunted House (now Duel: The Haunted House Strikes Back) and the incredible Huss Top Spin – Ripsaw come and go from it’s ride line up too.

Depending on who you talk to about the resort you will always find that each and every person you meet has entirely different favourite memories of their childhood at Alton Towers, however for us here at Theme Park Insanity it wasn’t until the mid 2000’s that we were finally able to make it to this absolute bucket list park!

This sadly meant that we did end up missing out on a fair few favourites from over the years, however we are pleased to say that we managed to get rides on The Flume, Submission and Ripsaw all before they finally saw closure and removal from the park, and for that we are extremely grateful.

Other notable names from over the years include but are not limited to Doom and Sons LTD (a haunted walk through attraction which operated within the same space as the Alton Towers Dungeon), Toyland Tours (a toy factory themed boat ride which used the exact same boat ride as the dungeon does today), Boneshaker (a ride very similar to Waikiki Wave formerly located at Flamingo Land Resort) and The Beast (a Schwarzkopf Jet Star 3 compact roller coaster).

Overall Alton Towers has played host to so many iconic pieces of UK roller coaster and ride history that it’s sadly hard to name each and every one, however it’s fair to say that as the years have gone by, the rides and attractions located at the resort have only gone one way and that’s bigger and better!!

The Smiler - Alton Towers' world record breaking 14 inversion roller coaster
Rides of the Now

It’s fair to say that since 1994 the rides and attractions added by Alton Towers Resort (particularly the roller coasters) have only got bigger and better with each and every investment made.

Today’s line up of rides and attractions can very likely be considered the very best that any park here within the UK has to offer and with jaw dropping additions such as the 14 looping world record  breaker The Smiler and Nemesis – John Wardley’s original and most iconic creation at the resort at the resort, what’s not to like?

In total Alton Towers currently plays host to 7 headline roller coasters;

The Smiler (A 14 inversion Gerstlauer Infinity coaster)

Nemesis (Europe’s first ever B&M Invert),

Galactica (formerly known as Air and also the world’s first ever B&M Flying Coaster)

Oblivion (The world’s first B&M Dive Machine and also the first ever roller coaster in the world to feature a vertical drop)

Th13teen (an Intamin Family Drop coaster and also the first ever roller coaster in the world to incorporate a vertical drop into the ride)

Rita (the one of only two UK based Intamin Accelerator Coasters)

Finally the one and only Bog Bob himself, Wicker Man (The first ever roller coaster in the world to incorporate wood and fire).

Although Alton Towers Resort was mostly owned and operated by Tussauds, it was in 2007 however that we feel it fair to say the resort really came into it’s own when the world’s second largest tourist attraction operator Merlin Entertainments PLC took over the reigns and started the resort on it’s path to becoming the park it is today.

It is however the park’s legendary secret weapon saga however that has perhaps set the resort on a path that will constantly challenge the creative team with each and every major new investment they place into the park due to the absolute must that each one must possess – a ‘world’s first‘.

It’s no secret that when you look at all the major roller coasters currently at the resort (excluding RITA as it’s not a secret weapon of course) each and every one has had a brand new unique element or addition at the time of it’s opening.

The other thing which was recently pointed out to us by a good friend is this – most of the previous additions almost seem to possess an elemental theme of some shape of form.

This therefore means that as also pointed out the only element currently missing from the line up is infact water.

There is therefore every possibility that Secret Weapon 9 (the next major addition to be added in the years to come to Alton Towers) will be based around some form of theme relating to exactly that.

The roller coasters of course however aren’t the only focus at the resort and as such 2021 (originally planned for 2020) will see the addition of the brand new family area The World of David Walliams.

This brand new area is set to not only include a fantastic new IP at this acclaimed resort, however it is also set to include the addition of the resort’s 3rd dark ride.

Gangsta Granny: The Ride is said to include a brand new ride system and set of features not seen on any dark rides previously here in the UK including an brand new disappearing effect developed specifically for the ride itself.

with all of this in mind the one thing we have to ask is this?;

Official marketing material for the resort's delayed 2020 addition - Gangsta Granny: The Ride
What does the future hold?

It’s definitely difficult to say with any certainty exactly what the future will hold for the UK’s top theme park resort, however with that being said we have a few suggestions none the less!

A brand new area is the most likely course of action for the next major investment at the park.

In a previous post regarding our speculation surrounding SW9 we have speculated that the most likely area of the resort to be used for future expansion would infact be the overflow car park located at the rear of Galactica.

The large area offered by this space would provide a considerable sized footprint for not only the addition of a brand new ride, but also a new area overall.

Another likelihood as also covered in the SW9 speculation piece was infact a complete removal of RITA over in The Dark Forest and a complete overhaul of that space to include the addition of the next secret weapon.

Other likelihoods include the overhaul of The Alton Towers Dungeon in favour of an expansion to The World of David Walliams, the complete removal and redevelopment of the area where Spinball Whizzer stands and the possible removal of The River Rapids in favour of a brand new major coaster,

Whichever way you look at it there are sufficient options available to the resort to ensure that not only do they keep the new additions coming in the years to come, but that they also have the chance to stay ahead of the game where other UK parks are concerned keeping the interest of their most die hard fans (ourselves included) in the years ahead!

Interesting Trivia and local legends!

Just like any other historic British landmark Alton Towers too possesses it’s own share of local myths and legends as well as a good amount of ghost stories for good measure too.

The most famous of these however definitely has to be the creepy legend surrounding the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury Charles Talbot and the legendary mystery surrounding the chained oak!

The local legend of the chained oak is so popular however that not only does the resort play host to a dark ride specifically dedicated to the legend itself(Hex: The Legend of the Towers – A Vekoma Madhouse which opened at the resort in the year 2000), however there is also a small bed and breakfast on the boundaries of the park (with no direct connection to the resort) named The Chained Oak as well.

The Towers themselves do of course play host to a whole range of spectral inhabitants too and as such many have shared their own personal experiences over the years in which they claim they have been contacted by one of the ancestral manors former inhabitants!

One other more earthly ongoing issue the resort faces however is that of strict planning restrictions due to not only the fact the estate is protected, however also due to residents in the surrounding areas.

This therefore means that no addition added to the resort is permitted to go any higher than the tree line and as such this is the reason so many of the rides major roller coasters have been dug down rather than standing above the tree line.

One ride which famously caused major issues for livestock in the surrounding area was Alton Towers’ Thunderlooper.

The ride was said to be so loud that it caused cattle in the surrounding countryside to go into season prematurely.

Another thing which alot may not know is that an announcement used to play at the very top of the drop on Oblivion prior to guests plummeting down the 180 ft drop advising that they “Don’t Look Down!”, however this unfortunately had to later be removed due to the volume exceeding permitted sound levels within the local area as it carried across the trees and into the ears of furious local residents.

Don't Look Down! - Alton Towers Resort's 1998 B&M Dive Machine prototype!
Final Thoughts.

It’s no secret that here at Theme Park Insanity we truly do have a massive soft spot for this most magical of UK theme park resorts, and as the years progress no matter what may change you can guarantee one thing! We will always go back year after year, ever thirsty for the unique thrills and chills that only Alton Towers provides.

This is due to the fact that (where theme parks are concerned) Alton Towers really is one of a kind!

Providing the perfect mix of adrenaline fuelled euphoria with the tranquility and peace that only a perfectly landscaped garden can provide this ancestral masterpiece is the crowning jewel in the UK theme park industry’s crown as it provides everything you could ever want from a great day out, and then some!

We would therefore like to wrap up this week’s Park of the Week with a POV (point of view) of our favourite ride on park as shared by the fantastic guys over at Towers Times and South Parks Media – Nemesis!!

This incredibly forceful and highly iconic 1994 Bolliger and Mabillard Invert provides you with what we still consider to be one of the most forceful ride experiences found anywhere in the UK and as you twist and turn through a rocky labyrinth of jagged rocks and ravines (your feet narrowly missing them as you do so) you’ll see for yourself first hand why we have a serious soft spot for this absolute masterpiece of roller coaster engineering!!

Thank you very much for reading! Next week, Blackpool Pleasure Beach!

Credit – Towers Times and South Parks Media.