We are big fans of Blackgang Chine, which has a decent claim to be the UK's oldest theme park.
The history of Blackgang Chine theme park is more interesting than most other Isle of Wight attractions. Its location on the edge of a cliff gives terrific views but also leads to much-loved features occasionally falling into the sea or having to be rebuilt elsewhere.
Here's our attempt to come up with a timeline of Blackgang Chine, since its origins about 180 years ago (and a few bits before that as well).
Most of the work on this has been done by my friend Marcus, who has a much better memory than me. He originally wrote his sections as a list of personal memories but I pinched his work and added to it. Marcus is better on small details than me. He will recall that a 1980s' slide had a wobbly third step whilst I struggle to remember that the slide existed.
My interest picks up later than Marcus' as I only visited occasionally whilst growing on the Island. We have become much more regular Blackgang Chine visitors with our own children in the last few years.
I would also like to thank Stefan who runs the Isle of Wight Archive Youtube channel for sharing some of his collection of photos. Several people have also contributed photos via Facebook, which is greatly appreciated.
Before we begin, let's include an important caveat.
We are not 100% sure on the accuracy of everything included in this history. It is patched together in good faith from Facebook groups, memories, Wikipedia, photographs, old maps and a book called Journey Into Imagination by Joanne Thornton. I did not spend months digging through the cliffs at Blackgang Chine looking for remnants of attractions which could be carbon-dated by the Isle of Wight Guru Archaeology Department.
We've tried our best to make it accurate but if you spot an error, please leave a (polite) comment or contact me.
Perhaps present your outrage as a compliment sandwich, where you begin by offering me a compliment ("thanks for your amazing work"), then tell me what I've got wrong ("the T-rex was installed three weeks later than you claim") and then finish with another compliment ("keep up the good work, handsome!").
Or just leave a snide remark on Facebook, either is fine.
Anyway, here goes. Let's enter the Crooked House of history and pray for sunshine from the Weather Wizard.
A huge landslide destroys the main residence in the Blackgang area, a farm called Pitlands. In the years after, a road is built from Chale to Niton, passing under Gore Cliff.
That's right - our history starts about 50 years before the park even existed.
Mineral water is discovered in the Sandrock Spring under Gore Cliff and becomes a tourist attraction, with cottages and monuments then built around it. One such monument was a Shakespeare memorial, which was moved to Haseley Manor around 1980. Remnants of the fountain are still in situ but are difficult to access.
Alexander Dabell moves to the Isle of Wight from Nottingham, where his family worked in the city's famous lace markets. His family planned to open a lace factory in Newport.
With railways making the Island more accessible, Blackgang Hotel is built. During its construction, the Clarendon is wrecked just below. The heavy loss of life attracts morbid sightseer interest but also changes local attitudes to shipwrecks, with St Catherine’s Lighthouse and a network of coastguard and lifeboat stations built in the following years.
The story of the Clarendon later appears as an exhibit in Smugglerland.
Alexander Dabell is a successful businessman with shops in Shanklin and Newport (official records say he is a hairdresser but he also sold hair products and soft furnishings according to Journey Into Imagination). Through his business ventures he meets a man called Mr Jacobs who has 'recently built a hotel at Blackgang'. Some reports say hotel had opened in 1837, others say 1836. Let's not fall out over it.
According to the Blackgang Chine website, 'Alexander studied the awe-inspiring chine gorge, and knew immediately that he could create gardens, which would appeal to the romantic Victorians!'
Alexander became the licensee for the Blackgang Hotel as licenses were only given out to established business owners.
Spotting the tourist market around the chine, Alexander Dabell leases the land.
He landscapes the naturally rough terrain with paths, steps and gardens. Journey Into Imagination says that Alexander Dabell started to 'build the pathways down to the Chine' in either 1841 or 1842.
Alexander acquires a whale which was found floating in the sea near The Needles and brought ashore in Gurnard.
The whale, sited in the Bazaar (gift shop) makes it arguably a theme park, the first in Britain, rather than just pleasure gardens. This whale can still be seen at Blackgang Chine.
The bazaar sells 'the same merchandise as his other shops, mostly homewares, soft furnishing, lace etc' according to Journey Into Imagination. As far as I'm aware, Blackgang Chine didn't sell stuffed dodos at this stage.
It's also worth mentioning that Journey Into Imagination reckons that 'the first visitors came to the Chine in 1842'. Presumably this isn't taken as the date for Blackgang Chine's anniversary as it was more of a walkway than a theme park at this stage.
So, let's take 1843 as the official date that Blackgang Chine opened.
The entrance price to the 'theme park' was 6d or 2 1/2p according to Journey Into Imagination. Entrance was free to anyone who spent 5p in the shop. By my calculation, 5p is the equivalent of about £7.50 once you apply inflation.
The breakup of the old Buddle estate leads to a property boom around Niton. Due to some slightly questionable estate agents' tactics, two large houses, Lowcliffe and Southlands, are built on the unstable Blackgang Undercliff. Thankfully, estate agents have changed markedly over the years and it is now considered to be a 100% honest profession (Ed: are you sure about this?).
Queen Victoria visits Blackgang Chine, having visited Sandrock Spring twenty years earlier. History does not record her level of amusement but one can assume she would loved the bouncy nets at Dodo Valley if she visited today.
The road to Southlands (even lower than the Chale-Niton road) falls away. The house remains accessible by foot, becoming a sanitorium at one point.
Journey Into Imagination tells the story of Alexander Dabell's attempts in the 1880s to create a shipwreck exhibition.
His first attempt to gather artifacts from locals was fruitless but he returned with an offer of 3p per item and ended up with enough for a shipwreck museum.
One of the houses on the Blackgang Undercliff - Lowcliffe - is demolished.
If you are losing interest at this point, don't worry - it gets more interesting later.
Alexander Dabell - the founder of Blackgang Chine - died. His son Walter Dabell took over.
A Baby Whale skeleton is added to Blackgang Chine after being washed up 'on the south Western shores of the Island' (Journey Into Imagination). This one is kept outside, along with the Shipwreck Collection which includes cannons, ships' bells and tillers.
Some sources say that the small whale was washed up in the late 1890s.
Alexander Dabell's son Charles starts running tours to Blackgang Chine which 'ran twice a day from Blackgang via Niton to Newport, leaving at 9.30am and being back in time for lunch' (Journey Into Imagination).
The second house in the Blackgang Undercliff - Southlands - is demolished, though the footprints of the two houses remain for some decades after.
The last set of steps that goes all the way down the chine to the beach is built and washes away two years later. It remained possible to walk most of the way down and scramble the rest if determined until about 1970 (read our blog about a trip to Blackgang Beach for a modern route to the beach).
The beach now has a reputation as an unofficial spot for those who like to achieve a full body tan. Proceed with caution.
On Blackgang Bluff, a headland directly seaward of what is now the Maze and nearly the height of Gore Cliff, a wooden observation platform, hut and set of swings are built.
Queen Mary loses her hat when it bumps into the whale's jawbone. According to the Blackgang Chine website 'Within minutes, a man appeared and sawed off the offering piece of bone and applied a plaque that is still there to this day'.
A massive (albeit expected) collapse of Gore Cliff permanently severs the Chale-Niton road, with a new road then being built inland.
The 1930s sees Blackgang Chine expand into much more of a 'theme park' under the guidance of Bruce Dabell, Alexander's grandson.
That includes the original Hall of Mirrors in 1933. According to Journey Into Imagination, the 10 original mirrors in the Hall of Mirrors came from Paris.
The next attraction is the Gnome Garden, which were initially introduced to raise money to pay for a nurse's car.
The most famous gnomes are the ones gambling with cards, which are used as an emblem of the park for many decades.
At some point, gnomes are also added to the Cascade, a mini waterfall on the east side.
Some sources say the gnomes were officially introduced in 1934. However, Helen got in touch to say that the gnomes 'were there in 1932 as I have a photo album of a visit to the Isle of Wight from that year. They were captioned in this album as "The Gamblers' Den"'.
Blackgang Chine introduces its evening Illuminations, which are strings of coloured lights which are powered by generators. The illuminations were initially on show for four weeks in August.
Some sources say they were introduced in 1936, others say 1937.
Blackgang Chine is closed from 1939 until 1947 due to the Second World War.
According to Journey Into Imagination, Blackgang Chine was 'used as a training ground for Marine Commandoes'.
In 1947, Dick Dabell became the latest Dabell to help run the park.
Blackgang Bluff has gone by this point. Expanding beyond gnomes, the Model Village is added above the Cascade. It is a collection of famous Island buildings rather than a village as such.
Journey Into Imagination records that a stuffed baby elephant was delivered to Blackgang Chine at some point in the 1950s so that people could have their photos taken with it.
The Dabells go heavily into the smugglers theme, adding the first Smuggler’s Cave in 1954, near where the old Niton road turns off from the new. This is a primitive version of the walkthrough animatronic displays that will become common later. The story of the Clarendon wreck in 1836 is told in this area.
Comedy stocks are added and stay at the park for many years.
There is a short video of Blackgang Chine in 1955 as part of an amateur video on the BFI website. Skip forward to 40 seconds (although the whole video is of interest to Isle of Wight fans).
The first iteration of the Museum appears, along with some smuggler figures around the entrance area.
Journey Into Imagination records that in the late 1950s or perhaps early 1960s, Dick Dabell went to the USA to see two theme parks - Knotts Berry Farm and an early Disney theme park. He 'used the idea of tableaux at Blackgang Chine to introduce unique themed areas'.
Expansion on the east side continues, with the Water Gardens added near the Model Village from 1961-1962. According to Journey Into Imagination, 400 tons of earth were evacuated and 10,000 bricks were used. In the end 25,000 gallons of water circulated per minute. They were illuminated at night with underwater lighting.
The gardens tradition has been continued at sister-park Robin Hill, which has impressive Japanese themed gardens.
The expansion of Blackgang Chine continues with the planting of the Maze on the bowling/putting green of the Blackgang Hotel. It is extended a few years later. A couple of sources say that 5000 bushes were used to make the maze. Journey Into Imagination reports that Blackgang Chine held maze races.
A new entrance building is constructed beside the old ticket office in 1963. It has round towers with porthole windows, making it distinctive in photos.
The Crooked House is added near the Smuggler’s Cave, followed soon after by the Chimney Pot Walk near the Water Gardens and Aviaries (birds in cages) at the inland end.
There is a first version of the Fairy Castle at the Chale end of the park at some point in the 1960s. It is a bit smaller and flimsier than later versions. There's also an Observation Tower (which is now at Robin Hill) and an illuminated Blackgang sign. The large car park also appears in the 1960s.
From 1970 onwards, Dick Dabell ramps up the themed “lands” which he had seen on his trip to the USA (mentioned earlier).
These expand round the corner onto the large sweep of Undercliff near Gore Cliff – presumably this land was bought up, as Alexander Dabells’s original lease was for how far he could throw a stone from the chine.
Around 1970, most of Edwardian Blackgang Chine goes: the remaining path down the chine falls away, the Shipwreck Collection is removed and the baby whale disintegrates (some sources say this happened in the 1960s).
Adventureland appears in 1970, right at the Chale end and includes the Crooked House, a playground and some military vehicles, with some film prop vehicles added later. The first Adventureland was open from 1970-1986 and the second one was open from 1986-1994.
The remnants of it survive to the present day including the ruins of Mission Control, the footprints of the Crooked House, bits of the playground, and bits of the first Smuggler’s Cave entrance. The playground’s Wicksteed roundabout survived until it was removed in 2018.
From the second Adventureland, the Stardust space shuttle and the missile survived until 2010. The shuttle was a prop in the 1979 film Unidentified Flying Oddballs - also known as The Spaceman and King Arthur. I believe the shuttle was added in 1980.
Journey Into Imagination records Adventureland as 'play equipment...disused military vehicles...old cranes, steam rollers...a Ruston Bucyris digger (and a) Bristol Bloodhound MkII Rocket' as well as 'a helter skelter slide, swings and a roundabout'. The same source says that Dick Dabell's relationship with Pinewood Studios meant that he was able to buy a mock-up submarine called Neptune from the Bond film For Your Eyes Only.
Sandrock Spring and its surrounding grotto/chapel are lost to landslides in 1971.
For those who nodded off early in this guide, this was a natural mineral water spring which was discovered in the early 19th century.
Dinosaurland arrives in 1972 and can be found south from the Maze. It features fibreglass dinosaurs plus the Mouth of Hell and was initially called the Dinosaur Park. Child one has reminded me that a sign in Restricted Area 5 says that some of the original dinosaurs are brought by helicopter, which was shown on Blue Peter.
This area was redeveloped with animatronic dinosaurs to make Restricted Area 5 in 2014, with a few originals retained. An earlier animatronic version was the Triassic Club (1994), placed near the Rumpus Mansion and replaced by the re-sited Mouth of Hell in 2016.
The second Fairy Castle is built in 1972. It later becomes part of Nurseryland and was apparently based on a castle in Austria.
Nurseryland arrives in 1974 and can be found north from the maze in what had previously been a fern glen. It features various fibreglass figures and buildings, including Humpty Dumpty, the Woman Who Lived in the Shoe, the House that Jack Built and the Wishing Well.
This area is referred to as Nursery Rhyme Land in some sources. Journey Into Imagination says that Hickory Dickory Dock's clock used to have live mice rather than models. I am unsure if this was a design decision or due to pest control issues...
Nurseryland also includes Jonah’s Whale, which for some time contains an aquarium. Some guides refer to this as Moby Dick's Revenge. It is later moved to a different location in the park, near to the former Cliffhanger site. Journey Into Imagination says that it arrives in March 1974 and that the Blackgang Chine management arranged for the whale to be moved from its London design studio to the Blue Peter studios. It is then dismantled and moved to the Isle of Wight.
Nurseryland survives, though with some models gone (Little Miss Muffet), moved (Jonah’s Whale) or fenced off (the Wishing Well). The Water Gardens went in 2016-17, leaving this, the Maze and the Chimney Pot Walk as the sole remaining section of 1970s' Blackgang Chine. The other historical attractions – the Mirrors, the Whale Skeleton and Museum – are now grouped with Jonah’s Whale north of the entrance.
Frontierland is built in 1976, initially under the name of Buffalo Creek. It can be found low down on the Undercliff on the Southland estate.
This is the cowboy area, made by Pinewood Studios, along with the Trappers’ Cabin, Indian Camp and Totem Pole and the Trading Post café. Other features include a locomotive (also made by Pinewood Studios), a gold mine and a stage coach with horses. The locomotive was added in 1987.
Journey Into Imagination says that the area came about because the Dabell family, 'having grown up up at Blackgang used to run around the area playing Cowboys and Indians'.
A fort was built near Buffalo Creek in 1985 (more on that later).
Frontierland closed in 1994, though its biggest section was moved inland and eventually became the modern Cowboy Town. The Indian Camp moved too, though is outside the boundary fence and barely visible. The Trappers’ Cabin survived in its original position until a few years ago, while the Trading Post is still there.
Smugglerland appears in 1978, featuring the Smuggler’s Cave, the Pirate Ship and the Smugglers’ Rest Inn, with various connecting walkways. Smugglerland moved to the second Adventureland site in 1994 and was then redeveloped as the Pirate Cove in 2012.
Elements like the Smugglers’ Rest have gone but others have been added, including: a second ship and the ability to have water fights between them; an optical illusion corridor that was originally called The Sailor’s Return (2011) and is now The Vortex and a shooting gallery, which replaced the short-lived Magical Music Factory (2007 or perhaps earlier). The Smuggler’s Cave was turned into part of the Underwater Kingdom in 2017.
In 1978, a major landslide destroys Sandrock Spring Cottage, the largest remaining house beyond Blackgang Chine, along with a further section of the old road and some buildings that had been a naturist camp.
Jungleland opened in 1979 although work started in 1978. It was created by extending the expansion at the Gore Cliff end and featured fibreglass animals and cavemen with piped noises.
Marcus suggests that this was 'always a bit crummy compared with the rest' but bear in mind that this based on his memories from 30 years ago. Highlights included a full size elephant and crocodile as well as Tarzan swinging through the trees.
Jungleland survived the 1994 landslide more or less intact. It was finally removed in 2008 and many of the models were transferred to Robin Hill as part of its African Village adventure playground. Jungleland was replaced by the Butterfly Walk (closed 2017) and the Giant Bug Walk.
At some point in the late 1970s, the Crackerjack Amusement Arcade is installed at the front of the Blackgang Hotel building. It includes pinball and shoot-em-up machines. For a short period, coloured tubes are placed in the Water Gardens.
As mentioned earlier, the Stardust space shuttle features in a film in 1979 called either Unidentified Flying Oddballs or The Spaceman and King Arthur depending on which source you read.
Mission Control is added to Adventureland, being a small concrete building with mannequins in spacesuits and various controls to press/pull. Journey Into Imagination says it was described as 'an exciting visual representation of a space vehicle's ground control centre complete with the space shuttle ready for take off outside'.
Marcus says that no good photo of the interior has ever come to light, making it the Holy Grail of Blackgang Chine nostalgia. It features the Stardust spaceship outside.
Journey Into Imagination records that the Ship Ashore Inn opens in 1980, which was the stables and taproom for the original Blackgang Hotel.
Smugglerland is revamped with the addition of an animatronic display about the Clarendon shipwreck.
The Sawmill opens on the north side of the road, in premises that are purpose-built but in the style of the much older buildings around. Journey Into Imagination says that it was 'constructed from a house called Crohana, which was originally a 17th century barn'.
It summarises the attraction as 'a mill owner's kitchen and a bedroom...a working water wheel and...the story of timber including...a wheelwright, fence maker, cooper and others'. The water wheel could be seen on the outside of the building in 2023, although it no longer moves.
St Catherine’s Quay is added alongside The Sawmill in 1984, with the whale skeleton moved there from the Bazaar. The two together can be bought as a separate (rather cheaper) ticket from Blackgang Chine, or as a combined ticket.
It features an Isle of Wight Ferry Museum, according to Journey Into Imagination and includes the engine of the Compton Castle paddle steamer. The exhibition also includes 'smuggling artefacts and displays about the RNLI'. A lifeboat called The Friendly Forester appears outside. It dates from 1953.
The grassy area round the back is turned into a Mill Pond Garden, including a Romany Caravan that started in Nurseryland and eventually ends up in Robin Hill.
Contemporary reports suggest the Dabells have long-term plans to move everything several hundred metres inland, given the whole site is predicted to have gone by 2010. Just at this time, the section of cliff between the Gnome Garden and Adventureland starts eroding rapidly.
Adventureland and Smugglerland are relocated to the Gore Cliff end. Adventureland is placed at the top, in a field that had previously been used as an overflow car park. Mission Control closes at the end of 1984 and cannot be moved, so is left derelict, though it is re-created as the not dissimilar Lunar Base.
The Fort Buffalo adventure playground is added to Frontierland, at the far limit of the Undercliff. Blackgang Chine reaches its greatest geographical extent.
In a Treasure Hunt episode, broadcast live in March 1985, Anneka Rice’s helicopter lands in a field at Blackgang Chine.
Earlier in the same episode she also visits Robin Hill, which at the time isn't owned by the Dabell family.
The video below is the Blackgang Chine section, which ends in a thrilling crescendo as Anneka Rice races around the maze looking for a gnome. My favourite moment is when she screams "It's a dead end!"
Planning permission is given in 1985 for a new entrance and giant smuggler. According to Journey Into Imagination, Blackgang Chine didn't add any new attractions for three years whilst they focused on relocating things due to erosion.
The Crooked House is moved for the 1986 season. The Hall of Mirrors is relocated from being in a shed just west of the entrance building to the Blackgang Hotel area.
In June, a new entry road with mini roundabout is built higher up from the previous entry along the old Chale-Niton road, which becomes pedestrian-only.
Marcus reckons August 1986 is the first time he visited Blackgang Chine. This is of no interest to anyone apart from him, but he insists that I include it.
He recalls that the old entrance was still just in use with the Gnome Garden clinging on but largely gated off, as its paths went straight over the cliff. He also reckons he visited the original Smuggler’s Cave and tried the slide in the original Adventureland. The Model Village was still largely intact, albeit very near the edge.
He also goes into ridiculous detail about walking around the path (I told you he had a better memory than me):
"It isn’t easy to reconstruct how the entrance worked at this point. I think you headed down from the car park as you would now, but instead of going in you bore right, where a sloping path took you down the back of Nurseryland, with Humpty’s head just visible. It curved round to a grassy area with the entrance through revolving doors ahead and toilets under wooden arches (which ring a faint bell with me) to the left. You then went through the Bazaar and down steps, coming out above the Gnome Garden."
A new entrance is built just left of the Blackgang Hotel, along with the iconic Giant Smuggler. The official opening in held in April 1987. Simon Dabell reveals that about 100 foot/30 metres of cliff has been lost in 2-3 years (according to Journey Into Imagination).
The Hotel itself, much altered over the years, has become the main café. The Locomotive is added to Buffalo Creek.
The Gnome Garden has already largely gone, and the gnomes are relocated to near the new entrance. The very top notch of the chine ravine is still there – Marcus remembers seeing this and looking for it on later visits without success.
The Orbiter V ride is added to Adventureland, being the park’s first real ride. Some say it only lasted a couple of seasons but it appears on a 1992 map.
Journey Into Imagination says the reason for its closure was 'new regulations and the costs associated with keeping it running'. It says that it 'showed a film of flying over the Isle of Wight, before shooting up into space and engaging in a battle with alien space craft'. Souvenir passports could be bought. It was constructed under the name of either Astro Glider or Astro Liner before Blackgang Chine rebranded it.
A landslip in May 1989 forces the closure of the Model Village and the Fairy Castle (although the former wasn't removed completely until 1994).
Journey Into Imagination says 'a 40 foot stretch of cliff had dropped about eight foot back and large cracks had appeared in the ground'
The Aviaries and the Crackerjack Arcade are removed in the late 1980s as well. The Weather Wizard is added, extending further round the cliff from Jungleland. The Weather Wizard has a long stay at the park before being removed in 2016.
The Fairy Castle is moved to the east end, near the last remaining houses under Gore Cliff. The Snakes and Ladders attraction is installed on the steep section of land above Fort Buffalo, where the zigzagging path was marked on maps as “Burma Road”.
Marcus recalls that fun as they were, they did tend to become rather hot in the sun in their original location.
Around this time, talking rubbish bins are added to Frontierland. Marcus describes these as the "annoyingly loud and repetitive character rubbish bins" but I love them and think he needs to lighten up.
At some point around 1990, the Crooked House is closed off for a period but it later re-opens.
In the early 1990s, a number of characters are created and used at events (and in an official 1993 video which can sometimes be found on Youtube). These include Bron Brontosaurus (created by David Bellamy according to Journey Into Imagination), Bodger the Badger and Connie the Fox. Bodger was a smuggler whilst Connie was a customs officer. Both appeared in a show in the early 2000s which was apparently written by then-park manager Simon Dabell.
Fantasyland is created. This is similar to Nurseryland but more animated, and groups the Fairy Castle, Snakes and Ladders and the Weather Wizard with some additions like the Dragon and the Liquorice Factory. Supposedly, for its first season the Factory actually smelled of liquorice, but this feature didn’t last.
Journey Into Imagination suggests that the talking parrot was also added at this point and says that Mad Hatters Tea Parties were held with various characters from Alice in Wonderland. I have a feeling that the parrot flew into place later but I'm not 100% sure.
The Musical Pet Shop opens. Marcus describes this as the 'least irritating attraction in the history of theme parks'. I do wonder if he's being sarcastic but I like it either way.
A shop opens up alongside the pet shop.
For the 150th anniversary, Rumpus Mansion is opened in what was Five Rocks, an old house by Gore Cliff, which was the home of some of the Dabells. Rumpus Mansion is still going, though a Clock Tower that was added outside in 1994 only lasted until 2005. Journey Into Imagination says that the clock tower cost £30,000.
150 helium balloons are released by local schoolchildren to mark the park's anniversary, along with a Pirate Fiesta and a superhero competition (according to Journey Into Imagination). The superhero competition was themed around the rescue of the crew of a ship called the St Mary.
The Dabells change their organisation from a family business (a general partnership) to a limited company called Vectis Ventures. The company is incorporated on 18th February 1993. I'm not sure that detail is particularly relevant or interesting but I made the effort to look it up. The company is briefly known as RP 146 Limited for some reason!
At around this point in our timeline, Marcus' interest wanes significantly. He stopped visiting Blackgang Chine in around 1993, as he was a bit older and started wasting his time on Warhammer and learning the clarinet.
In January, a massive landslide destroys the classic layout of Blackgang Chine, rendering nearly all the big sweep of Undercliff unusable and taking out the rest of the old road, along with houses that the Dabells were living in. Fort Buffalo literally went over the cliff.
The landslide led to the closure of Buffalo Creek and part of Smugglerland. Over the following couple of seasons, most of the attractions are re-sited inland.
They later mark the landslide with the still extant Disappearing Village exhibition.
Marcus and I have had many arguments about to what extent the park shrank at this point. He reckons that it became 'much more crammed together', whilst I have suggested that he is just a lot bigger than he was in 1994. Maps suggest that he is accurate in saying that the site used to cover a much larger area before 1994.
The Triassic Club opens, with its dining dinosaurs. It is built on the site of a former swimming pool. The Fairy Castle and some surrounding bits were moved again in 1994 and still survive as the smaller Fairyland.
The Dabells acquire Robin Hill. Journey Into Imagination records it as being 1993 as part of the change to a limited company, but I'm not 100% sure.
Snakes and Ladders is moved to its new location due to the landslide of 1994.
Buffalo Creek returns as what is now called Cowboy Town.
According to Journey Into Imagination many of the old buildings were saved and some new ones were added including a funeral parlour, a mine and the La Cantina café. New comedy headstones were added along with an Indian camp and gold panning.
Fort Tortuga opens in the area which later became The Wight Experience. I don't remember this fort but the skull from the entrance has been relocated to the Crossbones play area, which is near to Dodo Valley.
Journey Into Imagination says that the play area costs £70,000 and that it includes 'rope walks, a tunnel crawl, helter skelter and a rope slide' as well as a treasure hunt. The entrance is marked by Long John Silver.
Pirate party nights are held at the park with characters including Mick da Silver, Horatio Kneeldown and Kristina Swashbuckle (according to Journey Into Imagination).
Water Force opens with riders choosing one of three slides inside a small boat. There are two identical open slides as well as a covered slide called the Plughole. Journey Into Imagination says it cost £30,000 to build. It was opened by a Spice Girls tribute act called the Spicey Girls, for some reason.
My interest picks up significantly from this point onwards. I started working at Robin Hill in 2002, so kept a distant interest in Blackgang Chine and became a regular visitor again when my children arrived.
The arrival of Water Force begins an era of Blackgang Chine gradually adding more rides.
Plans began for a new rollercoaster called the Tornado.
Journey Into Imagination gives a good chunk of detail about this rollercoaster, which was 200 metres long and had a 9 metre drop.
A launch party with 160 guests was planned to 'celebrate the 160 year anniversary of the park' but it failed health and safety checks and had to be postponed.
I was working at Robin Hill during this time and remember hearing the ongoing saga of the new ride. I was told a story of a crash test dummy being placed onto the ride and returning without any arms, but that may have been hyperbole from a colleague...
The Dabells apparently 'launched a £1m legal claim' against the rollercoaster builders - I haven't found out how that ended!
The Cliffhanger Rollercoaster opens instead of Tornado. Journey Into Imagination puts the price at £590,000 which is about a million pounds in today's money.
Blackgang Chine hosts the British Junior Conker Championships. I still feel this would have been better if it had been held onboard the rollercoaster.
The Pirate Barrels arrive, near to the Cliffhanger site. My stomach can just about cope with these.
The Magical Music Factory opens, possibly!
Kay got in touch via Facebook to say that "I have a feeling it was earlier; or at least it had a very similar precursor. I remember going there in 2003 and there was something similar but I think it was reworked as the videos on YouTube sound different."
This matches with my (very vague) memory of a magical music factory around 2003 or 2004.
It isn't there anymore, although I'm not sure exactly when it was removed.
Fort Tortuga disappears in 2007 but a similar attraction opens called the Crossbones play area (the one with the black pipes and the crossbones at the entrance).
Jungleland is finally removed. Some of the animals can now be seen at Robin Hill's African Village playground.
The giant bug walk opens, including talking gnomes, which you can sit next to on a bench.
In the same year, The Wight Experience opens with aerial footage of the Isle of Wight coastline. Nowadays of course, every man and his dog offers drone footage of the Isle of Wight.
The current whale museum opened as an exhibition showing off the original skeleton, which started the whole theme park.
The Disappearing Village exhibition also appears, explaining how 'almost 3/4 of a mile of coastline has fallen into the sea' over 150 years (Journey Into Imagination)
A spinning tunnel called The Vortex opened. The Vortex may win the prize for the most-regularly renamed attraction at Blackgang Chine. It seems to have also been called The Sailor's Return and The Cask and Weevil.
Fairyland moves again. It is now based near to Rumpus Mansion and includes small mushroom houses to play in.
Pirate Cove opens, with two pirate ships side by side. These offer a similar attraction to the original Jolly Smuggler but with the added opportunity to fire water cannons at strangers. Pirate Jubilee parties are held to mark the Queen's Jubilee.
Valley of the Dodos opens. I wasn't a big fan at first, but I now enjoy the continuous squawking of "Do! Do! Do! Do!" followed by "Do, Do, Do, Do, Stayin' Alive!"
It was around this time that two puppet dinosaurs called Shadow and Sheila first appeared. This was a tie-in with a not-particularly successful 2013 3D film called Walking With Dinosaurs. Augmented reality rocks were placed around the Isle of Wight so you could take photos of dinosaurs in locations where they once lived.
The dinosaurs come alive with the opening of Restricted Area 5. Highlights include a Pterodactyl that sprays you with water. Journey Into Imagination says it was 2013 but the Blackgang Chine website says 2014.
Several of the original fibreglass dinosaurs are still in place and this remains one of my favourite parts of Blackgang Chine.
Halloween events are held to make the most of the park's floodlights and new dinosaurs.
More dinosaurs are added to Restricted Area 5, including a family of triceratops.
Cowboy Town is given a revamp and the Indian camp is moved. The bank is added to Cowboy Town along with a chapel.
The Mouth of Hell reappears in a new location. It has been repainted and tidied up somewhat. It replaces the Triassic Club's dining dinosaurs, which has reappeared as a pop up attraction.
Another old favourite - The Hall of Mirrors - re-opens in a new location, near to the former Cliffhanger site. Meanwhile, the Blackgang Sawmill and St Catherine's Quay both close.
The Underwater Kingdom opens on the former site of Fantasyland and the Smugglers Cave. This means the end of the Weather Wizard and Liquorice Factory. Part of the Underwater Kingdom incorporates a small part of the old roadway to Niton.
The highlight of the Underwater Kingdom is the giant whale at the end, which makes whale noises and moves slowly. On our last visit it had stopped moving but perhaps it was having a day off.
According to Wikipedia, the last section of the water gardens were removed in 2017. However, there are still a couple of fountains and ponds near to Nurseryland. When we visited in 2023, the fountain was firing at a peculiar angle and drenching everyone who walked past.
Blackgang Chine celebrates its 175th birthday.
Further dodos are added to Valley of the Dodos, along with some bouncy nets to make a circular route.
Terror Island launches at Blackgang Chine, aimed at a much older audience. Visitors are treated to a series of terrifying mazes. It is described as 'the South Coast’s largest multi-award winning scare attraction'.
Two new rides appear called Evolution and Shipwrecked. Shipwrecked breaks down in August 2022 with passengers onboard and is later repaired.
Cliffhanger rollercoaster is retired and moves to Dreamland Amusement Park in Margate under a new name - Rock 'n Roller.
The Crooked House is revamped with the, er, charming mannequins being replaced by cartoonish characters.
A new ride - extinction - opens towards the front of the park. The ride is a pendulum and gives riders the choice of joining one of two queues. You can either go over the top or just go up to 135 degrees. Read about our visit in 2023.
An extended events area and a Dino Enclosure appears behind the modern Hall of Mirrors building. This is used for dinosaur themed shows in 2023. Several retired dinosaurs make a reappearance in a walkway which leads to this events area.
The park celebrates its 180th anniversary.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog