A – Z OF THE UNITED KINGDOM
K is for Kursaal
The World’s First Theme Park
Today we travel to Southend-on-Sea, Essex
The Kursaal opened in 1901 and was the world's first ever theme park, pre-dating Coney Island in America. It was designed by the architect Campbell Sherrin, the Kursaal building and its Dome was the cutting edge of architectural design at the time.
The building is now Grade II Listed and has been featured on a Royal Mail special edition stamp.
View of the front of the Kursaal
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Interior look of the Kursaal dome
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
The word Kursaal is German, meaning a "Cure Hall" or spa, and it seems to have been adapted to mean a place of healthy amusement.
The Kursaal had a circus, a ballroom, an arcade with amusements, a dining hall and billiard hall. It also had the world’s first Lady Lion Tamer, the first Lady Wall of Death Rider and the first venue in England to display Al Capone’s personal car from Chicago and it also had Eric, the 60 ton stuffed whale.
The 26 acre site grew rapidly with attractions, shows and amusements and in 1920’s and 1930’s it was known at the fairground of the East End of London and was a popular day trip for London workers being near enough for workers to enjoy a rare day out being just over 42 miles away.
Approximately 42 miles / 67 kilometres
About an hour and a half’s drive today
“By The Dome it’s Known” and “One Bright Spot” became popular catchphrases for the Kursaal in its heyday.
Famous for its shows, attractions and amusements it had the ‘heaviest man’ (Dick Harrow), the ‘fasting man’ (Sacco) with a variety of other entertainments. The 26 acre site included all the most modern rides as they were developed; They Cyclone, Water Chute, Caterpillar Ride and the Wall of Death with the famous “Tornado” Smith all helped to enhance its reputation as a house of fun.
1921 saw the introduction of One of the most famous of all the attractions in the Kursaal was the Water Chute, having been brought directly from Earls Court. It was one of the few rides in the grounds for which there was always a queue
The Water Chute
Stratosphere Rocket ride. This photograph is dated 1945
The Mont Blanc ride was introduced in the 1930s by the Lecorgne family.
The Kursaal was at its peak at the advent of World War II but was closed from June 1940. The water chute basin was prepared as a reserve water supply for the Fire Brigade and the old cinema building was converted in to a factory for the manufacture of waterproof clothing for the troops (Swallow Raincoat Factory) and the Ballroom appears to have been used as a storeroom for the NAAFI for the South East of England.
Barbara, you’ve got to come down
By the Dome it’s known
We’ll travel to the seaside
And go on the rides
We’ll have fun
In the sun
We’ll shriek and scream
And eat cones of ice cream
We’ll go on the Stratosphere
Strapped in with fear
Julie, we might get a suntan
There might be a cameraman
Taking our pictures to preserve in history
It’s so good to be out of town and free
We’ll let our hair down and have some thrills
Just like going to the vaudeville
We’ll be tired out and exhausted on the train
Next year we will come again
To Southend on Sea
And the Kursaal By the Dome it’s Known
1938 photo by Kurt Hutton