A short history of Blackgang Chine
When Alexander Dabell acquired Blackgang Chine in 1842 it was a unique and picturesque chine leading down to the beach, and he knew that Victorians would love to visit this atmospheric coastal location. Amazingly, the amount to which his land extended was decided upon his ability to throw a stone, with the agreed the point at which it landed becoming the furthest reach of the lease.
The sides of the chine were predominantly black, due to mineral deposits of iron in the soil, and this is what is thought to have led to the name Blackgang – with ‘gang’ probably meaning pathway. Alexander had walkways built down through the rough terrain of the ravine, and beautiful gardens landscaped on top of the cliffs, with steps constructed to the beach from the lower road.
With an eye for the unique attraction, Alexander then purchased at auction the carcass of a fin whale that had been stranded off of the Needles. He sold off its blubber, had the bones bleached and brought it down the coast to Blackgang where he displayed the skeleton to the morbid curiosity of paying visitors.
Although the pathways to the sea have long since washed away, the skeleton still exists in the park today as the oldest attraction. And, since everyone loves a romantic swashbuckling story, and gangs of smugglers did operate in this area (who might have been called the ‘black gang’), this became the predominant theme of the park. A gigantic statue of a smuggler now greets visitors at the entrance, between whose legs you pass to enter the park.
The absurd and amazing became another thread for the park, along with pirates and smuggling, of course. One of the next attractions was a Hall of Mirrors, originally imported from Paris, which also still exists to this day.
In the 1960s came a large hedge maze, and the well-loved ‘Crooked House’, in which the floor is tilted in different directions, and things within are very strange. The ‘Mouth of Hell’ is still a favourite for younger children who can clamber inside its cavernous red interior and ‘Moby Dick’s Revenge’ (originally Jonah’s Whale), can be entered at the risk of being doused by jets of water.
The 1970s heralded the popular ‘Buffalo Canyon’, which is now remodelled as ‘Cowboy Town’ and also ‘Nursery Land’, a wooded trail featuring scenes depicting characters of various nursery rhymes, many of which are animated. This was also the decade that heralded ‘Dinosaurland’ – an outdoor trail featuring life size fibreglass dinosaurs, the arrival of which by helicopter was covered by the hugely popular children’s TV show Blue Peter. This area was upgraded with new animatronic dinosaur figures to become ‘Restricted Area 5’ in 2014.
The 1990s saw the arrival of scary ‘Rumpus Mansion’, with its animatronic monsters and characters inhabiting a haunted manor. ‘Snakes and Ladders’ was also added: a hillside re-imagining of the board game, with steps leading up to large slides at different levels. And the first of the park’s ‘rides’ opened: ‘Water Force’ has a 100 ft-long water slide with three chutes, which visitors descend in small boats. Two of the chutes are open and referred to as ‘Overflow 1’ and ‘Overflow 2’. The third is enclosed and known as the ‘Plughole’.
Since the turn of the 21st century the park has added the ‘Giant Bug Walk’ and ‘BBC Coast’, an exhibition based on the popular BBC 2 TV series, looking at the Isle of Wight coastline, which also features that original fin whale skeleton from 1842.
You can race your family and friends down the thrill seeking Water Force
‘Cliffhanger’ arrived in 2005, thrilling visitors with its roller coaster perched 400 feet above the sea near to the cliff’s edge. The coaster reaches heights of 11 metres before dropping in curves and twists at about 35 kilometres per hour. In 2006, ‘Pirate Teacups’, a themed version of the traditional fairground teacups joined the rides.
‘Fairyland’, a fairy village including the Fairy Castle, with scenes depicting the story of Sleeping Beauty, was re-sited to its current location in 2011, and ‘The Vortex’, a walkthrough ‘trommel’ tunnel which rotates at high speed arrived the same year. The attraction was originally called ‘The Sailor’s Return’, and later ‘The Cask and Weevil’, before being renamed again in 2018.
‘Pirate Cove’ appeared in 2012, a themed area featuring a pirate play ship, The Flying Raven, and a French Frigate, L’Mistral, both of which has water cannons that can be aimed at the opposing ship. The cove also has a ‘Crossbones’ play area with climbing nets, rope bridges and slides.
‘The Valley of the Dodos’ came to life in 2013 – a wooden outdoor trail featuring animated Dodo figures that squawk at passers-by. Apparently, the Dodos hatched from eggs left behind by a pirate fleet and uncovered in the park many years later.
‘The Underwater Kingdom’ arrived in 2014, an expansive themed outdoor walkthrough styled as an ‘underwater’ experience. Within this area you can discover a magical underwater cave, vibrant luminescent coral reef, an abandoned sunken shipwreck and colourful larger than life animatronic sea creatures as you venture into the deep
‘Restricted Area 5’ was also launched in 2014, an upgrade on the former ‘Dinosaurland’. This themed, landscaped trail has animatronic dinosaurs that move and roar when approached. It also features some of the original fibreglass dinosaurs for children to climb on.
This is by no means a comprehensive history of the park, as attractions have come and gone, sometimes due to fashion, and partly because of the area’s propensity to fall into the sea. The original road had to be re-sited in the 1980s after a landslide, and different aspects of the park have had to move location from time to time.
But this doesn’t alter the fact that Blackgang Chine is the oldest theme park in the country and one of the best-loved, with former children returning with their own children, and later with their grandchildren.