Alton Towers History
Alton Towers is a theme park situated in Staffordshire, UK. The resort is operated by Merlin Entertainments, The second largest entertainments company in the world. Home to 36 attractions, the park is split up into 9 lands including CBeebies land, the only CBeebies themed area in the world. The resort also includes an indoor waterpark, Tree-top trail, Mini golf course, Spa, Holiday lodges and three hotels. The park is located in the grounds of the Alton estate, and the crumbling ruins of the towers remain today. The park is well known for its excellent collection of 'world first' Roller coasters and thrill rides, in particular, Nemesis, a B&M inverted coaster that is still ranked as one of the best steel coasters in the world. However, what we see today hasn't always been like this, and the parks history goes back a long way...
The first record of an amusement park on this site was in 1924 when a group of local businessmen formed Alton Towers Ltd and opened the house and gardens to the public as a tourist attraction. In 1950 the first rides were introduced to the park: A fairground, Boating Lake and Chairlift. In 1973, The estate changed ownership and was took over by John Broome. He developed the park further, adding permanent attractions including several Roller coasters and flat rides. Some of the attractions were the Flume, Pirate Ship and the iconic Corkscrew, Europe's first double inverting coaster. After managing the park for several years, Broome left to focus on opening another amusement park near the Battersea Power Station, Allowing the Tussauds group to purchase the park in 1990.
They developed the park into what we see today and bought in Theme parks and Amusement parks developer John Wardley to design some of the best and influential coasters in the world. One of his first important creations was the Haunted House in 1992, which at the time was the largest dark ride in Europe. It was incredibly advanced with high tech animatronics and scenes decorating the attraction. However, in 1993 they decided that they needed something bigger and more thrilling. Something like a Rollercoaster! This lead to the fascinating tale of how the famous Secret Weapon program was formed.
The Secret Weapon program all started when the park set out to create a new Rollercoaster on the site of the old Thunder Looper. John Wardley, The lead designer had recently designed Vampire, a suspended coaster manufactured by Arrow Dynamics at Chessington World of Adventures. Pleased with the outcome, he contacted Arrow Dynamics in the hoping to get a coaster for Alton Towers. They replied, and sent pictures of a new prototype: The "Pipeline" coaster. Wardley was intrigued with the shape of the cars used, which looked like bullets. He immediately started brainstorming a Rollercoaster themed around a sinister military project. He labelled it Secret Weapon 1. A few months later, John travelled out to the United States to ride the "Pipeline" coaster, He wasn't pleased with how it rode, saying it was "rough, boring and lost speed quickly". So he went back to the drawing board and continued to create new designs. Not long after, he heard from a fellow enthusiasts that a new Rollercoaster from Swiss manufacturer Bolliger and Mabillard was being constructed. He got in touch with the construction firm and soon learned that they were, in fact, making an "Inverted" Rollercoaster. It was similar to the Vampire in that the cars hung below the track, yet it could complete inversions. He immediately loved it and began designing a new concept, still with the theme of a secret weapon. He labelled his new idea Secret Weapon 2. In the end, he decided he didn't like the secret weapon theme, and moved to the ride we see today: Nemesis, he labelled this concept SW3, and the rest is history.
Nemesis was an immediate success and remains an excellent coaster to this day. It is praised for its creative design, incredible forces, inversions, fantastic theming and unique layout. It was the first "Inverted" coaster in Europe and remains one of the best. 1998 saw the addition of Oblivion, the world's first dive coaster. Again this was massively successful and many installations of the "Dive coaster" model have been bought since. The next Secret Weapon was Air - now Galactica. Air was revolutionary in the fact that nothing like it had been done before. Not once on this Earth had anyone ridden a rollercoaster where you weren't sitting, standing or dangling: you were flying and it leads to the formation of many excellent flying coasters that preceded.
For a short period of time, the park was owned by Dubai International Capital (DIC), when the Tussauds group was sold off. During this period, two coasters were installed - Rita and Spinball Whizzer. Not much was added in this era for the park, but that cannot be said for the years that followed.
In 2007, Merlin Entertainments bought the Tussauds group for over £1billion, taking control of the towers. Under their ownership, Alton Towers has seen some massive transformations including the arrival of 3 new Roller coasters.
The first, Thirteen was a family coaster and the first to utilize a vertical free fall drop section. Using magnetic braking, John Wardley and Intamin achieved the task of creating a segment of track that would drop 5 metres in complete darkness.
Next was the Smiler, the worlds first coaster to feature 14 inversions. When this attraction opened in 2013 it broke the record for most inversions on a coaster and still holds it. Manufactured by Gerstlauer, it was the first "Infinity" coaster by the Manufacturer, Similar the "Eurofighter to a concept but capable of navigating any known inversion. It was very well received, with both the media and the public praising it for its creativity and thrills.
The final and latest coaster is arriving in 2018, and is currently codenamed SW8, It will sit on the site of the old flume ride rumored to be part of the gloomy wood section of the park. The ride will feature lots of theming, and a large structure that the coaster will pass through several times. The first drop will be inside a tunnel due to sound restrictions and the highest point will not pass the tree line. While the attraction will be aimed at families, the layout will feature several banked turns, drops and airtime hills.
We now know that SW8 is going to be called Wickerman which is being marketed as the worlds first fusing wood and fire together where riders will pass through a 58ft burning Wickerman, Click the logo below for more details
Wickerman in my eyes was the ride that saved Alton Towers and started to drive visitors to the park again and you can see that in the vistors numbers. taking the park from 1,9 million visitors to 2,1 million +10.5%
The history of Alton Towers is an interesting one, and we all look forward to what will happen in the future. But what will happen? What new thrilling Rollercoasters are yet to arrive at the resort? Only time will tell..
SW5 Air /Galactica
SW7 The Smiler
SW8 Wicker Man
A short history of Alton Towers written by Finlay Cooper