Location of Crystal Palace in 1913 (1)
and The Town Gate (2)
Images and information supplied by David Wilcox.
David ran a cafe outside the main gate, now an Indian Restaurant.
It is people with the vision to take these images in the past, that are saving
them for the future.
The railway vastly increased the number of
visitors to the clean airs of Sutton Park and Job Cole ( born in Somerset
in 1819 ) saw an opportunity to improve their visit and his earnings
simultaneously. In 1868 he converted his market garden site at Wyndley
into a pleasure ground and built a Crystal Palace; an imitation of the
famous Great Exhibition of London building.( The site is now occupied by
the Clifton Road Youth Centre). The attractions of his site included a
hotel, stabling for 30 horses, accommodation for parties of up to 2000
people, 30 acres of grassland, steam and rowing boats on the pools,
amusements, dancing, military bands, a fun fair and later zoological
gardens. The gardens included a fernery, an Italian garden, croquet lawns,
a bowling green, cricket, archery, an ornamental lake and shady avenues
for ‘spooning’ (?? - mk).
By 1890 ownership was in the hands of Charles Earle. He introduced a
miniature railway in 1907. In about 1910 Pat Collins a famous showman,
acquired the business. He enlarged the funfair with modern and exciting
equipment. In 1950 he sold the Big Dipper from Sutton to the organisers of
the 1951 Festival of Britain. Over the years public interest waned and the
site and attractions deteriorated. The funfair was closed and the Crystal
Palace demolished in 1962.
From information supplied by David Wilcox.
Judging by the size of Sutton Coldfield back then in he 40s, I would guess
that most of these visitors came from Birmingham The image is from the 1940s and
shows the park in its hey day.
The 'Crystal Palace' shown in the background remained as a glass dome through to
the 60s. however the adjacent atrium was blacked out and converted to a dance
(THE ORANGE GROVE) Many famous bands played there names like Ted Heath and Jack
A ride known as a 'Speedway', wooden bikes
instead of waltzer type cars. Wallis' Fair (based in Towyn, near Rhyl) had one
of these (right) which H&S would have shut down
in an instant if it were today. They would go quite fast and I actually fell off
on one occasion (my own fault I might add). I had to 'rescue' a girl in Towyn in
the summer of 1966 because it was going so fast
that the centrifugal force was making her lean the wrong way and she was having
problems holding on. She came from Walsall strangely enough! If you look at the
image you can see the metal 'safety rails'
upon which I would actually ride, legs locked behind the central bar, leaning
over by as much as 50 degrees to counter the centrifugal force. Stupid? I
suppose it was.
The scenic dragons were in the park in the 50s and 60s the organ was the
centrepiece of this huge ride and played merrily to attract patrons to the park,
the ride was scrapped
but the organ was saved, restored and travels to shows all over the country.
The Jets. These appeared around the same time as the de Haviland Comet, the
worlds first jet passenger airliner, the same year I was born, 1949. Note: The
word Comet on the nose
This map of the park was also provided by David Wilcox and is 1940's or
1950s. It is a big file so may take time to open (my notes in blue).
Crystal Palace Boating Lake
Roll Up! Roll Up!
How times change - all I can say is 'oh
those poor animals' - these 'novelties'! From: David
The 'Crystal Palace' & Bertram Mills Circus.
The Circus would arrive by train
The Park's Big Dipper! & The Palace taken in 1962
The above concrete blocks are the remains of the
Roller Coaster, which had been shipped off to Battersea, London
A gent called Andy sent me this postcard showing
the 'palace' on the right hand side it is pre war but actual era unknown. This
area in the image is now an established 'forest' of trees
and the view is actually quite hidden now, it could even pre date WW1, who
In this image, the red brick building by the Crystal
Palace was a Temperance hotel (1920s) and nearby a zoo, owned by a Mr Russell.
The Town Hall is on the hilltop and Trinity Church is right of centre.
Photo location is Town Gate
Pat Collins - The Bloxwich Showman (& Sutton Park!)
Pat Collins, born in Chester
on 12 May 1859, son of a travelling showman, was destined to become the most
successful showman of his generation both on and away from the fairground.
Educated at St. Wedburgh's School, by the age of 10 he had left to join his
father travelling the fairs of North Staffordshire, Shropshire, Cheshire and
Lancashire with simple rides. He used his fists to protect their rides from
troublemakers in those early days, hard training for his chosen trade. By the
age of 21, Pat owned his own hand-turned roundabout and a horse, having bought
the ride from his father in a bid for independence. He married his first wife,
seventeen year old Flora Ross of Wrexham, in 1880.
In 1882, Pat and Flora moved to Walsall, settling in Birchills at Shaw's
Leasowe, known colloquially as 'Shaw's Leisure', and living at 69 Stafford
Street. He established his rides on wasteland off Bradford Street, where the
Arcade now stands, and at Bloxwich Wakes, but life was not easy, as fairgrounds
were often terrorised by local gangs such as 'The Peaky Blinders'. Pat was the
first to seriously challenge them, and by organising the showmen collectively,
arming them with knuckle-dusters and other weapons, he was able to defeat them
eventually. Pat became involved with setting up the 'Van Dweller's and Showmen's
Protection Society', formed in 1889, which later became the Showmen's Guild,
still in operation today. He and the Guild became instrumental in protecting
showmen's rights and freedom of movement, which were constantly under attack
from local and national regulations. He became its longest serving President,
elected in 1909 and retiring aged 70 in 1929.
Pat understood the amusements people craved after long hours at work, and was
eager to take advantage of new technology as it developed. A fan of Walsall
people, whom he saw as 'good punters', he gathered exotic animals from around
the world to amaze the locals, and used traction and gas engines to power his
rides. The new world of cinematography became a major feature of Pat's
work; one Harry Scard is said to have shown his films at Bloxwich Wakes in 1895
at the same time as the Lumiere Brothers displayed this new invention in France.
Animated pictures, known as the 'bioscope', spread around the country's fairs
over the next four years. Pat Collins first presented moving pictures in
1899-1900 when he took over the ex-Wall and Hammersley's ghost show. According
to Ned Williams, in his biography of Collins, this show was first included in
the advertisement for the Bloxwich Wakes Fair in 1900.
Pat's fairs became ever more spectacular, and his famous Wonderland Organ used
5,000 lights and 14 arc lamps. Powered by traction engine generators, such
extravaganzas made Pat's fairs popular and successful nationwide, as well as at
Bloxwich Wakes, and even on a permanent site in Sutton
Park from 1917. These huge quantities of equipment required maintenance
and storage, and Pat established the Gondola Works at Shaw's Leasowe for this
purpose, but when the land was later sold off, the fair's offices and repair
works transferred to the amusement depot in Bloxwich in 1933.
As well as running his own fairs and leasing space on fairgrounds to others, Pat
Collins went on to build up a chain of over thirteen cinemas, including the
Grosvenor in Bloxwich High Street. Its predecessor on the same site was The
Electric Palace or Electric Theatre, basically a timber shed clad in corrugated
iron, with a decorative facade. At the end of the Great War, The Electric Palace
was bought by Collins, who had made Bloxwich his adopted home around 1915, and
the Bloxwich Wakes were held nearby, next to his residence, Lime Tree House, on
what is now the ASDA Car Park. In the 1920's Pat decided to replace the Electric
Palace with a fine new cinema, The Grosvenor. While it was built, he showed
films at The Central, the former 1830's Bloxwich Methodist Chapel in Park Road,
which he later used for storing and repairing rides. Collins also became a
prominent local Liberal politician, representing Birchills Ward on Walsall
Council from 1918 to 1930, when he was made Alderman. He was elected Member of
Parliament for Walsall from 1922 to 1924. Becoming Mayor of Walsall in 1938, Pat
was made a Freeman of the Borough of Walsall in 1939.
Pat's wife Flora died in 1932, and in 1935, aged 76, he married Clara Mullett, a
show business colleague. The same year, he sold the Grosvenor to Oscar Deutsch
and it became an Odeon. It eventually closed in May 1959, ironically just before
local celebrations were organised to celebrate the centenary of Collins' birth.
The building has survived, being revived in the early 1980's as the 'Flix' disco
night-club, and is now in the hands of the T. P. Riley Community Association as
a youth centre. Pat was known as the King of Showmen by his contemporaries and
the news of his death, at his Bloxwich home on 8 December 1943, was reported in
the World's Fair magazine with the headline 'Showland loses its G.O.M', with the
whole of the front page dominated by tributes and reports. Today, Pat's name is
legend amongst the people of Bloxwich in particular, and while it is still seen
travelling the country on the vehicles and rides of the ever-popular Pat
Collins' Fun Fair, it will never be forgotten.