Sutton Coldfield's 'Crystal Palace'
& Fun Fair (1950's - 1962)


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.
It is people with the vision to take these images in the past, that are saving them for the future.


The letters are mine showing the Town Hall and Trinity Church


The lady in white is almost certainly 'added' to the original as she appears in others
in the park and the pools pages but not in the original black & whites

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 hall, (THE ORANGE GROVE) Many famous bands played there names like Ted Heath and Jack Parnell

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 Wilcox


The 'Crystal Palace' & Bertram Mills Circus. Images: David Wilcox


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 knows.


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. (David Wilcox).
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.

http://www2.walsall.gov.uk/localhistorycentre/Local_Heritage/localheritage.asp

 

Historic-Newspapers.co.uk