The site of the popular extension of Peter Pans Adventure Island was originally just part for the foreshore twice a day the tide would wash over the area at high tide and recede to reveal nothing but sand and mud at low tide.
To extend the width of the seafront the local council undertook a major land reclamation project in 1931 creating a dammed area and draining the water inside this was then partly refilled with soil and landscaped.
The project created two new attractions one the Western side of the pier the reclaimed land was sculptured to create the “Sunken Gardens” these being below the level of the promenade, on the Eastern side of the pier a Marine Lake was opened, the water entered through sluice gates as the tide came in and a non return valve would swing over to close off the gate to stop the water escaping at low tide when the tide returned a pump would start up forcing the water currently held in the lake out whilst the sluice gates would permit fresh sea water in.
The new attractions proved popular with residences and visitors alike, the lake was used as a boating lake with row boats available for hire.
The two sites carried on in this format for many years, however the Western side was soon to be developed much quicker than the Eastern side.
The Western side gained a number of children’s attractions in 1950 including slides, swings and roundabouts and by 1952 go cart track had been built the site became known as Peter Pans Playground by 1956 it rapidly lost its gardens and became a Theme Park.
The Eastern side developed in a much more sedate way, by 1956 the rowboats had been joined by small motor boats and in the North-western corner a group of trampolines had been erected, whilst on a site immediately above and to the East of the sunken lake on a concrete terrace an open air children’s theatre had been erected.
The Marine Lake was a popular place for people to sit and relax from the hustle and bustle of the seafront.
The first major development of the Lake site since it was first built was the construction of a miniature railway, the railway was to be built in a 10¼ inch scale.
The project almost failed as during construction the developer went bust, the site was bought by Mr Thompson who continued with the building of the miniature railway, the railway took its name from the new owner.
The 400 yard line ran round the lake in an oval shape. The track was made from white aluminium laid over hardwood sleepers which were set in a shallow layer of concrete as it crossed the three paved sides of the lake whist on the forth side nearest the promenade the track was laid on the stone ballast that made up the landing stage of the boating lake boarding stage.
The only platform on the railway was found on the promenade side (Northern side) the platform sat about 10 foot higher than the rest of the railway the gradient leading into and out of the platforms were quite steep which the small engine would barely creep up.
There were no fences around the track or lake with only a small fence round the platform and boat boarding area.
The railway opened in July 1977 with a single engine, the 0-4-0 freelance was built in house using a Cromar coach bogie. Power came from a battery motor salvaged from a bumper car chain linked to one axle. Two cross over points were installed on ran to a corrugated iron shed used as a workshop alongside the boating lake, the second attached to a siding that ran to a old deckchair store under a concrete terrace at the Eastern end of the lake.
The engine was drastically under powered and would normally only haul a single white clouded open carriage, a second carriage was available for busy times but the small engine would struggle to pull both with passengers.
The original developer had ordered a model Gresley V2 steam locomotive from Viking Locomotives of Sheringham, however after evaluating the layout of the track and the design of the steam engine it was found that the V2 model would struggle to cope with the sharp curves so during construction the design was altered to 2-4-2 standard.
Viking Locomotives was a small one man operation and work on the Southend engine progressed slowly and deadlines slipped, it was only after the threat of legal action that the engine arrived in Southend.
Despite the arrival of the engine it was still not in a fit state to operate on the railway, work to bring the traction gear up to a safe standard was needed as was the installation of a brake was also needed.
The new engine had been built to a 15inch scale despite the railway being in 10¼ inch scale, it weighed in at two tons, this proved to be very wearing on the soft white aluminium tracks with the majority of wear occurring on the outer rails on the curves and at crossing points. The new steam engine first steamed in August 1977 it had been named after its builder “Viking”, it proved to be a very powerful engine more than capable of pulling five open Cromar carriages full of passengers. The new engine was pressed into service and proved a popular edition to the railway, however design and construction issues arose with the engine, these included poor valve timing, lack of lubrication nipples and small bearings.
At the close of the 1977 season the engine was hauled into the workshop wha erea major refurbishment of its traction and motion gearing, the number of grease points was increased to the slide bars and the drive wheels were re-engineered.
Before the 1978 season could start adversely high tides in the March flooded the site to a height of 10ft, the engine shed and carriage store were both flooded out and the boats in the lake sunk, the platform disappeared under the water. The water took over a week to drain out and repairs to the track took a month.
The Viking had been partly submerged for a week after an overhaul in which the gears were all stripped off and cleaned, and the boiler and pipe work were flushed the train was steaming again by the start of April.
The railway added a second engine in August 1978 this was a diesel based on a class 31, the engine was built around the original battery powered 0-4-0 freelance engine, only the bogie was used in the construction of the new engine.
The new engine was twin chain driven with power coming from a Ford 1300 engine taken from a Ford Escort, the original gearbox was retained give four forward gears and one reverse, the engine was originally presented in a red and white scheme but was then re-painted in British Rail blue.
The diesel would start the working day on the railway whilst Viking was made ready and steamed up, the diesel would then be kept on the siding whilst Viking ran the service, when Viking had to top up its water tank the diesel would resume the service.
The railway had a rolling stock of the two engines and six carriages, however only five carriages could only be used as the sixth had donated its bogies to the original 0-4-0 freelance engine and then to the Class31 the body of the disused carriage was kept in storage inside the carriage shed under the concrete terrace.
The railway was sold by Mr Thompson in 1981 at the same time the Viking was also sold, the line was solely operated by the Class31 diesel until the railway closed in 1986. The closure was put down to the rising costs operating the line, the fall in passenger numbers and the need to replace the track and the engine.
After closure the track and workshop was quickly removed the doors on the carriage store under the concrete terrace were ripped off and dumped into the boating lake.
Despite the closure of the railway the boating lake remained open as did Jumpin Jimmy’s Trampolines. However after a few years the trampolines and boating lake were closed and the site fell into dereliction.
The site remained derelict for almost a decade until Philip Miller the owner of Peter Pans Playground took over the site and begun a major expansion of the Theme Park, today the site is brimming with white knuckle rides and much more sedate rides for toddlers, a restaurant is now housed in the former carriage store under the balustrade whilst op top of the restaurant is a mini golf course.
One of the rides carry’s on the tradition of a miniature railway on the site, the Jungle Express is a small oval shaped railway running under its much bigger faster counterpart the Green Scream.
Many thanks to Mr Bruice Knights of Knights Rail Services http://www.rail-services.net/ for his kind permission in publishing the photos of the railway below.
Mr Knights has also informed the Timelane that the carrage store under the terrace was actually too short to store all the carrages in a line, so a section of track was left unbolted so that it could be swung to be conected to a second section of track laid alongside the main siding so that the carrages would sit alongside each other inside the store.
Mr Knights at the controls of the diesel loco at the end its its first season.
The diesel loco just out of the paint shop, the red structure in the background is the water tower for the Viking.
Mr Knights preping the Viking for a trip round the lake.
The "office" of the Viking steam valves for the injectors, the green blower valve and the red brake valve that was never connected.
The water gauge is in the middle and the pressure is showing 100psi. Regulator is on the left and reverser on the right
The Viking starting up the incline The escaping steam shows that the drain cocks are open for effect and there is a blow from the cylinder gland, so its probably late in the season.
The Viking climbing the incline to the station taken soon after the floods.
The Viking, The Boating Lake, Jumpin Jimmys and the Palace Hotel.