Thorpe Park Resort is one of the UK’s leading theme parks, having evolved over its four decades of operation from what was originally an exhibition style park. It is a restoration success story that has stood the test of time.
In 1970, the site was an active gravel pit owned by Ready Mix Concrete, when planning permission was granted broadly requiring the site to be refilled. Land filling of this kind of acreage would take up to 20 years, during which time local residents would have been subject to the nuisance of the tipping operations. A change in planning conditions was granted and construction of the 500 acre water park began in 1971. With over half the area consisting of lakes, the accent was on water, and so the central theme “The history of the British people as a maritime nation” was born.
The theme park concept was new and exciting, but the project was not a theme park by today’s standard. Thorpe Park was to be an exhibition blending together Britain’s fascinating past with the ‘latest’ in entertainment to stimulate the imagination.
In 1979, the late Lord Louis Mountbatten opened Thorpe Park to the public. A standing aircraft display, The Mountbatten Pavilion (better known today as the dome) and a few other exhibitions with educational elements were the main attractions. Man’s achievements were featured in Model World where 1:36 scale models were displayed in a garden setting. The CN Tower dwarfed Nelson’s Column, and The Pyramid of Cheops stands tall beside numerous other models, such as The Leaning Tower of Pisa and The Tower of London.
Each year developments were introduced such as The History of Man to a Celtic farmhouse and a Roman port. Waterbus trips were introduced, along with water skiing, windsurfing, Thorpe Farm, a nature trail, Magic Mill, 3D Cinema and so on. Although each and every one were very successful in their own right, they lacked two vital elements – most were neither thrill seeking or participative.
From the mid 1980’s it was decided that for Thorpe Park to compete in the leisure industry, it needed to move away from its original concept. The progressive attitude of the target audience bought about this change, which lead to the introduction of new, immersive attractions. Here is a list of additions and removals each year:
Before 1987: Thorpe Park consisted of a few non-thrilling rides.
1987: Over 2 million was spent on the Thunder River rapids ride.
1988: The 630 seat Palladium Theatre opened.
1989: Canada Creek and its attractions were born.
1990: Space Station Zero was re-themed in to Flying Fish. Carousel Kingdom and Drive In The Country opened.
1991: Fantasy Reef and its attractions opened.
1992: Redevelopment of the children’s ride area plus the introduction of The Hudson River Rafters and Viking Rowers.
1993: Calgary Stampede arrived, along with a virtual reality centre.
1994: Ranger County opened with two new rides.
1995: Two more rides opened in Ranger County. Project X construction began.
1996: X:\ No Way Out opened, the biggest investments in the history of the park.
1997: No new rides this season but the park was voted the most parent-friendly leisure park in the UK.
1998: The Dino Bumper Boat Ride opened as well as Wet! Wet! Wet!, torpedo water slides in the pool area.
1999: Following the Tussauds Group purchase of the park, Pirates 4D cinema opened starring Leslie Neilson.
2000: New this year was Tidal Wave. Fantasy Reef was re-named and re-themed in to Neptune’s Kingdom.
2001: The park opened three new thrill rides: Zodiac, Vortex and the 100ft high drop tower, Detonator.
2002: Visitor numbers boomed with Colossus – the world’s first ten looping coaster, and Ribena Rumba Rapids.
2003: Continuing the trend of large coasters, Nemesis Inferno was introduced.
2004: The mighty Samurai from Chessington replaced Calgary Stampede.
2005: Slammer and Rush, two creations from S&S opened in the spring and summer. Flying Fish was removed.
2006: Promoted as the ‘icon’ ride for Thorpe Park, the launched coaster Stealth opened.
2007: Merlin Entertainments purchased the Tussauds Group. Flying Fish makes a splash once again in its new location by Depth Charge.
2008: The ageing Pirates 4D show was replaced by Time Voyagers.
2009: Themed after the movie of the same name; Saw – The Ride was introduced.
2010: As Saw – The Ride was so popular, the Thorpe Belle was turned in to Saw Alive – a horror maze.
2011: Relocated from Cypress Garden in Florida, Storm Surge opened. Canada Creek Railway and Time Voyagers close.
2012: The Swarm, the UK’s first B&M Wing Coaster opened.
2013: The rear two rows on The Swarm were reversed, so guests could ‘brave it backwards. X:\ No Way out was re-themed in to X. Crash Pad opened.
2014: Angry Birds Land and The Thorpe Shark Hotel opened. Chief Ranger’s Carousel and Ranger County Arena close.
2015: I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Maze opened. The classic Logger’s Leap closes.
2016: Derren Brown’s Ghost Train opens. The back two rows of The Swarm were changed to face forward again.
2017: Timber Tug Boat and Lumber Jump opened. The upgraded Derren Brown’s Ghost Train: Rise Of The Demon opened. Slammer closes.
2018: X is re-themed in to The Walking Dead: The Ride.
2019: Jungle Escape up-charge game experience opened.
2020: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the park was closed until July, and new attractions postponed until 2021.
2021: Based on the TV series, Black Mirror Labyrinth opened.
2022: No new attractions opened – instead the focus was on seasonal events. Rocky Express, Timber Tug Boat and Lumber Jump closed.
2023: Derren Brown’s Ghost Train lost its sponsorship to just become Ghost Train, with the removal of VR and a new storyline.