This year is our 170th anniversary since the park opened in 1843- making us the UKs oldest theme park!
The very word "Blackgang" has a legendary ring about it, summoning up visions of smugglers, shipwrecks and wild storm lashed shores....
In 1800 Blackgang Chine was a steep gaunt ravine situated some 500 feet above the sea overlooking Chale Bay. Stretching some three quarters of a mile down to the shore, it was a wild and desolate place frequented by none other than the local fisherman, although rumours were rife of a thriving smuggling trade!
How we were founded.....
In 1823, a young man named Alexander Dabell arrived on the Island with his family. They had relocated from Nottingham where he was born in 1808, all with the intention of starting a lace making factory in the central town of Newport.
As a young man he trained in the art of lace making with his father, and soon became an expert in the trade. After his apprenticeship he went to London and worked as a Sales Assistant, before returning to Newport to run his own business in 1830.
He saw himself as a pioneer, an early settler in ‘this far flung barbarous climb’, and, above all, a man out to seek his fortune. His entrepreneurial spirit soon had him trying a number of strategies to make money, including haircutting, selling hair oil and opening up gift shop outlets around the Island.
In 1839 these experiments led him to meet a man who had recently built a hotel at Blackgang, and he immediately recognised the area’s potential. Along with its awe inspiring gorge, it’s newly found chalybeate spring was a huge draw for the Victorians, who were always seeking out new health and holiday resorts.
By 1842 he acquired the land with his ability to throw a stone, and it was agreed the point it landed was the furthest reach of the lease.
This unconventional way of thinking became the founding stone of Blackgang Chine’s success.......
How the park was developed.........
Alexander studied the gaunt and awe-inspiring chine gorge, and knew immediately that he could create gardens here, which would appeal to the romantic Victorians!
Pathways were built down the ravine, through previous rough terrain, gardens were landscaped on top of the cliffs, and steps were constructed to the beach from the lower road.
But this was not enough to make Blackgang a fascinating place to visit. In 1842 a huge fin whale had been stranded off the Needles, and Alexander saw his chance.
He bought it at auction, sold off the blubber, had the bones bleached, and transported across the island to a specially built hut, in which he displayed the skeleton to the morbid curiosity of all who visited.
And though the pathways to the sea have long since washed away, the skeleton still exists in the park today as the oldest attraction, and it has set the tone for the park to become the home of the weird and the wonderful of the world, and a hive of imagination for all generations.
Alexander died in 1898 leaving the park to be run by his son Walter and later, Walters son Dick Dabell. By this time the Isle of Wight had become a thriving seaside resort and Blackgang Chine shared that popularity. The new generation Dabells realised that the simple tranquillity that had pleased earlier generations, would not necessarily provide the type of enjoyment demanded by the present and future generations.
In the 1960’s a family trip to America inspired Dick to begin themeing his park, and this materialised into the creation of Dinosaurland, Frontierland and Nurseryland in the 1970s.
Blackgang Chine and Coastal Erosion....
Blackgang Chine has been developed on a coastline of instability. The park faces southwest, the prevailing direction for storm waves from the Atlantic ocean. The full force of the the sea pounds the shoreline and quickly washes away and landslip debris.Blackgang road before the landslip
Records of ground movement go back to 1781. In 1792 about 100 acres of land, together with a farmhouse called Pittlands, slid towards the sea, destroying the house and leaving the area in a state of chaos.
The road that crossed this area became narrow and access was restricted until 1928 when another major cliff fall caused the road to be closed for good.
This particular landslip carried on for several days, and excursions were actualy run from London to see the fascnicating sight!
Over the past 100 years, Blackgang has seen an annual erosion rate of 4 metres a year. However this rate takes into account short periods of accelerated movement in 1928, 1961, 1978 and 1994.
On each of these occasions, continuous rainfall for several weeks proceeded the loss of between 30 and 40 metres of land!
The last major landslip was in 1994, and over a third of the existing park moved during this time. This caused the need to re-locate many of the attractions, although some were permanantly lost.
Land movement mainly takes place during the winter months when rainfall is at its peak, but monitoring devices installed in recent years have improved surface water and drainage in the area.
The effect of Global warming has reduced the water table levels in the downs behind, and this seems to have slowed landslip in the past few years.
Why does the land slip away?........
The incredible change in the landscape at Blackgang is due to the effects of the sea and rainwater action on the underlying geology.
The rocks dip downwards towards the sea, the oldest at the bottom, the youngest at the top. Layers of gault clay lie between stratas of lower greensand and chalk.
So this is how a landslip occurs:
1. Its rains, and rain and surface water filter through the greensand and chalk to then lie on the less porous gault clay. 2.The water makes the clay later slippery, hence its local name 'Blue Slipper Clay'.
3.The heavier greensand and chalk break off and sink into the softer gault clay creating a curved surface.
4.New cracks inthe rock let in more water and this process repeats until the result in a series of steps or terraces of land dropping towards the sea.
5. Waves wash away the debris at the foot of the cliff, stopping nature from achieving its aim of a stable graduated slope.
6. The land continues to slowly dissapear....