From the Archives: Thrills and chills on board the Ghost Train

Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s Ghost Train was designed to scare riders – but over the years many of them have got more than they bargained for.

I have always had an interest in the history and paranormal heritage of my hometown, Blackpool. My late grandad, Frank Gregson, used to work for Blackpool Pleasure Beach and, as a child, I was taken by him to meet the staff and watch what went on behind the scenes.

I witnessed the changing face of the park as new rides were built and constructed from an insider’s perspective. I was incredibly lucky and sometimes I got to go on the rides for free – jolly exciting for any child but especially one who loved the funfair.

Grandad Frank

Frank used to repair the track on the ghost train from time to time and bore testimony to the rumours that ‘Cloggy’, the former ride operator could still be heard inside it. In 1930 the Pleasure Beach owners had seen the ride in London and decided to build their own ‘Pretzel’ ride – named after the Pretzel companies, which built them in the USA. The Pretzel Ride was duly opened that year.

As the name, Pretzel, was unknown in the UK and did not give much of a clue as to the ride itself, in 1931, the park changed the name to The Ghost Train – taken from the hit film of that name, starring Jack Hulbert. It was actually the first Ghost Train in the UK.

In 1936, Architect Joseph Emberton, the man behind the Casino building, Grand National Station, and Fun House, was commissioned to redesign the ride to become a much larger, two level Ghost Train.

It had an impressive frontage, complete with model skeletons, skulls, and ghosts. It opened up into a giant set, with a roller coaster-style drop in the centre, and balconies on either side. Riders were housed in two-person cars, which were secured to the moving track. It took just under four minutes from start to finish.

The ride was completely re-built again in 1957, by new designer-in residence Jack Ratcliffe, and its new frontage was far plainer. The cars were all painted pink. In 1976, it had another re-vamp, and the frontage gained castle-style battlements and a massive skeleton. As a little girl I remember asking my parents where they would have got a skeleton that big as I thought it was real!

Over the years many tales have been told about ‘Cloggy’, who either died in the late 1970s or early 1980s. It is said that he passed away after a horrible illness but gave Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the Ghost Train many years of dedicated service. From reports and research, I’ve found he was a very committed member of staff who would do anything to ensure that customer service standards were reached and that the customers got the fright of their lives when on the Ghost Train. It seems his dedication to it continued even after he had passed to the other side. Customers would say after dismounting the ride that they had been touched or grabbed by someone that they could not see, but hear. Over the years the reports and stories increased when shocked members of the public found out that the extra ‘sensations’ were not actually part of the Ghost Train experience.

For a time, Frank had a young apprentice called Steve Bobola and not only did he teach him how to maintain the rides, but how to add to the customer experience too. While the were doing maintenance repairs inside the ride Frank would often have a giggle at the customers expense. He would stand very still and wait for one of the cars to round and would then lean forward and say, ‘Hello – how are you?’ and then collapse in a fit of giggles as the car then moved on with the now screaming passengers.

Frank wasn’t responsible for the various odd sounds, tapping, footsteps and groaning heard echoing through the walls and reported by many staff.

But Frank wasn’t responsible for the many odd sounds, tapping, footsteps and groaning heard echoing through the walls and reported by many staff. Once, when the workmen had completed some maintenance work out of hours, and of course following procedure and turning off the power and electrics, an odd sight greeted them as they left the building. A skull atop the ride was still lit up. Back inside they went to investigate the issue and spent over an hour trying to find out what was causing the fault, to no avail. Whatever they did to rectify the situation the light on the skull would not turn off – needless to say they had to leave and reported the incident as a one off.

In 2004 the TV series of Most Haunted Live paid Blackpool a visit. Naturally, they investigated Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and other locations included Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens.

One of my on-going projects is to gather information and history about Blackpool ghosts and I was contacted by the production company to provide history and research for the show. On the Sunday of the three-day Live broadcast I was lucky enough be have been invited as part of the studio audience. It was educational to see how they used my research in the show.

Derek Acorah claimed to hear and make contact with Cloggy but we didn’t learn seem to learn anything new about him. Various team members heard odd noises and one claimed to have been touched on the head!

The Ghost Train isn’t the only site to have had hauntings in the area. The former Starr Pub on the site of the new Boulevard Hotel had reported sightings of a male figure in the cellar and, on a separate occasion, walking through the bar before disappearing. Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machines is the oldest ride at the park, built in 1904, and the ghost of a small female child, aged about nine, is said to have been seen at Sir Hiram Maxim’s Gift Shop.

The Ice Arena lays claim to several spooks – various things have been seen backstage in the dressing rooms, perhaps previous show skaters of year gone by. On site late one night I could have sworn I heard someone skating on the ice, only to find no one else there. Lights and equipment move of their own accord and doors have been found wide open when they have been locked with padlocks. Staff working late at night, walking across to the tractor bay, have felt really cold, chilled to the bone and an “awful” presence.

Next time you venture to the Pleasure Beach, beware! It might be more than the rollercoasters providing the thrills and chills.

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