Welcome to Talbot Street, a virtual stroll through the history of Alton Towers, where we highlight some of our favourite aspects from the park’s past.
We might not be able to visit the park right now but that doesn’t mean we can’t start celebrating Alton Towers’ 40th Birthday.
Team TowersStreet have hunkered down in our bunker deep below Talbot Street, where we keep our park archives. And so, whilst the 2020 season is delayed, each day we’re going to be bringing you some of the highlights from the last 40 years!
Our history updates are named after Talbot Street, the park’s original ‘Street’.
Alton Towers has a long history of using street scenes to create an immersive atmosphere, such as our namesake, Towers Street. However Talbot Street was not only the first street to arrive in the park, but also the park’s very first themed area, bringing a slice of Victoriana to the park in 1981.
To begin our Talbot Street Lock In, let’s start at the very beginning and head all the way back to 1980.
The 1980 Map does not look much like the map of an amusement park, but hidden within three magical red circles are the seeds of the park we know today – with the Corkscrew in the Talbot Centre and Pirate Ship in the Springfield Centre operating alongside the older attractions in the Ingestre Centre, which at that time still included Donkey and Pony Rides!
The park saw significant expansion in 1981, with the arrival of the much-loved Log Flume in Ingestre Centre as well as the construction of Talbot Street – the Victorian Boulevard taking over the site of the park’s old Fairground.
1981’s Map was a much more colourful affair, with drawings representing each of the park’s attractions. Some of them were more abstract then others.
Alton Towers has had many iconic map designs over the years. Visitors from the 80s will be familiar with this design that was used from 1982 to 1986.
Today we have an interesting look at how the maps were updated in a time before photoshop. The first image shows the 1982 map covered with tracing paper onto which the updates are designed before being added onto the draft of the 1983 map as seen in the second image.
The greatest show on earth rolled into town in 1983 with the arrival of the Circus Hassani in the park’s new Big Top venue. Two classic kids rides also arrived with the addition of the Vintage Cars as well as the Dragon Coaster (later known as The Beastie)
1984 saw one of the largest expansions in the park’s history with the addition of nine new attractions over the course of the season.
The park opened with five new thrill rides – the Enterprise, Wave Swinger, Turbo Star, Magic Carpet and Octopus – as well as the much-loved Black Hole.
During the season, these were also joined the classic attractions that were the Mississippi Showboat and 1001 Night.
Between 1985 and 1987 Sunflower Books produced an official and rather comprehensive guidebook for the park.
Unlike the normal park maps these guidebooks included a detailed plan of the park to help navigate guests. This 1985 plan features the new additions that season – the Ferris Wheel and 4 Man Bob – both of which had been relocated from nearby Trentham Gardens.
In 1986 the front of the park became much more recognisable with the addition of Towers Street along with the Grand Canyon Rapids – today known as the Congo River Rapids.
1986 also saw the addition of Kiddies Kingdom, a large new area located where Adventure Land sits today, which offered a whole range of slides and other playground equipment for younger guests.
1987 was the year of transportation, upgrading the park’s infrastructure to handle its huge growth spurt of the 80s. Inside the park the Skyride replaced the Cable Cars to transport guests across the Gardens and outside Towers Street the Monorail shuttled guests back and forth to the new car parks built on the old deer park.
Iconic rides also kept on arriving with the addition of the Tea Cups and Swan Boat Ride, as well as the Open Air Stage on the Piazza (now Fountain Square).
1988 was a bumper year for coasters at Alton Towers when The Alton Beast and Alton Mouse arrived to complete the line-up for Coaster Corner and the park’s indoor coaster received substantial upgrades to become briefly known as the New Black Hole.
It was also the season that Henry the Hound became the park’s official mascot – arriving in style with his Birthday Parade.
The big addition for 1989 was the Britannia Farm. It was also the season when the long-running circus left the Big Top to be replaced by a Laser Adventure Show.
Fans of the circus could still get their fix, however, as Grimble the Clown remained in the park in his new Clown-A-Round show.
The 90s began with the surprise sale of Alton Towers to Tussauds, who were looking to expand their theme park operations after early successes at Chessington World of Adventures.
Going out with a bang, the final investments of the John Broome era saw the addition of Thunder Looper as well as the Gravitron.
Despite the change in ownership, the 1991 season only saw minor changes to the park operation, whilst Tussauds finalised their initial plans for the park.
Though, early closures in the new era saw the removal of the 4 Man Bob and Space 1999 exhibition and the popular Sea Lions also departed the park.
1991 saw the arrival of the Gallopers Carousel, which this season will be transformed into the Royal Carousel in The World of David Walliams.
Tussauds revealed their hand in 1992 with their first big additions: The Haunted House in Gloomy Wood and Runaway Mine Train in Katanga Canyon.
These immersive new attractions, along with the removal of several older attractions set the course for the park during the magical 90s.
1993 was the park’s self-proclaimed Year of Children. The centrepiece of this celebration was the opening of The Land Of Make Believe.
Every day the new area’s cast of colourful characters would be joined by the ‘Celebrity of the Day’, where the kids could meet a minor celeb from the world of sport, tv or pop.
1994 was a quiet year for Alton Towers, there’s not much to report…
Only joking… the park had one of its biggest years ever, with the addition of three classic attractions, which expanded the park in all directions.
The undoubted headliner of ’94 was Nemesis, but the season also saw the addition of Toyland Tours as well as Peter Rabbit and Friends on Ice.
Not resting on their laurels, Tussauds continued their transformation of the park in 1995, bringing Energizer to Festival Park as well as reimagining the farm into Old MacDonald’s Farmyard, adding the Tractor Ride and Doodle Doo Derby.
Later in the season they also added the much missed Singing Barn.
In 1996 Alton Towers took its first steps towards becoming a resort with the addition of the Alton Towers Hotel. These days themed hotels are more or less an expectation of a theme park resort but it is easy to overlook the game-changing nature of bringing this overnight experience to the park.
Meanwhile in the park the area around the ice show become Storybook Land, featuring the Squirrel Nutty Ride as well as the impressive animatronic Bookworm, who would tell tales and jokes from his giant book in the centre of the land.
1997 was another season that seamlessly mixed thrill and family additions, with the arrival or Ripsaw as well as Nickelodeon: Outta Control is the freshly rethemed Cred Street.
It was also, however, the first year with no attractions that pre-dated the amusement park, after the closure of the Park Railway as well as the Boating Lake at the end of 1996.
The park started their programme of scientific ‘research’ in 1998 with the introduction of the enigmatic X-Sector.
The Black Hole, Energizer and Enterprise were transformed to bring assorted thrills into the new area, but no one was in any doubt as to the headliner with Oblivion, the world’s first B&M Dive Machine, towering over its neighbouring attractions.
It was time to turn back time in 1999, as we were invited to the year 30,000 B.C.(Before Corkscrew) and UG Land – the land where fun began.
Elsewhere in park we saw the introduction of the farmyard classic – the Riverbank Eye-Spy, as well as the first performances by Barney, the purple dinosaur. The Royal Marines also stopped by to perform in the Summer Stunt Spectacular.
The new millennium saw the park tell ‘a tale with a twist’ with the addition of Hex in the Towers ruins, bringing a slice of local legend to the park.
After a successful summer run the previous season, Barney the Dinosaur moved into Cred Street full time in 2000, taking over the Theatre and Playground. The double-decker Cred Street Carousel also arrived in the area, having previously operated at Thorpe Park, which had been acquired by Tussauds in the late 90s.
In 2001, the park submitted guests to new thrills, with the addition of Submission in X-Sector.
In an otherwise rather quiet year for the park, this new addition also saw the relocation of the Energizer, which became the much-missed Boneshaker in Ug Land.
SW5 came alive in 2002, as Air took flight over Forbidden Valley, inviting guests to ‘Assume the Position’.
With the new coaster providing an experience for all the family, at the other end of the valley Dynamo returned much to the delight of thrillseekers. The younger members of the family were also in luck, as New Adventure Land brought a plethora of new play equipment to the park.
The resort had a huge expansion in 2003 when Splashing Landings opened along with Cariba Creek waterpark in June, followed by the Alton Towers Spa later in the year.
Meanwhile over in the park the much-loved Ribena Berry Bish Bash opened in the farm and The Haunted House received its controversial upgrade to become Duel.
The past 40 years have been a bit of rollercoaster for the park and the mid-2000s were one of the more difficult periods and a far cry from the golden days of the 90s.
The 2004 addition of Spinball Whizzer was not the park’s finest hour. Whilst the coaster is a fun ride, it’s addition was let down by a rushed development period, which lead to an installation of a ride that did not have the necessary capacity, installed into a questionable corner of the park.
On the other hand, the season also saw the park’s ageing Log Flume received a much needed refresh to become The Flume: Unplugged, bring some bathtime with attitude to the park.
A brand refresh in 2005 saw the park map take on a distinctive new Habbo Hotel style.
Meanwhile in the park, the run of questionable decisions continued with the closure of Black Hole and opening of Rita – Queen of Speed. UG Land had just 5 seasons as a prehistoric playground before it was overtaken by the dino/racing hybrid that was the Thunder Rock Rally.
Big changes were also afoot over in Cred Street, where several attractions had their final season, including the much-missed Toyland Tours.
Willy Wonka sailed into Alton Towers in 2006, taking guests on a whimsical tour through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Ride.
The breakout attraction of the year though was the Driving School, which opened midway through the season and breathed new energy into the heart of Cred Street.
Oh, 2007… what can we say? If there was ever a year when the park would have been better off not adding an attraction, this was it. For it was the year of The Dung Heap, which turned out to be somewhat apt as a name.
But it wasn’t all bad, elsewhere in the farm the first of the Furry Friends arrived and the Riverbank Eyes-Spy got a delightful 3D overhaul, whilst the Haunted Hollow offered a pleasant stroll through a corner of the Gardens that had been closed for many years. And not to forget The Extraordinary Golf, which distilled some of the finest themes from the park into the latest resort attraction.
The park experienced a pirate invasion in 2008, when Captain Black came ashore in Mutiny Bay.
Merlin came out with all (water) guns blazing for their first addition to the park. In one fell swoop they added new attractions, new entertainment, new sideshows as well as providing impressive rethemes to several existing attractions. It was a development the likes of which the park had not seen since the arrival of Ug Land, nearly ten years earlier.
A world of whimsy awaited in 2009 when Cloud Cuckoo Land opened, giving Cred Street a larger then life upgrade. Not only were we introduced to Snorlix, Lucy and all their friends, but also enhanced attractions like the Twirling Toadstool.
Back to reality with a splash, Sealife also came to the park when the impressively themed Sharkbait Reef opened in Mutiny Bay.
If you went down to the woods in 2010, you better not have gone alone. Because the park had launched the ultimate marketing campaign – every bit of publicity you have ever dreamt about all in one! Oh, and they added a rollercoaster too.
Thirteen may have launched amidst a fairly nonsensical whirlwind of marketing, but once we’d waded through all the celebrity cameos, ‘world firsts’ and talk of psychoasters, it turned out the park had added a decent family coaster with a couple of neat tricks, that served as a perfect replacement for the Corkscrew.
And whilst the Dark Forest overtook Ug Land, elsewhere, everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog arrived for a giant game of pinball with the opening of Sonic Spinball.
2011 may have been a quiet year for the park in terms of new additions but there was a crustacean invasion in Sharkbait Reef when 12 Japanese Spider Crabs scuttled into Skeleton Bay.
Meanwhile over in Cloud Cuckoo Land a much more energetic takeover was happening as the Go!Go!Go! Show brought an all singing, all dancing new caper to the theatre.
Alas, both attractions were destined to be for one year only and by the end of the season all that remained was Skelton Bay, which once again became home to the park’s rays.
The Phalanx returned to Forbidden Valley in 2012, inviting guests to explore their subterranean compound when the park opened Nemesis: Sub Terra. In fact, they opened it twice: once in March and then again in May after the attraction had been modified, following negative reviews, to improve the storyline and add a climactic live maze section.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the park the characters from Ice Age arrived in the new 4D Cinema, as Cloud Cuckoo Land experienced a cold snap.
The Ministry of Joy sought willing advocates to join them in 2013 and experience their latest experiment – The Smiler. And like they always say, 14 inversions should put a smile on your face. The ministry were particularly busy that year, as their original correctional facility, The Sanctuary, also opened for the first part of the season.
But as the MoJ moved in, a certain farmer retired as we said a fond farewell to Old MacDonald’s Farmyard and neighbouring Storybook Land.
The spotlight turned squarely onto the youngest members of the family in 2014, as all their favourite characters jumped from the small screen into reality in CBeebies Land.
To celebrate the opening of their new land, the park produced a special Parent and Toddler Map, which pointed young families in the direction of areas and attractions that little guests might enjoy the most.
The resort became a little more enchanting in 2015 when the Fabled Folk welcomed guests into their Enchanted Village and to ascend to new heights in the neighbouring Tree Top Quest. And from the depths the Octonauts beached in CBeebies Land, inviting young explorers to join their Rollercoaster Adventure.
Scarefest also received a big shake up with a terrifying number of new mazes, scare zones, and ‘after hours’ offerings, including the multiple endings of Sub Species along with its various off shoots and add-ons.
2016 brought a new experience that was virtually out of this world when the resort introduced Galactica. The VR headsets may now be a thing of the past, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing in the new world of social distancing.
Diners also got a revolutionary new dining option as the Rollercoaster Restaurant began serving meals with a twist.
Two favourites returned in 2017, when Hex and the Driving School reopened after standing but not operating for a year. But just as the new look Cuckoo Cars returned at one end of Cloud Cuckoo Land, Ice Age 4D closed its doors at the other end and the neighbouring Twirling Toadstool also took its final spin.
CBeebies Land gained some new residents, however, with the Furchester Hotel opening alongside the Go Jetters Vroomster Ride. And over in Mutiny Bay construction walls went up around The Flume sight as the park started work on SW8.
Wicker Man burst onto the scene in 2018 as the park fed the flames with their long-awaited wooden coaster.
After several previous attempts to bring a wooden coaster to the park, the old site of The Flume proved just the ticket and provided the park with the opportunity to create one of their more compelling coasters of the past 20 years.
Traitors were out of luck in 2019, when the Alton Towers Dungeon began to dole out its own special brand of punishment to any guest foolhardy enough to enter.
The dungeon may not be to everyone’s taste but one thing’s for sure, we’re all now an awful lot more familiar with Molly Leigh, the Witch of Burslem, since we were first invited into her cottage last year.
And so we come to 2020 and into the unknown.
Who knows quite what this season has in store, but this may well be the last we see of this version of the park map since we already know that some attractions will not be operating this season, most notably the entire World of David Walliams.
One thing we do know for certain though is that 2020 will be the park’s shortest season in its forty year history!
Each Wednesday we take a break from our year by year run down of the park’s history and throw in a random memory. That might be an in depth look at an attraction you know and love, or we might skip into to past to take a look at the years before Alton Towers was a theme park.