From Day one...
In 1979, local entrepreneur Joe Larter signed a deal with Suffolk County Council to turn a 20 acre plot of land into a leisure attraction. After much deliberation about what form the development would take, Mr Larter made contact with local garage owners John Edwards and Robert “Happy” Hudson. The pair had planned to construct the longest private miniature steam railway in the UK on a field in Gt Yarmouth.
After showcasing his plans, Mr Larter was able to convince Mr Hudson and Mr Edwards to bring their attraction to Lowestoft. In his book, Mr Larter states that building work for the railway commenced shortly after a visit to Disney and the decision was made to “steal one of his (Disney’s) ideas”. So, a Main Street and Station Square area were constructed to complement the railway.
pay per ride park
On May 22nd 1982, Mr Larter’s new attraction was officially opened by local radio personality John Mountford. For the rest of the summer season, the railway operated on a pay-per-ride basis alongside a handful of other small attractions.
Over the winter of 1982, plans were made to install a number of new attractions in time for the start of the 1983 season. The decision was made to change from a pay-per-ride system to an all inclusive entry fee.
Construction began on a Water Fantasy boat ride, Wonderful World of Storybooks children's ride and a crazy golf course.
Ideas from the usa
A second visit to the USA by Mr Larter led to the purchase of a state of the art “Cine 180” attraction which would be the star attraction of the soon to be opened theme park. This new addition prompted the management team to adopt an American theme for the park. However, a decision still had to be made about what to call the place.
Management locked themselves away for a day with an advertising agency to come up with a suitable name. However, the meeting was without success. The following day, a member of the marketing agency called Mr Larter to suggest that a nearby road may hold the key to the theme park’s name. “Pleasurewood Hill” runs alongside the adjacent Gunton Hall complex. The name and theme were sewn together to create “Pleasurewood Hills American Theme Park”.
the big opening!
On June 2nd 1983, “Pleasurewood Hills American Theme Park” opened to the public. Complete with a mascot named Woody Bear, the park offered visitors unlimited use of the attractions for £2.50 per person. Visitor numbers were initially disappointing, but local residents eventually began to embrace the park and visitor numbers soared. A visit during the first season from the Bembom family proved to be hugely beneficial to the park’s future development. The Bemboms, a family of established showmen, offered Mr Larter a number of “steel rides” at modest rents which included a Carousel and Pirate Ship. In his book, Mr Larter mentions that without the generosity of the Bembom family, it would not have been possible to install the number and quality of rides at the park in such a short space of time. Subsequent seasons saw further Bembom attractions added to the park including the Chairlift and the Tempest.
A second park... almost
Towards the end of the 1980's, a controlling interest in the park was sold to a property development company called RKF. An already established company of property developers, RKF were looking to add leisure attractions to their business. The company went on to build a number of new leisure attractions in the Norfolk and Suffolk area. These included the Sea Life Centre in Great Yarmouth and the Bure Valley Railway in Aylsham.
RKF also started work on building a park similar to Pleasurewood Hills in Cleethorpes. However, RKF declared bankruptcy in the early 1990's and this forced all their leisure attractions into receivership.
In 1990, the management team at the time staged a successful buyout of the park. The new team set to work bringing a number of new attractions to the park during their six year reign, with the largest acquisitions being the Log Flume and Cannonball Express rollercoaster.
This management team also signed a deal which would bring Mr Blobby's Crinkley Bottom TV Studios to the park in 1995, replacing the Castle Theatre shows. As part of this deal, Noel Edmonds would make occasional promotional visits to the park.
As a direct result of this new arrangement, the original American theme was abandoned and the park began to describe itself as a “Family theme park”.
New owners take over
In 1996, Pleasurewood Hills was acquired by Queensborough Holdings PLC and was managed by Leisure Great Britain, a company traditionally associated with caravan parks.
Their ownership of Pleasurewood Hills continued until 2000.
New additions during this period included a number of funfair style attractions such as the Supertrooper, Sky Screamer, Mega Dance and the Waltzers. The latter (shown in the photograph) replaced the children's playground within the Fort Fun area of the park.
another change of hands
In 2000, “New Pleasurewood Hills” was born when long time employees at the park, Peter and Peggy Hadden took ownership. Peter was one of the management team who acquired the park during the 1990-96 period and continued to manage the park for Queensborough during their reign. Around the time when the park changed hands, Peter issued a statement which said: "Right now, we can't compete with the larger parks when it comes to rides and attractions, but we surely can be equal to them in guest relations and the quality of a visit"
The biggest addition to the park during this period was the hugely popular spinning mouse rollercoaster ride which was added at the end of the 2000 season. A number of other attractions were also added in an attempt to attract thrill seekers. These included the Fireball swinging pendulum ride, Megaspin Rollover and Mega Drop.
New French owners
2004 saw a further change of hands at the park, with French amusement park operator Grevin et Cie taking ownership.Pleasurewood Hills was the first park in the UK to be owned by the company who operated a number of other visitor attractions across Europe. A host of changes were made during their first year of ownership including the addition of Thunderstruck and a large scale clean up of the park.
The biggest addition to the park during this period was Wipeout, a boomerang rollercoaster which was previously located at the now defunct American Adventure park. Originally due to arrive at the park in 2006, a number of problems, said to be due to planning permissions and technical issues, led to the ride being delayed until 2007.
in recent years...
In 2010 a further acquisition of Pleasurewood Hills was completed after previous owner Compagnie des Alpes (formerly Grevin et Cie) announced it would relinquish control of the Suffolk attraction and six other leisure parks at the end of 2010.
At this time, the most recent change of ownership occurred as H.I.G Capital France - in partnership with industry expert Laurent Bruloy - took control of all seven of the parks.
Since 2010, Pleasurewood Hills has received further investment in new attractions. These include the much-publicised Hobs Pit scare attraction which was more recently rethemed to become the Rootin Tootin Target Trail,
A Pleaurewood Hills classic, the Rattlesnake roller coaster, closed down to the disappointment of many regular visitors. However in 2019, the park were able to reopen the ride with a new theme and name, The Egg-Spress.