Originally opened in 1901, The Kursaal of Southend-on-Sea was the world's first ever theme park, pre-dating Coney Island in America. Designed by the architect Campbell Sherrin, also responsible for amongst other things, the Brompton Oratory, the Kursaal building and its dome were at the cutting edge of architectural design.

Originally intended as an entertainment venue and gardens, the twenty-six acre site rapidly included the latest attractions and rides as they were developed. Famous in the 1920s and 1930s as the fairground of the East End of London, the Kursaal was at its peak at the advent of World War II.

Whilst closed to the public during the war, the Kursaal's place in history continued as the site for the Swallow raincoat factory and the Naafi stores for the South East.

At the end of hostilities the Kursaal reverted to its original identity of fun and entertainment and continued to grow.

There were many firsts at the Kursaal. The world's first Lady Lion Tamer, the world's first Lady Wall of Death Rider performed here, it was the first venue in England for the display of Al Capone's personal car from Chicago, and Eric the sixty ton stuffed whale!

Despite all these endeavours the Kursaal sadly declined in the 1970s, believed to be due to the advent of continental holidays. The decline was irrepressible and in the 1980s the building finally closed.

The Kursaal lay derelict for much of the 80s and 90s, but it's architectural status as a listed building saved it from demolition, and in 1998 it was bought by a leisure group who refurbished and reopened it.

Reproduced from www.kursaal.co.uk with permission