The Switchback

The following is an extract from the book Amusement Park Rides by Martin Easdown
Shire Library ISBN 978-0747811541:

In 1900 a switchback was added to the Victoria Pleasure Gardens at Burgess Hill in West Sussex, and its position astride the lake left quite an impression on one visitor, F. Brown, who recalled:

“Long before reaching the Gardens, the distant strains of the roundabout organ would be carried to our ears on the prevailing wind. It was a cheerful sound, full of the pleasant expectations of things to come, and the anticipation was sharpened by the first view of the magnificent Switchback Railway that dominated the skyline. This astonishing construction of soaring arches mounted on high stilted legs completely spanned the lake, and at one point dipped so alarmingly that the track barely skimmed the water’s surface, so that the carriage, when it passed, threw up a cloud of spray drenching anyone in the near vicinity, and caused the girls on board to clutch their hats and scream with sheer excitement.”

Postcard view of the Switchback (c1912)

“Emily & I”, an Edwardian Tale

Victoria Pleasure Gardens, the frozen lake, from the Mid Sussex Times

I called for my dear Emily at 6.30. The evening was a quiet, still and rather chilly one but there would soon be a full moon and the walk to the lake would warm us.

We took the footpath off the main road and Emily turned to me with her finger pressed against her lips, her breath curling around it in the cold winter air. I stopped talking and we could hear a distant murmur of excited voices, a few children laughing and I’m sure I heard an owl though Emily said I imagined it.

Through the bushes we could see the candles twinkling around the lake. We turned the corner and there it was before us, a magical view of our summer boating lake surrounded by what looked like half the population of Burgess Hill.

The fat man was still in his hut and the skate hire was doing a brisk trade judging by the queue. Lucky we had some, though mine had seen better days and Emily made me promise to tie the string out of sight of her friends.

We joined the crowds at the end of the lake opposite the switchback and in sight of the fat man’s hut. It felt warmer beside the candles but I put my arm around Emily, just to warm her you understand.

The door to the little hut opened and out came Mr Street, the large owner of our local Pleasure ground. Even from where I was, the other side of the lake, I could see he was a big man. A hush fell over the crowd. Emily squeezed my hand and the fat man sat down to put on his skates. Someone laughed and the fat man stood up, took a bow, and carefully moved onto the ice. You could have heard a pin drop.

He moved a little further in, looked up at the expectant crowd and then held his thumb aloft for all to see. There was a cheer, some applause, and everyone began to move onto the frozen lake.

Emily looked at me, her eyes sparkling in the candlelight, let go of my hand and ran onto the lake shouting at me to try and catch her.

I leapt onto the ice, one skate twisted, caught up on the long piece of parcel string and I fell backwards with a crash onto my… trouser seat. Everyone had a good laugh that night, mainly at my expense, but Emily did let me catch her before the candles burnt down.