Not far from Ilkeston in Derbyshire is a large swathe of land surrounding Shipley Lake. At the time of writing, it is being redeveloped for housing, having lain derelict since 2007. For twenty years prior to that, it was the American Adventure Theme Park.
Up until the late 1970s, the site was a coal mine. After the decline in that industry, the National Coal Board partnered with Derbyshire County Council in the mid-1980s to create Britannia Park, a British-themed tourist attraction celebrating all that is great about Britain. A company called KLF Group (nothing to do with the music act of the same name) spent millions of pounds creating a grand park with themed zones such as Adventureland and Wonderland, as well as eight “British Genius” pavilions. The idea for the pavilions was that British companies could pay for one to promote their product to the public and the expected influx of tourists from around the world.
Opening day of Britannia Park arrived on 27th June 1985. Boxing legend Henry Cooper was the star guest booked to perform the opening. There was a fly past from Concorde on the day. Everything seemed set for the park to be a roaring success. Only it wasn’t finished in time for the opening day. Some parts were open, but the rest was just a muddy mess. Also, the Great British Summer weather (pouring rain) unsurprisingly didn’t tempt people around the world to flock to Derbyshire to walk around a half-built theme park while getting thoroughly soaked.
With visitor numbers plummeting and debts piling up, Britannia Park closed in late 1985, and two of the men behind the park were later jailed for fraud. In 1986, Derbyshire County Council bought the site and then sold it to Granada, the media and catering company more famous for television and motorway service stations. They discarded the British element of the theme park in favour of a more glamorous American theme, and The American Adventure opened in 1987.
Attractions at the park included the Runaway Mine Train, a Ferris wheel whose carriages resembled covered wagons and the Cherokee Falls log flume, which once had the biggest drop in the country. The park expanded further in 1989 with the addiction of the Missile rollercoaster, which was formerly located at the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival as the Coca-Cola Roller Coaster. After various changes of ownership in the 1990s and with increased competition from the Alton Towers and Drayton Manor theme parks, The American Adventure finally closed forever in 2007. The site was cleared for redevelopment in the intervening years. Recently, someone started a petition for the now-demolished park to be re-opened, which got some 10,000 signatures, as well as publicity in the local press, but it was never likely to happen.
I visited the park twice in my lifetime, in 1990 and again around 1993. I’d be delighted to regale you with tales of the park, and all my memories of both of the visits, but I can hardly remember a thing about it, to be perfectly honest. I remember going on the log flume, and the Runaway Mine Train, and that’s about all. There are some pictures, though. These were all taken in 1990.
- More information about Britannia Park (Heanor & District Local History Society)
- Photos of the site after closure (2008) (derelictplaces.co.uk)
- In-depth detail about the rise and fall of The American Adventure Theme Park (The Abandoned Carousel)