By Juliette Gregson
I have always had an interest in the history and paranormal heritage of my town Blackpool.
My late grandad, Frank Gregson, used to work for Blackpool Pleasure Beach and I was taken down by him to meet the staff and watch what went on behind the scenes, and of course watch the changing face of the park as new rides were built and constructed.
He used to repair the track on the ghost train from time to time and bore testimony to the rumours that ‘Cloggy’ the former ride operator could still be heard.
The ride was first spotted in London in 1930 and the Pleasure Beach owners decided to build their own ‘Pretzel’ ride - named after the USA pretzel company which built the rides. It was opened that year.
As the name Pretzel was unknown in the UK and did not give much of a clue as to the ride itself, in 1931, the park changed the name to The Ghost Train - taken from the hit film of that name, starring Jack Hulbert. It was the first Ghost Train in the UK.
In 1936, Architect Joseph Emberton - the man behind the Casino building, Grand National Station, and Fun House - re-designed the ride to design a much larger, two level Ghost Train.
It had an impressive frontage, complete with model skeletons, skulls, and ghosts. It opened up into a giant set, with a roller coaster-style drop in the centre, and balconies on either side. Riders were housed in two-person cars, which were secured to the moving track. It took just under four minutes from start to finish.
The ride was completely re-built in 1957 by new designer-in residence Jack Ratcliffe, and its new frontage was far plainer.
The cars were all painted pink. In 1976, it had another re-vamp, and the frontage gained castle-style battlements and a massive skeleton.
Over the years many tales have been discussed about Cloggy.
From reports gathered by myself and research, I found out that he was a very committed member of staff who would do anything to ensure that customer service standards were reached and that the customers got the fright of their lives when on the Ghost Train.
It seems this continued for the gentleman, even after he had passed away, customers would say after dismounting the ride that they had been touched or grabbed by someone that they could not see, but hear.
Over the years the reports and stories only increased, then later finding out that the extra ‘sensations’ were not actually part of the Ghost Train ride at all.
My grandad Frank worked for the Pleasure Beach for many years and had a young apprentice called Steve Bobola – it seems while they were doing maintenance repairs, Frank would often have a giggle at the customer’s expense.
He would stand very still and wait for one of the cars to round and would then lean forward and say ‘hello – how are you’ and then collapse in a fit of giggles as the car then moved on with now – screaming passengers.
However this was not the only odd occurrence that happened to the staff that worked there, as with all rides they do need to be maintained and repaired and kept in good working order.
Odd sounds, tapping, footsteps and groaning were heard echoing through the walls. When the workmen left and, of course, following procedure by turning off the power and electrics, an odd sight greeted them as they left the building. A skull atop the ride was still lit up, so back inside they went to investigate the issue and spent over an hour trying to find out what was causing the fault, but to no avail.
Whatever they did to rectify the situation, the light on the skull would not turn off; needless to say they had to leave and reported the incident as a one off.
In 2004 the TV series of ‘Most Haunted Live’ paid Blackpool a visit. Naturally they investigated Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and other locations including Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens. Local press at the time had the following to say – ‘The Most Haunted team are to spend 24 at Blackpool’s famous funfair to investigate stories of a haunted ghost train and frightening poltergeist activity’.
As one of my long term projects is to gather information and history about Blackpool ghosts and the surrounding area; I was contacted by the production company to provide history and research for the show.
On the Sunday of the three day live broadcast, I was lucky enough be have been invited as part of the studio audience.
Derek Acorah seemed to hear and have contact from ‘Cloggy’ but we didn’t seem to learn anything new about the late gentlemen in question.
Various team members heard odd noises and one claimed to have been touched on the head.
It is interesting to note that it is not just the Ghost Train that have had stories and haunted activity. A quick resume of the various phenomena that have been reported and sighted over the years.
The Star Pub ( now demolished and the new Boulevard hotel in its place) had reported sights of a male figure in the cellar, then seen again walking through the bar before disappearing.
Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machines is the oldest ride at the park, built in 1904. The ghost of a small female child, aged about nine, is said to have been seen at Sir Hiram Maxim’s Gift Shop.
The Ice Rink claims to have several ‘spooks’, various things have been seen backstage in the dressing rooms, perhaps previous show skaters of years gone by.
Lights and equipment move of their own accord and doors have been wide open when they have been closed with padlocks. Staff working late at night, walking across to the tractor bay, have felt really cold, chilled to the bone and an ‘awful’ presence.