Once considered to be the very soul of Southend-on-Sea, Kursaal has a wonderfully colourful history. It served as the largest fairground in South England for the greater part of the twentieth century and, though the fairground and all of its attractions are long gone now, it still stands today as a venue of entertainment and leisure.
In 1893, local father and son Alfred and Bernard Wiltshire Tollhurst bought four acres of land in an effort to create a marine park and gardens. The building that we now know today as being the Kursaal, characterised by its Edwardian architecture and dome, wasn't actually built until 1901, where it functioned as a ballroom and dining hall. Over the years it was expanded into a 26 acre fairground with a range of different sideshows, stalls and rides including all the old favourites such as the Waltzer, bumper cars, toboggan ride, a ghost train, and much much more. In 1916, a zoo was added to the fairground exhibiting animals from around the world including bears, tigers and wolves.
Unfortunately the beginning of WWII brought about a new era in Southend where the Kursaal was commandeered to serve military purposes, and the entertainment resort was closed to the public. Though reopened when the war was over, the idea of housing a zoo again had been abandoned for good. The 50's and 60's saw Kursaal at its greatest, attracting tourists to its rides and rollercoasters once again and booming with even more popularity than it had before. The Kursaal Ballroom soon became a major venue for live music, hosting big bands like Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and even Queen in 1973. The same year that the amusement park closed down for good due to financial reasons. The following years saw the decline of the beloved Kursaal until 1986 when the building finally closed, and the remaining area where the amusement park once stood was gradually sold off and bull-dozed to make way for the new Kursaal housing estate.
After a multi-million pound redevelopment, the Kursaal building was reopened again in 1998. Though the Kursaal building has remained over a century mostly unchanged, the surrounding areas have undergone tremendous amounts of transformations over the decades. But its legacy as a centre of entertainment continues on as the Kursaal building now contains a function suite, casino, bowling alley and arcade amusements. The bright neon lights a tribute to the Kursaal that once was.
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