The Story of the Theme Park – by Ben Nicholls
When I originally thought about launching a family history business, I wanted to have an element of it that was basically a “Who Do You Think You Are?” experience for non-celebrities. I wanted to help people not only learn about their family history but to actually experience it. I believe this is how people can truly connect with their ancestors and better understand themselves.
This led to the idea of creating experience days for people based on the work their ancestors did. For example, if their ancestor was a baker, a miner or an agricultural labourer, could I work with places or people who had the capacity to offer these heritage services? My research took me to one such establishment that I was looking to work with. To my great dismay, one of the planned activities that day was cancelled at the last minute because the owner couldn’t be bothered to run it!
It was at that very moment that I decided I would create my own place where I could offer a range of ancestor experience days. That way I could guarantee that every activity went ahead as scheduled and nobody would be left disappointed.
The seed of this idea quickly began to germinate and grow inside my head.
When researching British ancestors, one of the most common ways to find out what they did for work is to look at the 19th century census returns. Thanks to these fascinating documents, you can track your ancestors’ occupations right through the Victorian period. So I decided to focus on that era.
For a long time, this mad idea of effectively creating my own Victorian world lived inside my head as I wondered how on earth I would even start to create something like that.
Then, one day in January 2018, I took the opportunity to pitch my Victorian world concept to one of my network groups – just for fun. Afterwards nobody thought I was completely insane and some people said they though it was a brilliant idea and asked me when was I going to create it! One member of the group suggested I speak to her brother, Jim, who works in the heritage industry. We met up and he was really interested in my idea but at this stage there was still nothing tangible.
I decided it would be a good idea to make a model of my theme park because something visual like that would inspire interest in my project. My graphic designer sister-in-law is helping me with this.
Meanwhile, with Jim’s support, I am starting to put together a team of experts who can help make this world a reality.
What Does the Park Look Like?
You will enter the park through the 'time tunnel'. You’ll leave the 21st century behind and travel back in time until you emerge into a Victorian town. Straight ahead of you is a park with a grandstand and, if you’re lucky, a brass band will be performing. Around the park are the shops where you will be able to meet the shopkeepers and buy their wares: fresh bread from the bakery, fruit and veg from the grocer, the best cuts of meat from the butcher. All the food is organically produced of course! There’s an ironmonger, haberdasher, jeweller, stationer and many more.
You can visit the church or the synagogue, the workhouse and even the asylum. If you’ve got the constitution for it, go to the slum and meet the real characters who live there. If refinery is more your thing, you can go to the theatre and watch an opera or concert. And when you need to sit down and refresh yourself, there’s a pub and a tea room.
But that’s not all! There are other places to visit and you can walk off all that refreshment or catch the train. The town station is by the entrance to the park and the train goes all the way around the park.
The first station stop is the mining village. Here you’ll find a tin mine and a coal mine which you can explore with one of the miners. You’ll be able to meet his family who live in one of the miners’ cottages. Visit the Methodist chapel and go back to school with the village children to find out what they learned about and how they were punished if they misbehaved!
The next stop round on the railway line is the farm. The fresh organic food you bought in the town comes from here. You’ll get to see all the animals and watch the blacksmith and agricultural labourers at work. Make sure you go into the farmhouse kitchen to see what the farmer’s wife is baking today. If you ask nicely, she might let you try some!
The fourth station on the railway is the docks. Here you’ll see magnificent naval and merchant ships as well as little fishing boats. The fishwives will be down on the shore no doubt turning the air blue with their language so cover your ears!
There’s one more place you should visit before you head back to the town and that’s the big house. Built in Georgian times by a wealthy merchant, it is now home to an earl who is a local landowner. Be dazzled by his opulent residence and don’t forget to go downstairs to hang out with the servants. They’re the ones who know all the gossip and are happy to talk but they’re busy people so if you want to hear their stories, you can’t afford to be idle!