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Beach Fun Fair

The largest permanent fun fair in Scotland is Codona’s Amusement Park

Codona's Funfair -
The Codona family had probably been visiting Aberdeen throughout the 19th century, but the first record appears to be a visit by showman John Codona in 1877 for the marriage of his son John. This son John Cardownie (one of several variations of the family name) was one of the few in the family to venture into the growing entertainment industry outside the closed world of the fairground and has as a result left more of a record of his life than his fairground family.

The Codona family came from Italy to Scotland in the early 19th century. They were a circus family and toured the country as entertainers.  One branch of the family left Glasgow in the early 1900’s and went to America ,then moved to Mexico and formed a trapeze act which eventually became the world famous “Flying Codonas.

With the advent of the Cinematograph the family in Scotland opened a “Travelling Picture Show” and eventually opened cinema halls in the East of Scotland.  It was during this time that “Steam Driven” fairground rides started to appear and the family owned and toured with various popular rides including-The Galloping Horses, The Dragons, The Mont Blanc, The Switch Back, The Cake Walk, The Jungle Ride, Auto Scooters  and The Wall of Death.

The Codona family also opened at the turn of the century the first permanent Amusement Park in Scotland. This was called the Fun City and was located at Portobello in Edinburgh. The family operated two Roller Coasters at this time. The Figure Eight was locate at Fun City and the other travelled Scotland visiting various towns and city’s.  The Figure Eight coaster visited Aberdeen for the first time in 1926 at Codona’s Spring Holiday Fair.  It was located at Kittybrewster mart along with many other rides and attractions owned by the Codona family.  The family continued to operate their travelling fairground business and in 1969 won the tender to operate the Amusement Park at Queens Links, Aberdeen. The previous operators John Crole and Sons had operated the Park from the end of World War II.

The Managing director of the business at this time was Alfred B. Codona. He was assisted by his two sons Alan Codona and Barry Codona. Since its conception Codona’s Amusement Park has continually redeveloped and has become an institution to all Aberdonians young and old.

From the 1920s Codona's were promoting substantial funfairs in the city and in the 1930s had a regular May Holiday funfair. Alfred’s brother Gordon recalls their father John establishing the pitch.

We used to go to Aberdeen in the wintertime in the 30s and opened in the middle of Aberdeen in the Guestrow, next to Marischal College. We used to spend a few months in the middle of Aberdeen, that was expensive to put a show there … and that was up until the war started. That was private business, you know, we just went there and my father got the site and because he had established that site, nobody could take it at that time, not in the Showmen’s Guild.’

Alfred and Gordon continued to run their father’s business, John Codona’s Pleasure Fairs, until 1960. Alfred eventually settled in Aberdeen in 1970, taking over the Beachfront Amusement Park. By this time the traditional summer holiday business had dwindled. Alfred was interviewed in 1977.

When the Glasgow Fair came along you had a million people spreading out and very often the working people with the most money were the folk who came farthest to Aberdeen.  People came in large numbers just after the 1914-18 war … The beaches were very crowded … I suppose the big days of the Glasgow Fair ended in the mid-1960s and after that the Fair seemed to coincide with horrible weather.  Of course the Beach is still very busy with Scottish Trades Holiday people as well as those from farther afield. Nevertheless the main trade at Aberdeen Beach is provided by Aberdonians themselves. They really like coming to the beach and to the funfair and, I believe, if it wasn’t for them and the fact that unemployment is less here than in other places, then our business wouldn’t be viable.’

This trend has continued and the business has been developed to cater for a more local clientele with Alfred’s sons Alan and Barry carrying on and expanding the family businesses after their father’s death.  Funfairs like Codona’s are now multi-million pound businesses – a far cry from Francisco Cardoni’s simple acrobatics and glove puppets.

Frank Bruce’s history of the Codona family Showfolk: An oral history of a fairground dynasty, was published in 2010.

Postcards show the old 'scenic' railway that my mother rode on as a child on the Funfair Area of the Queens Links. Aberdeen, Beach Amusement Park The 1929-1943, rebuild of the Great Yarmouth, Pleasure Beach's 1st Scenic Railway (1909-1928).  Picture taken from the beach side looking towards Footdee

Re-erected from Great Yarmouth this mysteriously burned down in 1943 and must have been quite an alarming sight during the war years.  There was also a miniature racing car circuit with banked track at the ends shown on the right. All located near Links Road Footdee before fences proved necessary.


The 1880s saw the US take the lead in roller coaster development and from that period on it was largely an American initiative.  In the 1870s and 1880s there were several US patents for roller coasters but the first to be actually constructed was designed by La Marcus Adna Thompson (1848-1918) an inventor and entrepreneur whose other patents included the first seamless hosiery. His first roller-coaster, the Switchback Railway, ran forwards along a track before being returned backwards, hence the name. Cars ran up and down several inclines. Thompson’s first Switchback Railway, dating from 1884, had run along West Tenth Avenue by the beach at Coney Island, Brooklyn NYC.  It was a great success and he patented it the following year. A few months later a rival operator opening a ride that ran on a continuous oval track and was already termed a roller coaster. An early Thompson Switchback was installed at Folkestone, Kent (no longer extant). The first UK use of the term roller coaster if found in the Pall Mall Gazette which referred in 1888 to the ‘rage for rapid transit through the air ... by tobogganing, switchbacks or roller coasters.’

The Rollercoaster. Developed by John Henry Iles, who bought the European rights for the Scenic Railway from Coney Island, New York, whence he imported some of the moving parts. Timber lattice structure supporting double loop of iron tracks, with pulleys and an endless steel rope to 2 haulage slopes; the trackway sunk between railed walkways for a stable ride and allowed sharper bends. Two trains, each of two permanently linked cars controlled by a standing brakeman riding on the vehicle.  The brakeman is seen above in uniform with brake lever in hand,.  To the right on a maintenance platform lie 4 other cars.  Note the headlight indicating that the Scenic Railway was used after dusk.  Much steam and smoke emanates in the background from steam engines or adjacent Factories. This 1938 Aerial shot of Fittie shows the Scenic Railway in its enclosure opposite Links Street.

The Switchback Railway Entrance festooned with adverts.  A ride took approximately 4 minutes and all the bends except the final one are all right hand. There are two upward inclines where a cam wheel opens a clamp underneath the train, which automatically grips the cable, a similar mechanism releasing the cable again when the train reaches the top of the slope. The cable arrangement is a feature unique to Scenic Railways. From the top of the two lifts the cars runs on gravity, moderated by the Brakeman. It is important, for a smooth ride that the train is travelling at the same speed as the cable when the clamp engages. For safety, a ratchet mechanism on the upward slope prevents the train from running backwards should it stop on an incline.  There was also the station, where the train is halted for passengers to board; the engine shed, where the trains are stored and repaired; the workshop from which maintenance was run; and the motor house.

The Battersea Big Dipper Disaster of 1972 when 5 children were killed and several injured. It was during the aftermath of this accident that most of the wooden roller coasters in Britain’s amusement parks were removed; as irrespective of the actual standards of safety on the rides public confidence had been dented.  Aside from the fires, the Scenic Railway had from its early days been subject to regular maintenance.  The bolted modular structure is well suited to such a programme of inspection and replacement.  Due to the wear and tear and unprotected nature of the structure in a marine climate the timbers have a relatively short life and are especially vulnerable to end-grain decay. During the period of ownership the timber structure was replaced on a rolling programme – about 1/7th replacement each year. It is not known whether this represents an increase or decrease on the rolling replacement of earlier times but it may have been a higher rate of replacement as a result of the fall-out of the Battersea Fun Fare accident.  Aberdeen's mysterious fire suggests a decision to either to engineer an insurance claim or perhaps deliberate vandalism.

Harry Gordons Entertainers invite one to the white painted Pavilion Theatre top left while the whirlwind beckons below it.  The Scenic railway dominated the front and a mini car track and garage dominate the centre.  The promenade is delightfully free of motor traffic. Various side shows surround the funfair.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013