Event Finder

Back in the 80s, the Winter Gardens' Olympia Exhibition Hall was home to Professor Peabody’s Playplace, a giant adventure playground which replaced the traditional funfair.

For just £1.75 you could play the day away in this enormous indoor wonderland, with its climbing nets, ropes, tunnels slides and ball pits. Today it remains etched in the memory of thousands of adults who spent many a happy summer’s day there as children - and many a terrifying one too. For the height of excitement for those who ventured into Professor Peadbody's was the legendary Monster Drop.

The infamous "death" slide was so steep that some described going so fast their bottoms momentarily lost contact with the surface. Others landed at the bottom sporting grazes but considered these evidence of their bravery, each scrape a well-earned badge of honour.

The £250,000 playground was opened by the late magician Paul Daniels in June 1983 and was reported by the Blackpool Gazette to have been the first of its kind in the UK - created by the First Leisure Corporation as an alternative to fun-fair style amusements.

Mr Daniels is said to have taken a swing on a rope and a dip in the ball pool during his personal appearance. However he left the towering Monster Drop to the youngsters.

Those who still reminisce fondly about the sheer excitement of taking the plunge include Arleen Cullen, a member of a Facebook page dedicated to the experience of playing the day away. 

 “I have so many fun memories of Professor Peabody’s,” remembered Arleen. “The best days of my holidays were spent there.”

Describing this photograph of her speeding down the chute aged around seven or eight, Arleen said: “The dots on the slide are stickers that the kids would stick on the chute as they were going down it. The stickers were ones that were given away from Peabody's and were on the clothes of the kids who were going down the chute. Obviously one wee rebel decided to stick theirs on to the chute and over time we all followed.”

Some enjoyed spending time in Peabody's so much they even got holiday jobs there. Nicola Wood, who worked in the children's area, recalled: “I used to love Peabody's, always went in on rainy days on holiday, I remember the netting hurting my feet walking above everything from the balcony to the Monster Drop, my belly going funny as I slid down the Monster Drop and the zip swing.”

Others, like Emma Davies, were lucky enough to have parents who worked there: “I spent a lot of time there as my mum worked on the entrance kiosk, so used to be in every day after school and all the hols,” she said. “It was great.” Emma's main recollection of the Monster Drop was asking the staff to lower her over it as she was too scared to do it herself.

Michelle McCain also found the slide daunting: “Clearest memory is sitting at the top of the Monster Drop and trying to force myself to let go!“

Jayne Dawson remembers having to swap clothes with her sister as only one of them had shorts on. “So we could both get a shot of the chute!!” she explained. “Scariest chute EVER!!”

On digitalspy.com fans agreed the the Monster Drop was indeed a scary prospect, including “radioamerica”, who wrote: “My mum would drop me off and she'd go shopping. Every week I would sit at the top of the Monster Drop. For ages I would never dare go on it, but every week I said I would. When I finally did it was the most amazing slide of my life.”

Clearly the Monster Drop left an impression on many a young daredevil who mourned the eventual closure of Professor Peabody's. “I was gutted the day I turned up and it had closed,” said Nicola Wood. “I looked through the windows for years hoping they had just been doing it up.”

All that remains of the playground today is the original sign depicting Professor Peabody himself, now resident in Blackpool’s West Coast Rock Café.

Meanwhile the Olympia Exhibition Hall has become well-known as one of the largest venues for exhibitions and trade shows in the area, famous for high profile events such as political party and trade union conferences.

But for Professor Peabody fans it will forever be remembered as the location of their most exhilarating childhood memories.

With thanks to Nicky Topham for the main photo

@WGBpl

Follow Winter Gardens Blackpool for all the latest announcements, news and get behind the scenes of Blackpool's biggest venue.