Retro: End of the world for Corby theme park

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Seventeen years of planning, £16m down the drain and nothing but a signpost to show for it.

For the only building ever to take place on a huge 1,026 acre site in Corby was the faded WonderWorld sign, which was eventually daubed with the infamous graffiti ‘WonderWorld, WonderWhen?’.

Wonderworld retro. The sign goes up. ENGNNL00120110526092627

Wonderworld retro. The sign goes up. ENGNNL00120110526092627

Back in 1981, when a third of Corby’s workforce had been made redundant at the close of the steelworks and the unused land was going for a song, a group of ambitious and influential businessmen unveiled plans for a theme park to rival Disney World.

The WonderWorld project was launched with a slick marketing campaign, fancy artists impressions and celebrity backers.

A public exhibition at the London Design Centre was opened by governemnt minister, and future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont, and planning was granted ready for a 1985 opening.

The chairman of WonderWorld plc was The Rt Hon Lord Eden of Winston, a life peer and nephew of Sir Anthony Eden, former prime minister.

Golfer Jack Nicklaus also backed the scheme and was due to operate the park’s golf course.

The site at Priors Hall was to be home to a futuristic theme park which replaced white knuckle rides with “software” that promised to be a ride of the mind and the imagination.

There were due to be 13 “worlds” including Story Village for children, Computer Park which allowed visitors to see the latest technology and Safety Place which was a bizarrely-themed world featuring safe play.

There was Energy World, which was described as an Omnimax Cinema and Air Space, which gave people the chance to experience the latest space technology.

There was also due to be 15,000 car parking spaces, 120 acres of housing and 2,000 hotel rooms. On the same site was supposed to be a 10,000-seat sports stadium and a 4,200-seat concert hall with a 30,000 capacity open-air theatre.

Corby was chosen as developers said it was at the epicentre of the country.

The grand central pavilion was designed by architect Derek Walker, who also designed Milton Keynes.

It was hoped that there would be 1,000 jobs created at the construction phase, and 970 permanent theme park jobs with a summer peak workforce of an extra 356 people.

Overall, it was expected the site would create 23,000 jobs by 2000.

The now-famous WonderWorld sign was put up in 1984, but doubts started to creep in when developers said work had stalled and announced that building would now start in 1988.

In 1987, builders’ huts finally appeared on site, but these were merely props to quell worries that the project had run into trouble as the stock market crash hit the company’s search for financial backing.

Then, attempts to raise cash with a stock market flotation failed dismally.

Corby Council decided to withdraw its support for the scheme in 1990 and gave the developers a final deadline of July 12, 1991, for submission of detailed plans.

They never arrived.

By 1995 the scheme had become a joke, and a financial report, leaked to the Northants Telegraph, showed the London-based firm behind the scheme was more than £14m in the red.

In February 1998 the firm went into liquidation and the directors announced that they had given up on the scheme, 17 years after its inception.

The site was sold for about £2m to Bee Bee Developments, and has now become Priors Hall Park, the world’s largest building site.