Drayton Manor Theme Park

Laurence Gale MScin Best of the Rest

More than a million visitors pass through the gates of Drayton Manor Theme Park each year - a figure which would have been far beyond the wildest dreams of the founder, George Bryan Snr, when he bought eighty acres of land in Staffordshire in 1949.

web1.jpgThe land was part of the former Drayton Manor estate of Sir Robert Peel - former Prime Minister and, whilst Home Secretary, the creator of the modern police force.

George, and his wife Vera, got the idea from their experiences of working at The California in England resort that was operating in Berkshire before the war.

The site was officially opened in April 1950 as Drayton Manor Inland Pleasure Resort. At that time, it was just a park with a small funfair and tearooms. Entrance fee was 6d (2.5p) for adults and half price for children. The rides cost 6d to go on.

Web-Carousel.jpgIn 1954 George built a self-service cafeteria, followed by the Tower party tearooms, which was soon serving 2,500 teas at weekends. By the late 1950s George had invested in thirteen new rides, one of which, Carousel, is still going strong today. It was a huge investment.

For example, the Chairlift, the park's first 'big ride' cost a staggering £27,000, a vast amount of money in those days. A zoo was introduced in 1957, and this now covers fifteen acres of the park. Over the years, additional areas of land have been acquired to accommodate more rides, picnic areas, nature trails and car parking facilities.

Drayton Manor is now spread over 300 acres, has 100 rides and employs 100 full-time staff. In addition, around 400 'part timers' are employed during the summer season between March and October. The park is geared to cater for up to 20,000 people at any one time.

The Bryan family still owns the park. George passed on the reins to his son Colin, who was made Chief Executive in 1987. Other family members are also involved, with George's grandchildren, William and George Bryan and Edward and Helen Pawley, being key members of the team.



It is grandson George who has the job of looking after the grounds and estate under the title of Estates Manager. As well as having a team of tradesmen - builders, carpenters, electricians, plumbers etc. - there are also five qualified gardeners who help look after the extensive grounds.

George is a 'hands on' manager, helping out wherever needed. As an ISA certified aboriculturalist he spends much of his time working on the trees and woodlands that dominate the site.

The garden team is run by Head Gardener, Nigel Stubbs, who has worked at the park for sixteen years. His assistants are Steve Hanson (5 years), Graham Gilliver (6 Years), Adrian Salter (12 months) and Chris Jones (15 months).

Their working day starts at 7.30am and finishes at 5.00pm. They spend the first two hours of every day working in the main theme park area, ensuring all shrub beds and lawns are in pristine condition before the public arrive.

web7.jpgBeds and borders are kept weed free, using a 75mm layer of bark mulch which is manufactured on-site using an Eco Green composter/shredder. Large timber, up to 150mm in diameter, can be put through the machine and, along with the huge amount of bedding material from the zoo and other green waste from the site, more than enough mulch is produced.

Waste material takes a couple of hours in the composter to reach the desired consistency, it is then transported to a tip site where it is stored.

George purchased a new New Holland TM120 tractor to power the composter, and it is also used to transport materials around the site.

During the 'open season', 21st March to 1st November, hedges that form barriers around the zoo are clipped a minimum of three times to maintain sight lines.

The large lakes and waterways are inspected regularly for any build up of weeds and debris, and action is taken as necessary.

The composter really comes into its own during the winter months when the park is closed. The winter pruning programme produces a vast amount of green waste.

web6.jpgAll the trees on the site are subject to Tree Preservation Orders, which requires George to get permission from the local authority to carry out any significant work on them.

With so many visitors, health and safety is a prime concern. All tress in close proximity to public areas are inspected annually by an independent arboriculturalist. Characteristics, such as root plate movement, fungal bodies, dead branches, tight branch unions, cracks, splits, twists, ivy, disease, leaf size etc., are all noted during the assessment. George and Nigel also inspect them regularly for any signs of damage.

All the gardening staff are qualified chainsaw operators, with George taking the lead in their training. Tree climbing work is generally undertaken by George.

During the winter months crown lifting, dead wooding and, if required, limb removal is carried out.

web8.jpgThe closed season also sees the staff refurbishing shrub beds or planting up new landscape schemes.

Nigel, Steve and Chris usually carry out the mowing duties on a weekly cycle. Large areas that form the car parking areas, camping and verges are mown to a height of 35mm, using either the Ransomes Parkway 2250 or the Hayter LT324 triple cylinder mowers. Margins are cut with a John Deere GX355 ride on rotary.

Other mowing duties, using pedestrian mowers, include formal grass areas, playgrounds and the park entrance. Animal paddocks are occasionally mown, with some caution, no doubt! Strimming around obstacles usually takes up to three days to complete.

web3.jpgOn a busy day the car park will accommodate 5,000 cars, all on grass that is accessed from hard standing roadways. These areas are drained with a primary and, in some cases, a secondary drainage system. To prevent the grass areas from becoming heavily compacted regular aeration is carried out using a hired vertidrain.

Since the 1980s, the family have invested over £40 million, which equates to around £2 million a year on new rides. One of the most recent attractions has been the well-received Thomas the Tank Engine World, a railway network for transporting visitors around the park.

The landscaping of this new theme pretty much requires a full time gardener to look after it, with Adrian Salter spending most days keeping the weeds down, ensuring the track is safe and free of debris and bedding in new plants.

web5.jpgAs part of the continuing growth of the site, planning permission for a 150 room hotel complex as been approved. This will be sited on the existing camping area, with many of the old estate trees being featured in the new landscaping. This, in turn, will mean that the camping site will be moved to a new area.

And, with George planning to establish an arboretum and a nature reserve within the existing 35-acre nature trail site, it looks like the gardening team will have plenty to occupy them over the coming months and years.


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