In 1980 a Big Top was erected alongside the Courtyard in the Ingestre Centre, little did the park know it would become one of its longest serving entertainment venues.
Location: Ingestre Centre / Aqualand / Safeway Farm / Storybook Land
Opening Year: 1980
Closing Year: 2005
The yellow tent of the Big Top was home to the new park’s first permanent entertainment attraction, The Parrot Show. The park soon started to look at expanding its entertainment options and in 1983 this led the park to move The Parrot Show, tent and all, across the lake to the current site of the Hospitality Suite.
In Aqualand meanwhile, whilst the venue’s facade remained in place, behind this a much larger green and yellow Big Top was erected, featuring all the technology required to bring the world of the circus to the park.
During much of the rest of the 1980s the venue was home to various circuses, until 1988 when an Ice Rink was installed into the tent for the park’s first Christmas Festival. This addition would define the use of the venue, which after 1989 became a permanent home to the park’s ice shows.
After a few seasons hosting various laser and circus spectaculars, in 1992 the Big Top complete with ice rink was moved across Towers Street to take up residence in a new home next to Safeway Farm. When it opened in its new position it also boasted a new show, Captain Henry’s Gold: An Adventure on Ice.
Captain Henry’s Gold ran for just two seasons in the Big Top, since Henry Hound left Alton Towers at the end of 1993. Following the departure of everyone’s favourite hound, the next season Peter Rabbit took over the Big Top, becoming its longest running resident starring in two separate shows over the next eight years. In 1995 the area around the Big Top was even themed to fit in with the show, becoming Storybook Land.
The departure of Peter Rabbit in 2001 also saw the removal of the familiar Big Top, to be replaced with the more permanent and purpose-built Ice Arena. This new venue would go on to house the technological Webmaster in 2002, followed by the much more traditional Circus of Illusion for 2004.
The 2005 closed season saw the Ice Arena host the Magic of Panto on Ice during the Winter Weekends, but it transpired this was the last show to be hosted in the venue. Since the start of the 2006 season the Big Top sat empty until being demolished for the area’s redevelopment into CBeebies Land for 2014.
The park’s first permanent entertainment feature was The Parrot Show, which began performing in the new yellow big top in Ingestre Centre for the 1980 season. After a couple of seasons operating near the courtyard the show, Big Top and all, moved across the lake to the site currently occupied by the Hospitality Suite.
In 1983, the Hassani Family arrived at the Towers with their circus troupe. Whilst they performed beyond the same facade as the parrots, the park had invested in an all new green and yellow big top which was fully fitted out for a circus that featured all sorts of traditional acts from trapeze artists and clowns through to gymnasts and a strong man.
After the Hassani troupe left the park at the end of 1986, the circus show was taken on by the park’s internal entertainment department and became known as the International Circus. The new circus show starred some of the same acts as had performed in the Circus Hassani, such as Grimble the Clown, who went on to have his own show after the International Circus closed at the end of 1988.
The long and varied history of ice shows at Alton Towers started in the winter of 1988. During the closed season the Big Top was transformed into an ice rink for the park’s inaugural Christmas Festival, which hosted the first Ice Spectacular starring Henry Hound along with his new companion Henrietta. These Christmas Ice Spectaculars continued for the following few seasons.
Laser Adventure Show
The following season the Big Top became home to yet another new style of show, featuring the Laser Adventure Show, which utilised the very latest technology combined with an action packed musical spectacular to produce a brand new 20 minute show.
Circus on Ice
Having tried circuses and ice shows, in 1990 the park decided to combine the two genres to produce the Circus on Ice, creating yet another unique experience for guests. Amongst the other circus acts to glide across the rink, the highlight of the show was the amazing Wheel of Death.
Laser Ice Spectacular
1991 saw the return of lasers to the Big Top when, in another move of artistic fusion, they were in turn combined with ice dancing to produce the Laser Ice Spectacular; a high paced show, which would be the final one performed in Aqualand.
1992 saw the Big Top relocated to the farm where it featured a brand new show which once again saw Henry Hound take centre stage for Captain Henry’s Gold. The sumptuous new show took guests on a journey both on the crest of the waves and deep beneath them.
Henry was chased out of the big top by Peter Rabbit, the most prolific resident of the Big Top, remaining in the tent for eight years. Over the course of his stay, Peter featured in two different shows, first accompanying his young friend Lucie and later being joined by his creator Beatrix Potter herself.
During the 1990s the park had several attempts at celebrating Halloween with shows in various locations from Gloomy Wood through to Fountain Square, but in 2000 the park stepped up their efforts by introducing a specially created Spooktacular ice show. The show was so successful that it became a permanent part of the park’s Halloween offering, to the point that in 2004 it was the park’s only offering.
After Peter Rabbit departed at the end of 2001, the Big Top was removed to make way for a purpose built Ice Arena. This new venue housed the very different ice show of Webmaster; a show which set itself in the much edgier world of computer viruses, which was somewhat of a contrast to the arena’s Storybook Land location.
After only two seasons, Webmaster was replaced by Magic of Ice: Circus of Illusion, a show which saw the return of circus style performances to the venue, though with much more focus on illusion than acrobatics. In its second season the show even starred The Twins, a pair of famous illusionists, focusing even more on the mystical art.
The Magic of Panto
In 2005 the park once again returned to the idea of producing an off-season ice show, this time to entertain hotel guests staying during the Christmas period. As it turned out, The Magic of Panto would unfortunately be the final ice show to be performed at the park, bringing a proud tradition to a close.