“There was a young lady from Rayleigh who went to the Kursaal quite Gayleigh. When the dancing began. She met a young man who said that his name was Bill Bayleigh”

This was the winning entry back in 1906 when bosses at the Kursaal held a competition to find the best limerick about the Southend attraction. Over the years it’s fair to say the Kursaal inspired many a limerick, poem and story.

Southend Standard:

Dark side - For many decades the Kursaal was also home to a zoo filled with exotic animals and wild beasts including lions, tigers, wolves and polar bears

Southend Standard:

Heyday - in its heyday it was a mini Disneyland of its time. Packed with amusement rides, sideshows, a ballroom, dining hall, arcade, billiard room and even shooting range

Southend Standard:

In its heyday it was a mini Disneyland of its time. Packed with amusement rides, sideshows, a ballroom, dining hall, arcade, billiard room and even shooting range, it was the place for orchestral concerts, dances, masked balls, magicians and illusionists.

But the bright appeal of the Kursaal had a dark side too. For many decades the Kursaal was also home to a zoo filled with exotic animals and wild beasts including lions, tigers, wolves and polar bears. The zoo had opened its gates in 1916 and in its formative years attracted phenomenal crowds. But where there were wild animals kept in tiny cages, problems were not far away.

In June of 1905 one of the most horrific accidents in the Kursaal’s history occurred at the zoo. A musician named Frank Appleby was attempting to stroke a lioness at the zoo when the animal became enraged and attacked him. The lioness grabbed his arm, almost tearing it off, as she tried to drag Appleby through the bars of the cage. Appleby, who worked as a bandleader at the Kursaal, was rushed to hospital in Southend but died two days later from blood poisoning brought on as a result of his catastrophic injuries. He had been warned several times before to stay away from the lions.

This would not be the only event of its kind. In 1939 Kursaal lion tamer ‘Captain R Varley’ was badly mauled by two lions at the zoo – just a few weeks after he had been attacked by the zoo’s tiger! Miraculously he survived. In October 1936, an escaped monkey from the Kursaal attacked a teenage girl in Southend, biting her wrist and ankle before a keeper dragged it away.

Death and injury at the Kursaal was sometimes down to human error and mechanical failure. In August 1920 daytripper Laura Lee, 54, from Hoxton fell down the stairs of the sideshow known as the ‘Joy Grotto’ and died. In August 1928 Henry Slough, the proprietor of an amusement ride known as ‘The Glider’, was killed after getting dragged under his own machine.

In 1938 a fatal accident on The Whip ride claimed the life of James Pereira, a 36-year-old day tripper from Clapham. He had stood up while the ride was moving and fell off the ride.

Richard Harrow, known as the ‘quarter ton man’ was part of the sideshow. The 38-year-old, who weighed 40 stone, collapsed and died inside his own side stall in June of 1936 due to the intense heat. Part of the building had to be removed in order to bring out his body.

One of the Kursaal’s most thrilling spectacles – The Wall of Death – which involved motorcyclists riding around the inside of a wooden dome, was also the site of a number of nasty accidents over the years.

In 1951 Jack Campbell was painfully injured when his tyre burst as he was whirling round the wall of death and crashed 15ft to the ground.

Marjorie Dare, a trick motor cyclist on Wall of Death had been badly injured following a similar event in 1935.