It’s 50 years since Codona’s opened the largest permanent funfair in Scotland in Aberdeen. Gayle Ritchie charts the history of the beachfront attraction and explores the legacy of the famous Codona family.
White-knuckle rollercoaster rides, waltzers, go-karts and a big wheel – you name it, Codona’s Amusement Park has it.
Set back just a few metres from the frothing North Sea, it’s one of the north-east’s brightest and most exciting attractions, much-loved by generations of families who have flocked there over the decades for thrills and spills.
Half a century has passed since the funfair opened at its permanent venue on Aberdeen’s Queens Links, just off the Beach Boulevard, but the Codona family had ties with the north-east a good 50 years before that.
Aberdeen – a top holiday spot
With the advent of cheap public transport in the late 1920s, Aberdeen became a popular holiday destination.
Back then, the idea of spending a week in sunny Aberdeen with its silver sands put a smile on the faces of thousands of Scots, whether from Dundee, Perth, Fife or beyond.
The Codona family were one of the major draws. They ran a touring fairground, developed from a celebrated company of actors, dancers and entertainers, and they put on shows at venues across Aberdeen annually.
Popular sites included outside Provost Skene House, at Kittybrewster Mart, Pittodrie Stadium, in Seaton Park and on Guest Row.
As well as Aberdeen, the Codonas performed at sites the length and breadth of the UK.
But there was something that particularly appealed about Aberdeen, which was a city increasingly growing in popularity.
In 1969, the Codona family tendered to operate a permanent amusement park on Queens Links.
The managing director of the business at that time was Alfred Codona and he was assisted by his two sons Alan and Barry.
“My father Alfred built a model of the amusement park he would propose to build,” explains Alan, 74.
“He won the tender and Codona’s was built next to Aberdeen beach.”
My father Alfred built a model of the amusement park he would propose to build.”
The amusement park opened the following year – in 1970 – and this year marks its 50th anniversary.
Travelling showmen and women
The Codona clan came from Italy to Scotland in the early 19th century.
They were a circus family – a family of travelling showmen and women – and members toured the country entertaining huge crowds.
One branch of the Codonas left Glasgow in the early 1900s for America and formed a trapeze act which eventually became the world-famous Flying Codonas.
With the advent of the cinematograph (an apparatus for showing motion-picture films), the family started running travelling picture shows across Scotland.
It was during this time that steam-driven fairground rides started to pop up and the Codona family purchased a set of “three-abreast gallopers” – the first of many.
Popular rides back then included The Galloping Horses, The Dragons, The Mont Blanc, The Switch Back, The Cake Walk, The Jungle Ride, Auto Scooters and The Wall of Death.
At the turn of the century, the Codonas opened the very first permanent amusement park in Scotland – Fun City at Portobello in Edinburgh.
But it was in 1970 – the same year that BP found a major oilfield in the North Sea, 110 miles from Aberdeen – that the family truly made its mark when it opened the iconic Granite City attraction.
Since its conception, Codona’s Amusement Park has become an institution for Aberdonians young and old – and it attracts thrill-seekers from all over Scotland.
The company is currently run by Alan’s three children, Andrea, John and Alfred.
Despite having officially “retired” from being at the helm in 2011, Alan, who is one of Aberdeen’s deputy lieutenants, still takes a keen interest in the amusement park’s fortunes.
“It’s amazing how little and how much the funfair business has changed over the past 100 years,” reflects Alan.
“A photograph in my office of the ‘Codona’s Carnival’ at the mart at Kittybrewster in 1926 shows rides including a rollercoaster (which travelled to Aberdeen by rail), dodgems, carousel gallopers, chair-o-planes, waltzers and a circus. It’s similar to what we have today but not quite so high-tech!”
Comedian Russ Abbot couldn’t resist a trip to Codona’s when he was in Aberdeen for a performance 30 years ago.
Then at the height of his fame, his show, Russ Abbot and his Madhouse, ran at His Majesty’s Theatre in September 1990.
The veteran comic joined pupils from Marlpool School in Bucksburn on one of the rides.
Codona’s in 2020
The Codona’s funfair of 1970 was a very different beast to the one Aberdeen boasts today.
“When we first opened permanently in the 1970s, we were only an outdoor amusement park with a building to house the rides,” says Alan.
“In the past 50 years, we have established ourselves as both an indoor complex and outdoor amusement park.”
While the Covid-19 pandemic has put paid to any real 50th anniversary celebrations, Alan says he hopes the business will “thrive and survive”.
Alan said: “Through the years and across the generations, our recipe for success – come and have some fun – is simple and has served us well.
“Our business has survived two world wars, the ups and downs of life, and now this awful pandemic which has hit the world. We pray we will survive and thrive.
“We’ve spent a lot of time preparing and sanitising all our premises.
“We know the majority of our customers are regulars and over the generations we get to know them and their families. We cannot wait to welcome back all visitors, old and new.”
Growing up in rural Aberdeenshire, one of THE most exciting things to do was to head into town and spend a day at Codona’s, writes Gayle Ritchie.
The first time I went there, I was around five years old and I was in candyfloss and coconut shy heaven.
I desperately wanted to win a fish in a plastic bag – remember those? – but alas, I never did. Probably just as well.
I was too young to go on most of the big, scary rides, but I sat on my dad’s knee in a dodgem as he bashed into fellow drivers. I loved it.
I returned to Codona’s many times in my teens.
The spooky ghost train was always a favourite – even if I wasn’t really scared, I screamed – and I was mad for the Waltzers.
Codona’s was a place to hang out with friends, to meet boys and most importantly, to have as much fun as possible.
The shooting gallery was another highlight, although I was fairly awful at it.
A skeleton which laughed when you shot at it, a piano which played when you hit it, and a man sitting on the loo – what’s not to love?!
There was also the adventure playground that was Ramboland, although the high ropes and slides intimated me so I never ventured into it.
On one occasion, my friend begged me to go on a huge green crane-like structure called The Sidewinder. Never again.
I’m not a fan of heights (I’m not keen on rollercoasters), and The Sidewinder was very high.
It swung you right up into the air, and then swung back down again. It was enough to turn you green.
I recall my friend repeatedly crunching into me, squashing me against the machine’s doors while threatening to vomit. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
That aside, my memories of Codona’s are very happy ones.
- Waltzers, dodgems, rollercoaster rides, drop towers, a giant swinging pirate ship, and a big wheel are the main staples of Codona’s Amusement Park but families can also enjoy bumper boats, tree huts and adventure playgrounds.
- The Covid-19 pandemic has temporarily forced the closure of most of the outdoor activities but go-karting, golf and the amusement arcade are still open.
- See codonas.com