The tag line was 'For everyone, everything wonderful in a world of its own.' In the early 1980s the New Town of Corby, located in the northern reaches of Northamptonshire, was faced with a sense of despair. The thriving steel industry that had been the heart and soul of the town had curled up and died, closing a multitude of plants across the country. Corby lost its heart and was faced with an uncertain future - and then came WonderWorld.
WonderWorld, an idea proposed by Group Five Holdings Limited, promised a theme park that went beyond the root purpose of entertainment to add thoughts upon existence and education. It was to be a kind of edutainment1 resort that would at once impress and blend in with the local countryside. The heart of WonderWorld would exist within a massive, enclosed environment where the widest variety of attractions could be housed, themed in history, folklore, fairy tales and the future.
WonderWorld promised a massive project spread over a decade or more of development, starting in early 1983. There was land clearance, construction, services, utilities, staff and more besides. The whole project would use only leading specialists in all required fields guaranteeing the highest possible standards. It would involve schools, old people, families, local companies - the whole community - in a project that would not only benefit Corby, but the whole of Northamptonshire.
The project was driven by a propaganda engine that included models at the local council building, articles in Corby's Evening Telegraph newspaper and glossy pamphlets. There were quotes from the Leader of Corby District Council, Kelvin Glendenning, and the Right Honourable Sir John Eden Bt MP, proclaiming the opportunities for employment, building the community and offering unsurpassed facilities. Personalities like TV botanist David Bellamy and golfer Jack Nicklaus had their names associated with different aspects of the project.
Offered attractions included:
The Body, a ride through an enormous Pythonesque body, starting in a pool of lime green soup and travelling aboard an enormous pork sausage.
Hands-on edutainment in the world of film-making and craft displays.
An invitation to the Butterfly Ball, which was a great themed party event filled with costumed, fairy tale participants.
The Jack Nicklaus master class golf simulator which was to take advantage of the most cutting edge motion capture technology of the time.
A World War II flight simulator that would allow visitors to take the pilot seat of a fighter amidst the Battle of Britain.
Space age facilities, such as a massive, domed Communications Centre.
The Lost Village of Rhyme, which was a whole gathering of fairy tale and nursery rhyme sourced buildings, including a teapot house, a liquorice-roofed corner shop and a bookshelf-shaped library.
A full 18-hole golf course that spanned the full length of the WonderWorld location and a fully-equipped sports centre.
A massive open air concert arena styled to look like one of the Martian tripods from Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds.
... all blended into the surrounding countryside.
The description created a vision of glass and metal fused with the countryside2. It was an incredible project that excited the whole community and promised not only a feast for the eyes but a hands-on world of participatory entertainment as well.
While the pamphlets and articles had declared a start in 1983 and the completion of the first phase of construction in 1985, there was very little to show for the hype by the late 1980s. The one, odd, exception was the song 'WonderWorld' included on Grenade, a 1986 album by The Cassandra Complex3.
A massive area of land to the east of Corby, near the village of Weldon, had been ploughed and prepared for development. However, the only thing ever raised on the land was a massive sign that declared the area to be the designated plot for the WonderWorld development and a small cabin that must have been a entertaining target for hiking vandals.
By the end of the 1980s it was clear that nothing was going to happen. Group Five Holdings Limited had vanished, pulled under by financial troubles, and the sign slowly fell into disrepair. The dreams of this massive community project were shattered by insufficient funds to get even the foundations of the park in place.
Now, almost 20 years after the first inkling of WonderWorld, it is nothing more than memories and merchandise. The massive plot that was prepared is now a haven for rare plants and wild animals - though they are more than likely threatened by the prospect of urban development. Corby has recovered from the loss of the steel industry with an increase in light industry and trading in various industrial estates scattered across the east side and northern edge of the town.
WonderWorld, which promised an engaging park filled with fantasy and wonder, has become a forgotten dream. The developers went into receivership, the plot has returned to nature and the prospect of a theme park in Corby remains a fantasy.