With thanks to Mark Foreman in Brooks, Alberta 

 

Mark's Clown Catcher

 

With thanks to Mark Foreman in Brooks, Alberta 


There must be many mementoes of Whitstable around the globe but I doubt that there are many more substantial or more representative of childhood days than the piece of "furniture" lovingly cared for by Mark Foreman in Brooks, Alberta, Canada......

 

   

Yes, it's a penny slot machine from one of the long departed arcades (Jacques and Jimmy's) that lined Beach walk and Tower Parade in the 1950s and 1960s. It was acquired in a last minute transaction that saved it from the great arcade in the sky....

  

My grandfather (Stan) came across the machines being broken up on the nearby beach - apparently just for the brass content! He gave a couple of quid for them, loaded them on his push bike and brought them home. 

One of the other two machines was a "lucky cup" style.... complete with whooshing ball. 

The other was an electric shock machine,... where the customer placed his hand on a fixed handle on the left side of the cabinet, and the other on a sliding handle on the right side. As one pushed down, the shock became more intense, until it gave you quite a little "buzz". This was the only type of "buzz" that we had ever experienced or were likely to!! 

You have to wonder if we were the last of the generations who would pay to give ourselves an electric shock!! 

My Dad ended up with two of the three machines and he sold the "Electric shock machine" to a junk shop (sorry, second hand store) in Harbour Street for the princely sum of four quid during the mid seventies.

Mark Foreman

    

Of course, it wasn't quite so well cared for back in the mid-twentieth century... and I suspect that it took one or two kickings from disgruntled customers. Nevertheless, I well remember it (or, at least, one like it).... partly because it relieved me of an awful lot of pocket money.... but also because it employed a totally different approach to amusement compared to Jacques and Jimmys other instruments of financial torture. 

Most of the machines involved flicking a metal ball around a spiral track in an attempt to land it in a row of static cups. The skill came in judging the amount of force needed. Mark's machine was almost the opposite. The customer had far less control over the ball's introduction to the game... but more control over the cups.. 

 

 

The ball simply popped out of the hole at the top when the user turned the tap-style "ball release" knob on the right of the cabinet. It then ran down the metal guide rails and bounced around a forest of metal pins while the player attempted to catch it in one of two mobile cups. The cups slid from side to side... guided by the handle at the bottom left of the cabinet. Finally, having missed the cups, it dropped onto the rail at the bottom and disappeared into the hole on the left. (Oh, c'mon, don't lie... you didn't catch it either!)

If, by some miracle, a ball fell into a cup, winnings were dispensed at the bottom right of the machine. Mark tells me that the prize was a halfpenny... and another ball.

Whilst the outer case was quite an elaborate antique, the inside was a little less spactacular.... with the mechanisms screwed entirely to the cabinet door....

  

  

After featuring these pictures in our weekly Chat column, Jack Tuckwood wrote from France to provide the name of this type of machine. Apparently, it is a Clown Catcher

The arcades closed some time around the late 1960s or early 1970s but the Clown Catcher didn't head off to Canada immediately. Mark's dad converted it a "2p piece" device to accommodate decimilisation in 1971 and, for a few years, it featured at the Pearson's Arms pub (now the Pearsons Crab and Oyster House).

If some of our younger readers are wondering about those long lost arcades we can show you a picture of Jacques.... 

  

 

This photo was kindly supplied by Vicky Quinney and forwarded by Ivan Knowles. It views Beach Walk from the sea wall with Tower Parade in the background. Jacques arcade is on the right - a location now occupied by the Waterfront Club and the shop of Whitstable Windsurfing.

Sadly, we don't have a photo of Jimmy's arcade. However we have put together a quick diagram of how it looked back in the 1950s.....

 

 

 

This shows the view from the steps at the junction of Tower Parade and Beach Walk. Jimmy's arcade is located on the left - next to the current day site of the AMF Bowling Alley.

Many thanks to Mark, Jack, Vicky and Ivan for this trip down Memory Lane. In the near future, we will be putting together an article on the Beach Walk area using more of Vicky's photos.

  


If anyone can add to our photo collection, please let us know!