Exclusive for AbandonedFL, a look into the defunct and little known amusement park, Little England.
Thanks to Nomeus via www.flurbex.com for assisting in providing the images and photos.
Table of Contents
The remarkable success story of Lewis E. Cartier began in Kent, England, where at the age of 17 he tackled the business world as a shop assistant. Exhibiting an innate understanding of marketing, Cartier, over the next few years, utilized his experience to build a chain of 17 supermarkets.
In 1978, the 32-year old entrepreneur went public with Cartier Superfoods, and subsequently sold the business to one of Britain’s largest retail chains in a multi-million dollar transaction.
A long-delayed family holiday prompted the Cartiers to visit Central Florida’s theme park attractions. While the family rode the rides, queued up for the shows and sampled treats, Lew estimated the crowd, tallied the take, and figured costs.
He liked what his marketing instincts were telling him.
Two weeks later, the concept of Little England, a resort development themed around English history, had been conceived. The land had been purchased and a close knit team of advisers and consultants were working to finalize the concept and initiate feasibility studies.
Cartier raced through the bureaucratic maze of pre-construction permits and approvals, and less than one year after he first sighted the property, ground was broken at Little England.
Craig R. Smith, Vice President, began a 13-year career in Walt Disney operations at Disneyland while a student at the University of California. At Walt Disney World, Craig participated in opening and managing a golf club/hotel complex, 350-seat dining hall, shopping village and conference center.
Richard S. Rokicki, Project Manager, earned a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Detroit. A partner in his own firm for 20 years, Rokicki was responsible for projects ranging from churches to industrial parks. Before he was hired for the Little England project, he was in charge of the Orlando office of VOA Associates.
Christopher Miles, Creative Director, studied applied art and architecture at Oxford. His 15-year design career has led him into graphics, advertising, theatre and exhibitions. An authority in medieval history and jousting, Chris’ experience was tailor made for the Little England project.
Lew Cartier’s concept of a theme park attraction naturally evolved around what he knew best – his native England. From Stonehenge to London street criers, medieval castle to a quaint country village, the theme park, in his fertile imagination, depicted 2,000 years of British history, culture, and entertainment.
For Americans, Little England would have been like a trip abroad. For Europeans, the would’ve offered a bit of home in a fast-paced foreign environment. Visitors would park their cars under the kindly supervision of British “bobbies”, aka police officers, and board a double-decker bus or traditional London taxi for their stay in the British-styled hotels and villas.
Wherever guests looked, they would see England… its street signs, its telephone boxes, its flowers and shrubs. The staff would have worn traditional costumes. Beefeaters, knights in armor, buxom barmaids and Shakespearean characters would have strolled down the streets and country lanes. The restaurants would have served the best of English fare – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, tea and crumpets, a pint of bitter and fish and chips.
The shops would showcase the best of British merchandise…from Bond Street to “Marks and Sparks”…chinaware to China tea…woolens and crystal…pewter and ironware…and, of course, the mementos and souvenirs that make any vacation complete.
Entertainment would be drawn from the pages of British history…the medieval joust and games of skill…the pageantry of a Renaissance fair…the horrors of a Norman Castle dungeon.
Location, Location, Location
Little England was planned to be located at the crossroads of Central Florida’s “fun belt”. In the early 1980s, more than 25 million people visited the nearby attractions each year – Walt Disney World, Sea World, Cypress Gardens, Circus World, the Kennedy Space Center, Busch Gardens, and others. Millions more passed within a few miles of the planned site on their way to Tampa on the west coast and Miami in the southeast coast.
In 1981, the new $300 million Orlando International Airport opened, having the capabilities of handling 12 million passengers a year, is located less than a half an hour drive from the proposed Little England site.
The Master Plan
Little England’s 294-acre theme was to be only the heart of the 1,350-acre resort development. The master plan(see above photo) reveals the immense scope Lewis Cartier envisioned for the project.
Planned residential housing called for a total of 1,060 units. Some of them were to be golf course oriented, luxury homes. Others would have been condominiums or apartments for sale. One hundred and twenty acres were earmarked for the development and construction of hotels and motels with a further 119 acres reserved for tourist commercial.
The golf course was to be patterned after traditional English courses. Difficulty of play – created by numerous water hazards and strategic bunkers – was thought to attract enthusiasts from near and far.
Rides and Attractions
1-The English Village
The English Village was to serve as a monument to the skill of English artisans and craftsmen. Some of the buildings, assembled with wooden pegs and roofed with aged tiles, predate the Mayflower. Dismantled in England and carefully reconstructed on the Little England site, they were to lend a unique air of authenticity.
Other structures were carefully designed by English architects to accurately represent the architectural style of the 17th and 18th centuries. even the material-wood, brick, tile and stone-resembled the originals as much as possible. In the photo below, the image on the right is of an authentic 17th century barn, while the structure on the left is the same building, but reconstructed and incorporated into the English village.
2-Room at the Inn
Located near the entrance to the park was Room at the Inn, a genuine 17th century stone inn built including a ticket plaza, guest services, gift shops and an ice cream shop.
Named after the real-life English forest, this area was to be themed around the legend of Robin Hood, incorporating costumed actors, a theatre and shooting ranges.
Like any renaissance fair, there was to be archery, sword fighting, crafts and English country dancing. They planned on having the world’s largest boat swing shipped from England, and reconstructed for this area.
5-Rivers and Woodland
Located in the forests of Central Florida, this area offered a viewing deck for visitors wishing to take a break or to just enjoy the breeze. The ‘Mill Race’ was to be the latest in flume rides, constructed to have no less than two 40-foot drops.
6-The Medieval Arena
The Medieval Arena was to feature tournaments involving both men and animals. The Jousting Arena would have accommodated more than three thousand people, with a huge decorative awning to protect spectators against the subtropical elements. Two great towers represented the symbolic headquarters of the two Jousting faction…Evil and Good…Barons and Kings. The center tower represented Justice, completing the backdrop. Here on thrones, would have sat the King and Queen and dignitaries who presides over the games.
London Park was to feature a roller coaster, an ‘up-hill-down-dale’ coaster to be exact. Along with the coaster was the ‘Elizabethan’ swan ride and a carousel.
This area was to be themed around the Edwardian era, a period covering the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910. They planned on it having an authentic English seaside atmosphere by incorporating rides such as a carousel, enterprise, bumper cars, ‘free fall’ drop, and a giant wooden roller coaster dubbed the ‘Oliver Twist’. It’s interesting to note that this would have been the world’s first ‘free fall’ ride in the world.
Named after the medieval castles built in the 11th and 12th centuries in Britain and Normandy, this was meant to be the centerpiece of the park, situated the middle of Little England.
Part of ‘Phase 3′ of the construction of the park, it was to be a classic 18th century country house surrounded by both formal and rose gardens, a bowling green and a hedge maze. Pony rides and an unnamed “dark ride” were to be included.
13-Cornish Fishing Village
Located in the back of the park, this area was to resemble an old Cornish fishing village. This was to be one of the last areas built, part of ‘Phase 4′.
Situated in a open field, this part of the park was to include a replica of Stonehenge, as well as a chariot racing amphitheater.
Financial Troubles and Abandonment
Sadly, the plan didn’t get far as Cartier had probably hoped. The park was planned to open in July 1982, but troubles began a year prior when investors began pulling out of the project. The project was declared dead in 1983 as potential financial backers would back out of loan commitments due to worldwide economic issues at the time.
In 1982, Cartier had begun selling off plots of land. In December, he sold 309-acres to an Orlando firm for $4.1 million. Prior to that, he sold 402-acres for $4.4 million to Xenorida, a corporation registered in the Cayman Islands.
At the time, Cartier planned to reuse the five small buildings, built as part as the English Village for the park, as part of his proposed British themed golf resort/resort. Unfortunately, the ancient structures sat on the property for quite awhile, neglected and left to the hot, humid Florida weather. The buildings were later deemed unsalvageable and demolished.