Pinball museums seem to be all the rage right now. The Unites States, France, Australia, Germany and Austria all have - or plan to have - at least one museum dedicated to the silver ball and now the UK can be added to that list, thanks to the opening of The Pinball Parlour in Ramsgate, Kent in England's south-east corner.
Located about 75 miles east of London, The Pinball Parlour is the work of two long-time pinball fans, Peter Heath and Pinball Geoff. Peter has been involved with the game for many years, both as part of the Pinball Owners Association and through his Pinballs2Go sales and repairs service. Pinball Geoff is a seasoned operator of more than two dozen pinball machines across a variety of sites in the north London area.
Peter had rented a small retail unit in Ramsgate for the past seventeen years which he used to store and restore games. When the owner of the adjacent antique shop decided to retire and sell up, the two of them pooled their experience operating and repairing machines to buy the shop in December 2007 and start converting it into The Pinball Parlour.
The two officially opened their museum three weeks ago but this weekend they held an open day to show off their new premises and the machines they have on display. Pinball News got there early so we could explore the museum before the guests arrived.
The entrance lobby contained seven pinball machines - some of which were for sale - along with a seating area and, on this open day, a selection of drinks and snacks for the guests to enjoy.
On regular opening days, drinks and snacks are available to purchase. Cans of drinks and tea or coffee are all 80p, crisps are 50p as are Twix bars, while Club bars are 25p each.
The games in the lobby were Party Zone, High Speed 2 - The Getaway, Friendship 7, Fun Park, Baywatch, The Champion Pub and Gilligan's Island. The Getaway was for sale at £700 while the Baywatch and the Gilligan's Island could be picked up for £600 a piece. The two EMs were also for sale although prices were not advertised.
The lobby opens out onto the street and provides the public face of the museum to any passers-by. The heart of the museum, though, is upstairs.
Passing Pete Townshend's autographed lyrics for Pinball Wizard, we arrive in the main museum room.
The museum is not purely dedicated to pinball machines. Instead it shows off a variety of coin-operated amusements including bowlers, pitch & bat games, Allwins, working models and shooting games.
As visitors arrive at the top of the stairs they are presented with a bank of four pinball machines directly in front of them. To the left are many more pins while on the right is the penny arcade, where novelties and amusements are set up to enjoy.
All the devices are available to play. The penny arcade amusements quite sensibly operate on one old penny which, being in rather short supply, can be purchased at a price of £1 (€1.14, $1.59) for 10. All other games are operated by tokens which cost 30p (€0.34, $0.48) each or 4 for £1.
There is a total of 27 pinball machines upstairs, ranging from a 1939 Genco Flying Scot flipperless game to a 1992 Data East star Wars. The emphasis, though, is on Gottlieb and Williams electro-mechanicals.
Here is the list of games set up for the open day:
In addition, the following amusement machines and novelties were available to play:
It wasn't long before people started turning up to find out what the museum was all about. After a brief introduction, most visitors headed upstairs to start enjoying the games. At times, the room became a little crowded but the machines held up well and as the day wore on and the external light coming in through the windows diminished, the room began to look even more attractive.
The museum doesn't currently offer any educational materials to inform visitors about the history, development or the significance of the amusement machines on display or the people who created them. Information cards on each machine, a suggested starting point and the possible machines they might want to play next would provide some guidance and help visitors explore games they might not otherwise play based on appearance alone.
That can be easily rectified though and it will give the museum a more rounded and complete feel.
As it stands, Peter and Geoff have done a great job bringing The Pinball Parlour to the public. The games are varied and interesting while the seaside surroundings give a suitable feeling of fun and whimsy.
Ramsgate is perhaps not the easiest place for much of the UK's pinball community to reach so The Pinball Parlour has to appeal to casual players or just the curious and their families visiting the resort. It's off to a good start. During the open day, families seemed to enjoy themselves without any one member getting bored and with a little more educational value included, The Pinball Parlour should make a great destination for players and non-players alike.
The Pinball Parlour is located at 2 Addington Street, Ramsgate, Kent, UK, CT11 9JL. There is no parking directly outside but there are spaces across West Cliff Road around Vale Square.
It is only open at weekends and the opening hours are from 11am to 5pm on both days, although the closing time may be extended according to demand.
The Pinball Parlour has now expanded their ground floor modern pinball selection with the addition of three new games.
This development of the ground floor is the first stage of work on the museum. There are also plans to hold a number of special event evenings on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the year.
In May 2014 the Pinball Parlour closed their premises in Addington Street, Ramsgate, and moved to the nearby seaside town of Margate as part of the redevelopment and restoration of the popular Dreamland amusement park.
A selection of pinballs has been set up in the Visitor & Learning Arcade which is the focal point for all the efforts going into restoring Dreamland to its former glory.
The new location is open from 10am to 5pm every day and can be found on Marine Terrace in Margate.