FOR just a decade, Dorset boasted a tourist attraction that excited visitors from all over the country.

If you were a child of the 1970s, you could hardly have missed the launch of Tucktonia.

Constructed by the River Stour at Christchurch, it was based around what the publicity called the “greatest little Britain in the world”.

The phrase “model village” would hardly have been up to the mark.

The site contained more than 200 models of a host of famous British locales, from Stonehenge to the Houses of Parliament, and from rural pubs to Tower Bridge.

In its short-lived heyday, Tucktonia attracted huge national publicity.

It was opened in May, 1976, by screen and stage favourite Arthur Askey. Other famous visitors included Tommy Cooper, while Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin hosted an edition of Swap Shop from the park.

In 1981, former Jon Pertwee – in character as Worzel Gummidge – topped out the park’s tallest model building, a replica of the NatWest Tower.

The Tucktonia site covered more than four acres and the park took two years to plan and build.

The whole site had to be raised 2ft 3ins to safeguard against flooding. The area was drained, filled with 8,000 tonnes of hardcore, then topped up with 2,500 tonnes of concrete.

After that, 164,000 gallons of water was put put back to create artificial rivers, docks and seaside.

Some of the country’s top model-makers created the 1:24 scale models, often working from the original plans for the buildings they were recreating. The frames were created out of wood normally used in dock construction, with fascias and sculpted decor cast in a mix of polyester resin and fibreglass matting.

The railway running through the site was said to be the largest two-and-a-half inch model gauge model railway in Britain at the time, with half a mile of track and more than 75 items of rolling stock.

At night, the models were illuminated by more than 12,000 bulbs.

And the model Britain was not Tucktonia’s only attraction. There was also a host of fairground rides, including a giant helter-skelter and a haunted house, as well as go-karting.

But despite all the excitement generated by Tucktonia, its days were numbered.

In the 1980s, it changed hands several times, and in 1985, plans were approved for a £10million housing and leisure complex at the site.

At the time, this was not supposed to be the end of the Tucktonia story. The financial director of the Tucktonia company, ‘Tex’ Rainger, said the development would be used to generate more capital, which would enable the attraction to relocate to a bigger site outside Christchurch.

He said: “We cannot expand where we are. There is no more space available to introduce major new rides, and we don’t have enough parking space in higher summer.”

In September 1986, Costain Homes was revealed as the developer who had bought the attraction, and closure was imminent.

Tucktonia managing director Peter Arnold said the park had “fully intended” to operate for another season. “But we had an offer from a large development company which was too good to refuse.”

Relocation was still being considered and it was suggested that the park could be housed near Hurn Airport.

But all this came to nothing. In October 1986, the Echo reported: “A Union Jack fluttering at half mast above Tucktonia signalled the end of the famous Christchurch amusement park.”

The park’s giant slide with “Disneyland-style turrets” was coming down. The model landscape was still there for now and would remain open for a cut-price entry fee of 50p for just a couple of weeks.

Tucktonia’s popularity had been declining for a number of years, the Echo said.

Many of the rides were sold to fairgrounds, but hopes that the model buildings would be sited elsewhere came to nothing. Many were stored on the Ebblake Industrial Estate at Verwood and were destroyed by a fire in 1990.

However, the 22ft model of Buckingham Palace survived and found a new home for a while as part of a Royal exhibition at Wimborne Model Town and Gardens.

The steam locomotive Tinkerbell and much of the rolling stock were spared, however, as part of Moors Valley’s narrow gauge railway.

There were efforts to revive the park, with a £20million plan for Tucktonia 2000 mooted in the 1990s, but they came to nothing.

Like Look-In, Swap Shop or Whizzer and Chips, Tucktonia continues to exist only in the warm memories of a 1970s childhood.