Ernie Littlefield was the Parks Superintendent for Newquay Urban District Council in the 1960s and 1970s, so effectively Newquay Zoo’s first head gardener.
Ernie also cared for the Trenance Gardens and Rose Gardens around the famous Trenance Boating lake. This was the area where the first fledgling ‘Newquay Children’s Zoo‘ was created by Charles Trevisick and Ken Smith in the late 1950s / early 1960s until Newquay Zoo was built on its present site in 1968/69. For more details of this period see our Wikipedia timeline and future blogposts https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newquay_Zoo
Black and white photos are all courtesy of Ernie Littlefield / Newquay Zoo collection.
Ernie and his team of gardeners laid out the formal planting of Newquay Zoo in 1968/69.
Long after Ernie’s retirement, one of his 1968 young trainee gardeners Michael (or Mike) Perry was still caring for it until his retirement in the late 1990s.
Now retired, Michael Perry was one of life’s gentlemen and a gentle gardener, who remembered Ernie kindly as a hard task master but an excellent teacher with very, very high standards.
I was fortunate enough to meet Ernie Littlefield (but sadly only the once) when he returned to Newquay Zoo in 1999 on our 30th birthday to cut our birthday cake and review how his planting was faring 30 years on.
“When I first visited the site it was uninteresting meadows with a whole lot of diseased elm trees … Now visitors have a lovely show.” Ernie Littlefield, 1999
I knew of Ernie Littlefield as gardener through the planting around me at the Zoo. I knew of Ernie’s other passion through his son John Littlefield who ran the beautifully landscaped Pitch and Putt golf course opposite the Zoo entrance (where our Bison used to roam in the 1970s, but that’s another story).
Ernie’s other passion was photography, photographing the zoo in black and white as it was built in 1968/69. Strangely photography was a passion that Michael Perry, cheerfully recording the changing zoo and its staff into the 1990s. (His zoo collection is now in private hands in Newquay).
Some of the old photographs are interesting as we rebuild modern versions of original enclosures for modern zoo uses.
A few yards from the old 1969 Walk Through Aviary is the site of the old 1969 leopard / puma and later macaw aviary, demolished last year to make way for the new Gems of the Jungle walkthrough aviary opening later this year, home to colourful endangered Asian songbirds.
It’s been a muddy winter to build through, so nothing has changed much since 1969.
Here are some more of Ernie Littlefield’s photos of the zoo being built in winter 1968 and spring 1969:
The Railway Viaduct is a great help in working out where some photographs were taken from.
Who is that happy child? The original one storey Tropical House, original Monkey Walk and Children’s Zoo, Newquay Zoo 1969.These tiny saplings are now great trees. Photo courtesy of Ernie Littlefield / Newquay Zoo.
The scene as it is today 2016, from tiny saplings to giant trees …
The Zoological Café as it was then known. A colour tourism guide photograph (early 1970s) of Ernie Littlefield’s planting around the original Zoo / Trenance Gardens café, Newquay Zoo. Parking by the tennis courts can just be glimpsed.
Happy 47th Birthday Newquay Zoo for 26 May 2016.
Look out for more random photos and items each month for our archive as we work towards our 50th anniversary on May 26 2019.
Posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo History Blog, May 2016