It’s Newquay Zoo’s 49th Birthday on Sunday May 26 1969 / 2018 and the start of the twelve month countdown to our NZ50 50th anniversary celebrations in May 2019.
Talk to historians and there are dates in B.C., there are dates ending in A.D. and other versions. Round here we ought to talk about B.N.Z. Before Newquay Zoo (which meant our zoo history started roughly around 1969). Add to this BITD Back in the Day and TW Time was and you are a proper historian!
Time was there was a small children’s zoo in Newquay before our 1969 Newquay Zoo site.
There is very little known about the ‘first’ Newquay ‘Zoo’, a children’s petting zoo over in the Rose Gardens section of Trenance Gardens, just over the road from the zoo today.
It operated as far as we know only in the summer, the animals returning in winter to Exmouth Zoo. It existed from probably the late 1950s through to 1968/9, when a separate permanent zoo (us!) was built by Newquay Urban District Council.
This first zoo was built by Charles Trevisick who ran the long-vanished Ilfracombe Zoo, it was taken over and run by West Country zoo man Ken Smith of Exmouth and Shaldon Zoo.
Charles Trevisick featured Newquay Childrens’ Zoo on only one page of his autobiography My Home Is A Zoo.
This seasonal ‘zoo’ was staffed in its latter years by the late Peter Lowe (formerly of Chester Zoo) who went on to become the designer and curator of our existing zoo.
Peter Lowe had technical support from T.D. (Tom) Hurley, the Borough Engineer for Newquay Urban District Council and advice from Chester Zoo founder George Mottershead (whose life story was recently told in BBC series ‘Our Zoo’). We wrote about Peter and George’s working relationship here: https://wordpress.com/post/worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/10699
Information on this first Newquay Children’s Zoo is pretty scarce.
Russell Tofts’ excellent book on Ken Smith, Animals in the Blood: The Ken Smith Story, subtitled “A Biography of Gerald Durrell’s Right-Hand Man” was published in April 2012. It has a precious couple of paragraphs about this first Newquay Children’s Zoo.
You can buy the book through the Bartlett Society at http://www.zoohistory.co.uk/society/publications/animals-in-the-blood
Charles Trevisick set up the Newquay Children’s Zoo over in the Rose Gardens area of Trenance Gardens in Newquay, a few minutes walk from our current site, probably in the late 1950s.
So Ken Smith took over the running and ownership of Newquay Children’s Zoo in its final years , 1966 / 1967. We gain a few clues as to what this first zoo looked like:
This mention of a Hyacinthine Macaw by Mike Curzon, a well known zoo curator bird keeper, is interesting, as one is pictured in our zoo section of a Newquay tourism guide of the time. They were pretty rare birds in zoos then and no record exists in the patchy Newquay Zoo index cards for macaws, parrots and other birds covering 1969-1976. This lack of a zoo record card suggest this valuable bird probably never transferred to Newquay Zoo and may have returned to Ken Smith when Newquay Children’s Zoo closed down c. 1969.
This bird is still listed as Endangered and part of an organised breeding programme in many zoos. Hyacinth macaw numbers are in decline as a result of habitat loss and over-collection for the illegal pet trade. It is estimated that at least 10,000 birds were taken from the wild in the 1980s: http://www.arkive.org/hyacinth-macaw/anodorhynchus-hyacinthinus/
Anyone recognise any of the people in these photos? Please let us know via the comments.
Current Newquay Zoo bird keeper Gary Ward and Curator John Meek checked the photo, used in several publications into The Newquay Zoo period (stock Newquay tourism colour photo?) and conformed that it is a Hyacinthine Macaw.
The leafy tree and white trellis background is also interesting. Roger Williams, our longest serving Newquay Zoo Keeper on and off since about 1970 didn’t recognise any of the people but thought that this may have been taken at the original Children’s Zoo in the Trenance Gardens as a publicity shot of some of the animals (monkey, macaw, rabbit).
Alternatively, the white trellis might be part of the original monkey walk, still preserved in the structure of our Nocturnal House.
Who knows? This colour picture with the Hyacinth Macaw may be currently our only picture of the original Newquay Children’s Zoo in the 1960s.
More on the first Newquay Children’s Zoo from Russell Tofts:
This passage by Russell Tofts suggests that the Newquay Children’s Zoo project was coming to a close. Russell Tofts mentions ‘council apathy’ towards its offspring and changing councillors.
Since the book was written in 2012, we now have some of Peter Lowe’s letters to George Mottershead at Chester Zoo (from the Chester Zoo archive) from about this time period as Peter prepared to take over the setting up of the new Council built Zoo. (we’ll publish these in a future blogpost) It seems that supportive councillors like Councillor ‘Jimmy’ J. Rogers had seen the possibilities for a permanent zoo and so had switched their interest and attention to this.
Trenance Gardens Today
Nothing remains of the first Newquay Children’s Zoo at the Rose Gardens site. Strolling up to Cheski’s wedding last month in May 2018, I photographed the lovely gardens on a Spring evening.
The Tolcarne Brick Seat has an interesting link to the current Newquay Zoo – it is the site of our African Savanna field, opened in 2009, was formerly a school playing field known as Little Wembley. It was built across a former brickworks, Tolcarne Brickwortks, whose distinctively marked bricks make up not only many local houses but also the Tolcarne brick seat in Trenance Gardens (lovely local touch this!)
Tolcarne brick from the Brick research website http://www.brocross.com/Bricks/Penmorfa/Pages/england17.htm
The Tolcarne seat is mentioned in Newquay Discovery Trail panel outside the zoo
You can see more of this fabulous map online:
The leisure activity in this area of Newquay seems to have grown from the founding of the Trenance Gardens in 1906 and the Trenance Bowling Club (founded in 1916).
We have a few glimpses of the Newquay Zoo site in its days as a farm and brickworks.
The Savanna field like much of the zoo appears to be brick clay, puddling easily and good for animal hoofmarks, not so good for hoof-care without drainage and hard standings.
Probably the best glimpse that we get is the photograph taken from the Viaduct by former Council head gardener Ernie Littlefield about 1968:
Compare this photo to Ernie Littlefield’s May 26, 1969 Opening Day photograph:
So there you go, the long and the short of it, the Back in the Day, B.N.Z Before Newquay Zoo.
Completing the Before Newquay Zoo trip back in time … glimpsed on my walk past the Rose Gardens, once home to the first Newquay Children’s Zoo, I walked aong the Gannel River, past Trethellan Farm field, prehistoric housing.
A possible prehistoric worked flint tuned up in the zoo flowerbeds back in 2003, spotted by zoo visitor Mike Solomon.
Strange to think that people have been visiting Newquay and living here for thousands of years, sometimes to watch animals … and occasionally hunt them for meat and fur. The threat to many of our rare animals today – an oddly full circle place to end our 49th Birthday blogpost.
Happy Birthday Newquay Zoo, 49 years old on Whitsun / Sunday the 26 May 2018.
Watch this blog post and the Newquay Zoo website https://www.newquayzoo.org.uk/about-us/our-history for details of our 50th birthday in May 2019 .
Posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo Archive, 24-26 May 2018