24th September 2019 – HRH Prince Edward Earl of Wessex visits Newquay Zoo to see our 50th anniversary exhibition and our ‘Gems of the Jungle’ Asian Songbird exhibit.
An exciting moment for me as our unofficial zoo historian and archivist, showing HRH Prince Edward our combined 50th anniversary efforts of our exhibition panels and time capsule burial marker with local school children’s predictions of the zoo in 2069.
Being an unexpectedly rainy old day, I had also prepared some undercover display material in the ‘bus shelter’ next to the exhibition in case it rained heavily. With Sophie in the office’s help, we quickly put up some laminated archive photographs taken by Ernie Littlefield our first Head Gardener of the zoo being built in 1968/69 and its early days.
We also enlarged and laminated some big copies of our original record cards from 1969 which proved of great interest to HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and the Lord Lieutenant, Edward Bolitho.
Unusual animal deaths such as a deer ‘killed by bears’, penguin escapes from the 1970s, and oddest of all, the alligator which ‘drowned’ here in 1970 (!), all proved of interest, as well as showing how animal record keeping has changed since the 1970s.
The site looked superb as ever, despite the rain, thanks to a lot of hard work by all the staff.
HRH Prince Edward met staff, trustees and volunteers then unveiled a plaque marking his opening of the ‘Gems of The Jungle’ walkthrough Asian Songbird aviary which highlights the songbird crisis of the EAZA Silent Forest campaign .
Once Prince Edward had gone, our ‘zoo family’ of staff quietly gathered in the rain in the Oriental Garden to plant a tree with the wife and family of the much missed Mike Finnegan, our Ops Manager who died suddenly in August 2019. More in our next blogpost.
The very last conversation I had with Mike had been a quietly confidential one about the proposed Royal visit, Mike asking me to show HRH our 50th Anniversary exhibition, time capsule marker and 50th anniversary tree. These were all activities that Mike had been involved in and was highly supportive of.
Job done and done well. Proper job!
Past Royal Zoo Visits?
Our archive currently holds no record of any Royal visits between 1969 and 1996 – more information may one day turn up. There were no Royal visits to Newquay Zoo that I remember between 1996 and 2010.
In April 2010 HRH Princess Alexandra came to celebrate the zoo’s partnership with Cornwall College Newquay, tour the site and meet the zoo staff. Here is a battered ex-display press cutting from our archive:
Alvin our late and much missed skunk proved a surprising star of the 2010 occasion.
Blog posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo Education / Archive, 24 September 2019.
We look forward to celebrating this long running partnership with the next year’s 2020/21 intake, which will be exactly 20 years since the first intake arrived in September 2000.
Since then, thousands of young and mature students have passed through our college on their way to careers in zoos, conservation and the wider business world.
Many Cornwall College Newquay alumni and students have worked or volunteered here at Newquay Zoo. Some are still here many years later. All something to celebrate!
First discussions 1999
20 years ago in August / September 1999, when the letter above was written, we were still a year way from enrolling our first students and busily working towards getting a college building and a syllabus approved to run 16 to 19 (Further Education) and 18+ (Higher Education) courses in place.
Many of the early leaflets have the dreaded words ‘Subject to validation’, the long and intricate process of having your course, staff and venue judged suitable to offer courses. With lots of goodwill and lucky timing, we amazingly cleared validation in the record speed of 18 months.
Taster Days were run in the year 2000 to promote the new courses to students, often pictured in the local and national press with animals very close up to students at the request of press photographers.
We already had experienced zoo staff ready to share their knowledge of animal management, business, marketing and animal health either onsite in our classroom or around the zoo, working with students on section. However lots of other things were needed to be ready by September 2000.
Would the courses be approved and ready on time?
Would we recruit sufficient college staff and students to run the courses?
Would we have a college building offsite in time?
The 1999 leaflets promised the wonders of up-to-date teaching, taught by experienced staff with practical knowledge from zoos and conservation. We looked forward to using IT wonders such as videoconferencing (tricky then in 1999) and making links via WWW (the World Wide Web as it was known in its younger days)!
We had a few leaflets, initially photocopied sheets to hand out at the Zoo, at careers and science events to those interested in being the first ‘guinea pig’ cohort to see if this zoo college project would succeed.
For our Newquay Zoo 50th anniversary NZ50 in May 2019, we reunited three of the founders – Mike Thomas The Zoo Director at the time, Dr Mike Kent (who wrote the letter above) and myself (Mark Norris, still teaching at college on behalf of the Zoo). We talked on camera to talk about the ups and downs of starting a conservation and zoology college. You can watch this 25 minute YouTube video here:
Within the first year or two, plans were underway to build a purpose-built College building on land next to Newquay Zoo.
I remember Mike Thomas the Zoo Director at the time being asked by a newspaper photographer to show his ‘vision’ of the new zoo college … so he joyfully flung up his arms with a big grin and pointed around the empty field. A wonderful moment!
By 2002 we started digging the college building foundations, with the hands-on support of the college management and then local Newquay Mayor Andrew Waters. It would be another good thing for the town of Newquay and Cornwall.
As we moved into charitable ownership (now the Wild Planet Trust), we received a national BIAZA / Zoo Federation award in 2003 for this college partnership, one of the first of its type in Britain and Europe at the time.
Recently we received an updated BIAZA award (2017) for over 15 years continual partnership with these courses. The greatest complement (and compliment) to the project is the range of other UK zoos that now run this kind of partnership course for their local students.
Within the first year of our college, Newquay Zoo closed for a month or two to the public during the national Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in early 2001 but we taught on at college. It was a fascinating but distressing real world example of an animal health and disease outbreak, a little too close to home. A lot of foot baths and boot dipping was involved for zoo staff working between both sites. I remember that my zoo boots rotted and fell apart with the constant foot dipping.
There was a lot of press coverage to do with problems with exotic pets that were widely publicised at the time, another good discussion topic with students and visitors.
Over the years we have had a range of leaflets advertising various courses, including the first colour HND leaflet with our lovely old lioness Lizzie yawning on the first one in 1999 / 2000. An attraction to sleepy students?
Very soon a wider range of courses developed including Marine Biology / Marine Aquaculture and Wildlife Education and Media. HNDs (Higher National Diplomas) became Foundation Degrees (FdScs). We offered first BTecs, then now City and Guilds at 16-18.
Some of the staff from the first year or so – Lawrence Moores, Rebecca Allen – are still there teaching and undertaking research. Some of our ex-Zoo staff have gone onto teaching at Cornwall College Newquay such as Ruth Martin and Jamie Strike.
In time we moved on from being part of St Austell College to being part of Cornwall College. We were proudly part of the Combined Universities in Cornwall (CUC) which, with some European funding, aimed to bring wider FE and HE opportunities close to home for Cornish students and attract bright minds to the county. Slowly reversing the previous ‘Brain Drain‘ of talent out of Cornwall upcountry!
Eventually we were able to offer a top-up year to our Foundation Degree to a full BSc degree level, so students can now study in Cornwall College Newquay from the age of 16 through to 21, from Further Education through to Higher Education degree.
I’m sure that local west country species and habitats have benefitted from the close scrutiny and support, as well as worldwide conservation in more exotic places.
If you want to apply to Cornwall College Newquay today or in the future, try their website (on the WWW!) to look at the range of FE and HE courses on offer:
Sad to hear via old staff member Tracy McKenzie from Les Beckett’s Son-in-Law that the lovely Les Beckett has passed away.
Les is fondly remembered as a proper gentleman by those surviving staff from his zoo years (1996-2007). We send out thoughts and prayers to his wife and family.
Les retired from Newquay Zoo back in 2007, having joined us on site and maintenance staff (but like all of us did a bit of everything) as this Paw Prints Vol 1 No 5 Summer 1997 zoo newsletter story testifies (February 1997). I remember typing up this amusing story of him getting wet feeding the Capybaras (this happened to all of us!)
Les was happy around the grounds working with our former Head Gardener Michael Perry, I’m sure I remember both of them working methodically and puffing away on pipes at one stage. A pipe kept you warm in winter, apparently.
For a few glorious summers in them late Nineties / early Noughties, Les drove me around Cornwall in the Zoo van to do animal encounters at many different holiday parks and community venues. Some areas of the County still strongly remind me of dashing between encounters with Les driving the Van. Les was a great driver, getting us from venue to venue on time using his backroads knowledge on a tight schedule. He also showed himself to be a witty, thoughtful and charming man to all the holiday makers and locals who came to hear us talk about and show our small animals. He turned his hand to animal handling as required. He turned his hand to most jobs around the zoo as required.
If my memory serves me correctly, having worked with hundreds of people at the Zoo, I recall that Les had many funny stories from his post office days, having recently retired from the GPO as a local ‘line man’. (Insert Bad Singing of John Denver’s ‘Wichita Line Man’ here). He trained at Bletchley Park when it was a Post Office / GPO training station on a slightly surreal succession of taller and taller telegraph poles, some barely off the ground.
Once Les had retired, we still saw him on the odd Art-y occasion with his wife Sheila as part of the local arts and painting scene, when we hosted art events here at the zoo. However few people knew at the zoo that Les was also a model! I remember as we drove, Les talked about sitting for and being painted by a ‘local artist’ over a number of weeks.
This local artist was no less than Newquay’s Nicholas Williams working out of his studio in Newquay’s old Lifeboat House http://www.nicholascwilliams.co.uk/ The portrait of Les as part of a large symbolic triptych (three part painting) ‘Desideratum’ travelled far and wide.
I went to see this portrait in Truro, where he was the cover of the RCM Truro leaflet in 2004.
No surprise that he was chosen, Les was a handsome and quite rugged, striking looking man. Unlike some of our gardens and site staff in the past, we usually saw Les with his shirt on at work.
Les Beckett will forever be part of the Newquay Zoo staff family – seen here celebrating news of our winning Gold Visitor Attraction of the Year in the Cornwall Tourism Awards December 2006.
Remembering Happy Days!
Farewell Les Beckett, Rest in Peace – warmly remembered by us at Newquay Zoo.
Many warm memories by staff on my Facebook repost of this news, along with details of Les Beckett’s funeral.
Blog posted by Mark Norris using Newquay Zoo Archive materials, 24 July 2019.
Newquay Zoo is celebrating its 50th Anniversary Year, opening on 26 May 1969.
I remember Marc and his family well, he was a delightful and sometimes exhausting bundle of energy and curiosity! The day we heard that he had died in December 1999 was one of the saddest days I remember at the Zoo. Mike Thomas also talked about Marc on his Wild Planet Trust YouTube interview and at his 50th Anniversary talk on 26th May 2019
When Mike Thomas retired in 2003 he continued work on the Marc’s Arc charity and eventually the remainder of these funds went to Little Harbour Children’s Hospice Southwest. Little Harbour families keep in touch with us at the Dreamnight evening event each year, bringing many of their children with serious health conditions and their families to the zoo for one special night.
I’m sure Marc and his family would approve!
More news on the zoo in 2000 in our next Paw Prints newsletter reprinted with added colour photographs!
Blog posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo Education using Newquay Zoo Archive images as part of our ongoing 50th Anniversary celebrations.
You can still enjoy our popular free “Then and Now Trail” remains up of vintage Newquay Zoo images and a brief colourful history of Newquay Zoo on the Timeline by the Dragon Maze.
It has been great over the past year catching up with so many people involved with Newquay Zoo past and present as visitors or staff – our archive blog here will continue into the future reprinting newsletters, press cuttings, photos and memories.
If you can’t make it down to see us on Sunday 26th May 2019 or during our anniversary year, why not ‘visit’ us via YouTube?
Explore our fabulous new You Tube videos on our new Wild Planet Trust YouTube channel, interviewing staff past and present including two of our earliest staff or staff families filmed and edited by Oliver Newton-Browne.
Mrs Marshall, wife of the 1970s and 1980s Curator Norman Marshall
Barry Hyde, gardener, who helped to build and plant the zoo 1960s to 1990s
On the same YouTube channel you can also see interviews with Mike Thomas on owning the zoo in the 1990s, Dr. Mike Kent on setting up the Cornwall College Newquay zoo college and Jo Topham on events past. They have been illustrated with record cards and photographs from the Newquay Zoo Archive.
50 years ago this weekend keepers and zoo staff led by Peter Lowe, Norman Marshall and others were scrambling to get Newquay Zoo open to the public.
Originally planned to open for Saturday 24th May 1969, Newquay Zoo was still awaiting the arrival of quite a few animals down windy Cornish and West Country roads, it being still a few years before the M5 opened.
The evening before opening Sunday 25th May must have been an interesting and busy moment. animals were settling in to their new surroundings and meeting their new keepers.
Head Council Gardener Ernie Littlefield’s gardens and grounds were finally ready to be seen and enjoyed by the public, after months of hard work by his team including gardener Barry Hyde, whom we interviewed for our YouTube channel.
Newquay Zoo finally opened two days late at 10 a.m. on Whit Monday 26th May 1969. Admission 3/6 for adults, 1/6 per child and two shillings for parking.
A date and time to celebrate!
Reprinted from our 30th Birthday coverage PawPrints newsletter 1999
£30,000 in the making … 4000 visitors on the first day – this seems almost unbelievable!
Then and Now … 50 years later, it’s been tight getting everything ready for our Anniversary on Sunday 26 May 2019 – but we’ve managed most of the things we’ve planned.
From YouTube video interviews and Time Capsules to Zoo Ring Tail Ale, flowerbeds to our Then and Now vintage photo trail and NZ50 Timeline exhibitions, lots of things to enjoy, along with entertainment on the day.
It’s been a busy few months for Vicky, Beth and the rest of the NZ50 team getting this all together. A year and a half in the planning seemed to go so fast.
Although there is no formal planned staff reunion at the zoo, I hope we’ll see a few old faces of staff and visitors.
Mike Thomas is coming back at 1.30 pm on Sunday 26th May 2019 to talk about his Zoo Years running the zoo from 1993 to 2003, whilst I will be sharing stories from the council years 1969 to 1993.
Wherever you are on the 26th, I’m sure you’ll join us all in wishing Newquay Zoo a happy birthday and 50 more interesting years!
We are always on the lookout for old Newquay Zoo photos, memorabilia and memories to add to our archive – we’d love to hear from you – keep in touch!
Mark Norris, Education Officer, Newquay Zoo using material from our Archive 25 May 1969/ 2019
P.S. If you want to know what the zoo will be like in 2069, I will shortly feature on this blog some of the interesting and imaginative predictions by Year 4 Newquay Junior Academy. These are also archived and copied in the 2019 Time Capsule for opening in our centenary year 2069, buried on Thursday 23rd May 2019 in the presence of many of our Trustees and staff. Have a look for the plaque along the maze road and the Anniversary Tree in the Oriental Garden. Great fun!
Full of hope for the New Millennium? pictured here is a small zoo staff gathering on the café patio on New Year’s day 2000, ahead of serving cake and bubbly to our visitors at Newquay Zoo.
Left to right in the picture, Newquay Zoo January 1st 2000: Zoo Owner / Director Mike Thomas (wearing tie), Happy Keepers Jinny Pearce, Vicky Buscombe, Roger Williams, Chris Farhall, young zoo volunteers and ex-Penguin Club members Ben Pike and Nick Callender. (Nick later went into keepering).
Holding the banner: left Craig Rodham and (right) keeper Mark “Cheski” Tomaszewski.
Our longest serving keepers Mark Cheski and Roger Williams are still working here as keepers 19 years later, as we approach our 50th Anniversary on 26 May 1969 / 2019.
We were all relieved that morning that the dreaded Y2K Millennium Bug had not wiped the few old computers that we had, crashed our website and caused widespread power shortages, plane crashes, general chaos, the appearance of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse etc.
I remember that much the same ‘tourism apocalypse’ was predicted locally for the 11th August 1999 Total Solar Eclipse a few months before (see previous blog posts). So we thought we were disaster planning veterans already, but none of us expected theFuel Strike and Foot and Mouth Epidemic of 2001.
This Zoo snake logo that was morphed in to the ‘2000’ on our Millennium banner was based on a US zoo design. It was briefly used around the Millennium early 2000s until no later than 2003, alongside the Newquay Zoo ‘pawprint one from 1996-2003.
The Zoo snake logo wasn’t around for more than a year or two c. 2000 but did make it onto a few uniforms, such as this denim uniform shirt in our archive.
I was working at the Zoo that New Year’s Day and am not entirely sure why I wasn’t in the Millennium staff photograph with the others. I was probably off doing a feeding talk.
I also had a pounding headache from one glass of champagne the night before (Champagne, I discovered, doesn’t agree with me!) so I was avoiding the bubbly served to staff and zoo visitors. Go for the cake instead!
B.P.S. – Blog Post Script
Somewhere in my family bangles, bracelets and jewellery box, we have a quirky little metal Millennium Bug brooch, made locally, that I bought from the Zoo Shop. I will have to dig this out for the blog.