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!
A lazy blogpost for October 2017 – If you want to read one person’s entertaining view of Newquay Zoo’s history from 1993-2003, then this is the book to read.
Strange Things Happened On My Way To The Zoo by Mike Thomas
Published in 2010 by Cornish publisher Alison Hodge, copies are still available on Amazon, your local library and there are some good online bargains on second-hand copies.
‘Strange Things’ is the nearest thing we have to a Newquay Zoo history in print so far, albeit only covering the Newquay Animal World / Newquay Zoo years of private ownership from 1993-2003 by Mike Thomas and Roger Martin.
Mike grew up in Wales, taught in Cornwall, ran several businesses and eventually ran the Seal Sanctuary in Gweek until 1993/4. As a result, Newquay Zoo’s part of the Mike Thomas story only begins 56 pages in but fills the rest of the 100 odd pages of pictures, many of the pictures by zoo photographer Michelle Turton.
There is too much to summarise in these 100 pages but it covers the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001, the Red Arrows ‘visit’, the 1999 Eclipse, various famous faces opening new enclosures, several years tracking down the truth behind the local Exotic Big Cat stories, along with many special animal births and a few sad partings.
I knew Mike and Jenny before they took on the zoo and when it first reopened, I was soon added to the small staff team, mostly in my case to set up a Zoo / College partnership and develop the promising schools work.
I’m mentioned in passing and pictured in the book, and was proud to attend the book’s launch at Fowey Literary Festival 2010 with fellow zoo college colleague and Alison Hodge author Dr. Mike Kent. Mike, Mike and I worked on the founding partnership of Cornwall College Newquay courses.
Gerald Durrell’s influence from Jersey Zoo is recognised in the book and also in the name of one of our college buildings.
Mike Thomas, ever the former teacher, mentioned on his retirement in 2003 that this college partnership was one of his proudest achievements of his ten zoo years.
Now properly retired, Mike and his wife Jenny still pop in to the zoo quietly from time to time with various grandchildren to see how things have developed under the charitable trust ownership of the Whitley Wildlfe Conservation Trust, which took over running Newquay Zoo in 2003. He is especially pleased how Cornwall College Newquay has grown and thrived since its beginnings in the year 2000.
My Amazon review at the time of the launch (2010) proabably says all I have to say about the book:
“Like others who’ve read & reviewed the book, this was revisiting an earlier part of my working life for me too at the same zoo. It’s a highly readable book (and I know a lot had to be left out too in this volume) but doesn’t avoid any of the difficulties we went through redeveloping the zoo. Mike crops up in Ben Mee’s ‘zoo rescue’ book too. Money was often very tight and Mike’s showmanship, gift of the gab, sense of humour and imagination were often needed. Often you can see how these qualities were drawn from his early life and experiences As a result, the book has its fair share of funny stories and character animals too, many of whom I remember (sometimes painfully, I got bitten by a fair few!) just as Mike describes them.”
“Researching the challenges facing wartime zoos as I am at the moment, I’ve read lots of zoo memoirs especially by directors. I know that it must be difficult fitting all one’s own viewpoint of complex, funny and difficult situations into one book and how difficult it is to describe to fit all the unusual characters encountered (zoo animal and human) in one volume, so I look forward to book two!”
Surfing Sue, another former member of staff, wrote on Amazon review:
“As a fellow traveller on some of Mike’s strange journey I knew much of the story but by no means all. He has led a fascinating life full of interesting characters, both human and animal. There’s Randy the potato loving raccoon, Peru the streetwise penguin and Exotic Clive the… you’ll have to read the book to find out what or who Clive is. Mike has an entertaining writing style that evokes the feeling of a coffee time chat rather than a faceless narration. His passion for education and dedication to the creatures in his care are an inspiration, as are the accolades he achieved whilst at the helm of the zoo.”
The book is a small tribute to a lot of hard work by a lot of people and to the great support by its many visitors over the years.
Not every event from 1993 to 2003 could have made it into this short book. Not every member of zoo staff could be mentioned and many were the stories that staff regretted never made it into the book.
After all, it is Mike’s life story and can only be one person’s view of running the zoo – many of the other stories are tucked away in our Archive in the pages of Paw Prints our zoo newsletter. Material for future blog posts!
Several of our previous blog posts feature material from “The Mike Thomas Years” (1993-2003) at Newquay Zoo.
Posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo history blog, October 2017.
The famous Newquay Zoo Mini van ORL649M readied for the Newquay carnival sometime in the 1970s or 1980s.
We still take part sometimes in the Newquay Carnival, just as we will this weekend, usually with a dressed up zoo van or vehicle and staff in costume. So nothing much has changed!
Why the Chimpanzees?
Looking after Chimpanzee groups today in zoos is now very, very different from the 1970s. The Chimp’s Tea Party reference is an interesting one. Anyone growing up in the 1960s and 1970s will be familiar with Chimps on tea advertising and featured in tea parties at famous zoos.
The Zoo had two Chimpanzees from its early days into the mid 1980s. A female arrived ‘presented’ by Bristol Zoo in May 1969 and was joined by a male from Paignton Zoo in July 1969. They feature in our guidebooks well into the late 1980s along the Monkey Walk. (They had gone by the Newquay Zoo Children’s Guide of 1989).
Zoo marketing in its early days!
Look at all the Trenance Leisure Park Gardens attractions shown such as the Biergarten at Waterworld.
The chimp on the toboggan? The Toboggan run (now closed) below where Wooden Waves skate park now stands.
All these 1970s and 1980s attractions were an evolving part of the original Council planned Leisure Park – it is still a vibrant corner of Newquay today.
These fabulous photographs were lent from the collection of Mrs. Norman Marshall, wife of the 1970s / 1980s Newquay Zoo Curator / Head Keeper Norman Marshall.
Is this old logo a Pelican? We used to have Pelicans (and Flamingoes) in the zoo up till the early 1990s.
Where is that Mini van ORL649M now?
Still on the road and doing the Riviera Run to the West Country or gone to the scrap heap in the sky? We would love to know!
Carnival has been great fun over the years and a joy to see which Newquay group is poking fun at which bit of Newquay! Remember the now vanished dancing willow women figures on Trenance Boating Lake? Three ladies dressed in a few rush beach mats on the back of a float was one great satirical comment on these controversial artworks.
We still take part sometimes in the Newquay Carnival, usually with a dressed up zoo van and staff in costume. So nothing much changed!
Any surviving photos from staff collections will be a great subject for a future Newquay Zoo History blogpost …
Posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo History blogpost, July 2016
If you’re too young to remember Chimp’s Tea Parties, here is a (1920s/30s?) London Zoo postcard from my zoo collection.
Our Aquarium section at Newquay Zoo has very few records. It appears there were aquarium tanks or sections at two different stages of the zoo’s history.
Some visitors have mentioned a possible first aquarium area of which I have found no trace or existence on our zoo maps (see previous blogpost). The first aquarium or vivarium type tanks I know of were in the first one story Tropical House (1969 – c.1987) about which we know very little. There are no index cards from 1969-75 for fish, only a few for toads.
Our ‘Second’ Aquarium
We know our second version was in the ‘new’ Tropical House. I helped dismantle its second version in the back room of the c. 1987 Tropical House after about ten years in 1996/97. We created a Minibeasts Room for bugs and indoor animal encounters, which has just been redeveloped (2016).
The aquarium had been closed and drained for over a year at least when I helped empty and demolish this aquarium c. Winter 1996.
Lowering myself through the loft hatch into the tanks to remove the rocks and gravel, I made one startling discovery in the inch or two of water that remained. One surprisingly feisty Jack Dempsey Cichlid fish had escaped notice!
This lively fighting fish lived on in a new tank for several years afterwards, displaying to new rivals.
What animals were once part of this Aquarium?
We have some clues to help recreate this vanished undersea world at Newquay Zoo.
The Newquay Zoo ‘colour in’ Children’s Guidebook c. 1989 has a brilliant page showing what was in the Aquarium tanks. In one tank were Piranhas (glad none of those had escaped notice and survived when I was clearing their tank!) In another were Axolotls.
In the main Living Coral tank were Starfish, Sea Anenomes, Green Chromis, Long-nosed Hawkfish, Orange Clownfish, Hermit crabs, Blue Damsel fish, Sergeant Majors, Black Footed Clown fish, Clams, Sea Apples and Corals.
Some colour signs survive with clues to our former aquarium tanks:
We have some standard http://zoosign.com aquarium signs (commercially available, based on Chester Zoo signs) from the 1980s or 1990s. Interesting chatting to Stewart Muir, our Director of Living Collections at all three of our zoos, as he painted some of the small mammals signs for this series but can’t take the credit for the aquarium ones.
However we have some much older looking signs, which appear hand-painted or maybe transfers. We have scanned these as they are growing delicate, paint is now flaking and the varnish yellowing with age.
The backs with pencil scrawl “Newquay” are still as white as the day they were painted or printed.
We have very gently cleaned them up from their muddy state, probably from years in a store space where they were found abandoned a few years ago. Whilst some have suggested they belonged to an original Harbour Aquarium in Newquay, we are fairly sure they were once part of Newquay Zoo. They match some of the species in the 1989 Newquay Zoo Children’s Guide.
Some like the Spotted Shrimp sign we have scanned ‘as found’ to show some of the dirt!
Some of these species like Green Chromis appear in the 1989 Guide / Living Coral Reef tank.
Some have no names (Nemo!) but are easily recognisable as Clownfish, made popular by Finding Nemo.
Some have no names – the labels were possibly done by hand in Letraset!
Some names are almost unreadable like this Finfish?
These signs are now all scanned so they can be carefully stored away for future generations to enjoy. Beautiful and well worth preserving.
We used some of these beautiful signs this month with Redruth School. These students were visiting to look at enclosure design but also how information is presented in the Zoo, showing a range of signs from the 1970s up till our current signs. Students liked them but found them very limited in information.
We are currently designing the next range or generation of Newquay Zoo signs, working with our graphics team at Paignton Zoo.
No aquarium photos have yet been found in our archive of the Aquarium tanks or Living Coral Reef tank in the Tropical House. Admittedly aquariums are hard to photograph being full of darkness and glass but hopefully some photos will one day turn up. If you have some, we would love to share pictures of the old Newquay Zoo Aquarium on this site.
Where Fish Swam
This whole back room of the former aquarium has been rebuilt throughout spring and summer 2016 by Dave and our Maintenance team and Tropical House keepers Gareth O’Dare and Eva Fowler.
It looks brilliant, even lovelier than when we redesigned it all in 1997. Well worth popping in to have a look!
It’s very busy and too popular in there to photograph at many times of the day but I will post another completed picture of this new room and what once used to be there soon!
A last aquarium legacy?
Extensive plumbing was found and removed whilst renovating this former and now forgotten aquarium section.
Its name however lives on in one curious room at the back of the Tropical House, featuring the Amphibian Breeding Centre window onto our endangered amphibian breeding area. This was once home to massive UV and other filtration and pumping equipment. This is still known to staff as the “Pump Room”.
Posted by Mark Norris, newquayzoohistory blog / Newquay Zoo, June 2016
We had a little glimpse of this 1969 zoo layout in Ernie Littlefield’s photograph taken from the railway viaduct. The Little Western Railway was already established in the foreground along with ample car parking.
Before this, our earliest Newquay Zoo map in our zoo archive was the Newquay Zoo Children’s Guide c. 1989!
A few surprises which aren’t in our patchy record cards from 1969 – otters are marked at map No. 6 where Tippy’s café now stands. I last remember this space with animals c. 1994-5 as an (escaping) mongoose exhibit, before it changed to become a café named after its new neighbour, our first Brazilian Tapir c. 1996.
What’s not on the Newquay Zoo Map in 1969?
The western boundary to the 1969 / early 1970s Newquay Zoo is the stream which now cuts through the zoo.
A few surprises looking at the 1969 map:
No ‘old’ penguin enclosure where Meerkats now dig.
No ‘old’ lion house where Harry the Fossa now sleeps.
According to Roger Williams, one of our longest serving keepers who worked here as a young man c. 1970-1974 (before a long ‘career break’, returning to Newquay Zoo over 25 years later), the ‘old’ lion house was being built c. 1970/71. (It is now the Fossa House).
Roger thinks that the Lions which arrived from Bristol Zoo in 1969 (Queenie and Charlie?) occupied one side of the Leopard enclosure (No. 9 on the 1969 map) until their enclosure was finished c. 1971. Pumas replaced Leopards c. 1973 by which time the Lions were in their own house.
The paddocks for camels (where Carpathian Lynx now live) appeared around June 1973, when 2 Bactrian Camels appeared from the declining Belle Vue Zoo Manchester.
The Carpathian Lynx (1990s Puma enclosure) and Education Centre now occupy this space.
Probably the ‘old’ Penguin Pool (now home to Meerkats!) appeared by or circa. 1973/4 when 6 more Humboldt Penguins arrived in September 1973.
Roger Williams isn’t sure where the first 2 penguins lived (donated by Newquay councillor Mr Rogers at the Bay Hotel from off the local golf course, but that’s another story). In some zoos in the past like Rode Bird Gardens and Exmoor Zoo, Humboldt Penguins lived in a freshwater lake with other Wildfowl.
Shetland ponies from the Sherberton Stud moved in over the stream onto paddocks / pasture where our Dragon Maze now stands (to the left of the Flamingo and Waterfowl lake).
For several years the zoo’s edge and natural boundary was the stream.
The 1969 Chester Zoo sourced Bison ‘on the Hill’ left the zoo for Sherwood Zoo in 1973 – look out for a forthcoming blogpost on these animals who lived where the Pitch and Putt now runs.
The Guidebook format is an A3 colour sheet folded over with map on reverse.
Looked at rightways up the Guide Map reveals some interesting clues about the opening season / early years of the zoo.
Animal feeding was allowed by the public for a surprisingly large number of animals including fruit or nuts thrown down into the Bear Pit.
A surprisingly early warning about the environmental dangers of plastic bags!
The photographs such as Bison and Sealions are courtesy of (i.e. taken at) other zoos such as Chester Zoo, suggesting that this is a very early guide map prepared before these animals were properly in place.
Newquay Zoo still opens at 10 a.m. We still open all year round except Christmas Day. The other surprise was the OPEN ALL YEAR ROUND, something I thought was introduced c. 1994 when I first began to work with Newquay Zoo. The debate over the success of year round winter opening appeared in very early press cuttings held at the zoo.
John Adams also sent an image of the 1970s/80s Newquay Zoo guidebook map, c. 1983-85, which allows you to compare the two and the progress over our first 15 years.
Best looked at sideways to compare with the 1969 version, you can see much more development over the stream (18-22) into the Dragon maze area and Tarzan Trail and past the Bear Pit at the top paddock end of the zoo (9 – 14).
We will feature more comparison maps and guidebooks of the zoo over forthcoming blogposts.
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