Historical Archives of the site of
Upton's Zoo

also visit the Zoo's own website (but little historical info)

this aerial view (click to enlarge)is featured in the 1951
history of Upton compiled by the WI - .
view their text...........................................see plan of Oakfield c1913

One of the largest zoos in the United Kingdom, Chester Zoo covers more than 100 acres (40 hectares) within a total landholding of more than 400 acres (162 hectares), including surrounding farmland, in Upton-by-Chester, Cheshire.

The austere economic climate of its early years prompted the zoo to create the innovative enclosure designs for which it became known. The zoo has furthered its international reputation through many breeding successes and through its involvement in cooperative breeding programs. More than 1 million people visited Chester Zoo in 1998, and it continues to develop through conservation outreach, educational programs, and marketing strategies. The zoo is governed by the North of England Zoological Society, with Gordon McGregor Reid as its executive director. George Mottershead founded Chester Zoo in the early 1930s, following an earlier venture in partnership with William English to develop a small zoo at Shavington, Cheshire, where the Mottershead family's market-garden business was based. In 1930 Mottershead moved to Upton-by Chester, where he bought a large private residence known as the Oakfield, together with outbuild- ings and nine acres (four hectares) of land. Although his desire to build a zoo met with strong local opposition, permission was finally granted in 1931. In 1932 the animal collection formerly held at Shavington, which included a polar bear, a tapir, and a chimpanzee, was acquired and transferred to Chester. A private company, Chester Zoological Gardens Limited, governed the zoo from 1932. until 1934, when it was replaced by the North of England Zoological Society Limited, with a council chaired by Richard Blair Young. Mottershead served as director-secretary, his wife, Elizabeth, as catering manager, his father, Albert, as head gardener, and his older daughter, Muriel, as assistant curator. His school-age daughter, June, later proved to have a special interest in fish, perhaps promoted when an aquarium with six cold-water tanks was built in the basement of the Oakfield. Geraldine Russell Alien, who later chaired the zoo council, sponsored the aquarium, and Lady Daresbury opened it in 1934. That same year, the zoo remodeled the monkey house, added parrot aviaries and a penguin pool, and recorded its first successful hatching of a black-footed penguin chick. Visitors, however, were few, and financial success still eluded the zoo, which solicited help from benefactors. Esther Holt presented the zoo with her collection of tropical birds and also paid for their upkeep. The Holt family, which ran a shipping company on Merseyside, donated many other animals, including mandrills and chimpanzees from West Africa. The fifth Duke of Westminster presented the zoo with a capybara. The zoo also acquired an additional 14 acres (six hectares) of land around this time.

A lion house opened by Lord Leverhulrne in 1937 accommodated African lions acquired from Bristol and Dublin zoos. Mottershead asked the zoo council to consider a "zoo without bars," proposing to build a large, outdoor lion enclosure surrounded by 12 foot (4m) high chain-link fencing. Almost half of the council opposed this idea, fearing the lions would escape, and many council members resigned. Mottershead later proposed an adoption scheme, in which members of the public could pay to have a card with their name posted by their "adopted" animal's enclosure, but the council did not try this idea until forced to do so by financial necessity with the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Mottershead took advantage of his regular broadcasts on the British Broadcast- ing Corporation's (BBC's) Children's Hour about animals at Chester Zoo to make the adoption scheme public, and the plan received much support.

During the war years, the zoo received animals evacuated from Bristol and Paignton and other zoos, and it provided a home for two Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) show elephants and their mahout, Khanadas Karunadasa, all of whom had previously toured with a traveling revue. By 1941 the combination of lions relocated from other collections and those bred in the zoo resulted in a total of 14 lions being held at Chester. Despite the financial restrictions, the zoo made its first profit in 1942. The zoo began building two new enclosures for bears in 1944, which—typical of Chester's early style—were constructed from local, inexpensive materials. Similarly, the zoo used concrete, antitank road blocks to create the polar bear enclosure, while elsewhere in the zoo local red sand- stone was widely used as a building material. Catherine Jane Tomkyns-Grafton, who had originally adopted Chester's first polar bear, provided funding for their new enclosure and later bequeathed the zoo £18,000—a very generous sum for that time.

In 1945, shortly after the war's end, the polar, brown, and black bears moved to their new enclosures. With the opening of the new, outdoor lion enclosure in 1947, Mottershead finally real- ized his dream of keeping lions behind chain-link fencing. Postwar development continued with the construction of a sea lion pool, a reptile house, a beaver enclosure, and a flamingo pool. The most notable addition, a new elephant house, continued the tradition of using concrete, antitank blocks and sandstone as the building materials. By 1949 the zoo's grounds had expanded to cover 65acres (26 hectares), and its attendance that year reached 320,000 visitors. The zoo selected "Always Building" as its motto, with a beaver as its logo. In 1950 the society achieved charitable status, dropping the term "limited" to become the present North of England Zoological Society. In addition to a larger polar bear enclosure, dedicated to the memory of Tomkyns-Grafton, expansion in the early 1950s included the building of parrot aviaries and houses for giraffes, zebras, and camels. The present aquarium, built by Fred and June (Mottershead) Williams, opened in 1952 and included the innovative feature of a roof tank with glass panels set in its base. This design allowed visitors to view fish from below and may be seen as a precursor to contemporary tunnel tanks. New visitor facilities included two cafeterias and a souvenir shop. The zoo's gardens became a feature in 1952, complementing the animal enclosures with flower beds, borders, rose and rock gardens, and shrubbery. P.W. Gallup, appointed the head gardener in 1953 oversaw the development of greenhouses and nursery areas to supply the zoo's rapidly expanding needs—some 80,000 plants being required for the summer bedding alone. Chester Zoo became famous for its colorful spring and summer bedding displays. Equally admired were the rose gardens, the fuchsias, and the well-manicured, green lawns that not only gave the zoo its open spaces but proved popular as picnic areas for the increasing numbers of visitors. The zoo's greenhouses during this time developed a collection of tropical plants, shrubs, and trees for use inside the new, more spacious, and better-illuminated animal buildings.

The zoo reached a size of 130 acres (53 hectares) by 1955 and built a new parking facility to cope with the 500,000 annual visitors. Development proceeded quickly with the 1956 building of a chimpanzee house and that exhibit's now world-famous outdoor islands, around which a water-filled moat was the only barrier between the chimpanzees and the public. The building of a noc- turnal house and quarantine premises in Birkenhead near the port of Liverpool in 1957 allowed the zoo to directly import stock from Africa, including kudu, lechwe, eland, and warthog. Large paddocks were constructed by combining the Carl Hagenbeck model bounded by ha-has (sloping ditches) with the Chester hallmarks of a surrounding low sandstone wall and flower beds. A canal system with water-buses became a new visitor attraction at the end of the 1950s.

The approximately 840,000 visitors in 1960 enjoyed the new Fountain Restaurant and Cafeteria, additional gardens, a pair of gorillas, and the new small mammal house. The present elephant house was built in 1961 as the pachyderm house; at the time it also housed rhinos, tapirs, and hippopotamuses. The zoo completed the rhinoceros and monkey houses in 1963. "With motor- way developments facilitating travel to the zoo, annual visitor figures topped 1 million for the first time. These elevated attendance levels continued over the next decade, leading to heady years for Mottershead and the Chester Zoo.

Mottershead, who had been elected as president of the International Union of Directors of Zoological Gardens (IUDZG) in 1961, hosted the IUDZG Conference at Chester in 1963. In 1964 he received an honorary master of science degree from Manchester University for his services to zoology. The Tropical House (now Tropical Realm) opened on the society's 30th anniversary in 1964. Considered ahead of its time, the building included a nocturnal exhibit, indoor quarters for gorillas and pygmy hippopotamuses, as well as the present reptile area. The main part of the facility, planted as a tropical forest, housed a large variety of smaller free-flying birds, with less-sociable species held in aviaries. In 1965 the collection included quetzals, cock of the rock, and ten species of birds of paradise.

Construction work continued with the building of cafeterias and a souvenir shop in 1965, a cat house in 1966, and a jaguar enclosure in 1967. Visitor numbers peaked at more than 1.14 mil- lion in 1967. Acquisition of an adjacent farm increased the zoo's total estate to 330 acres (133 hectares). A small veterinary laboratory built in 1968 never expanded because of daily visits from veterinarians at a nearby practice. The building presently used as orangutan quarters opened as the ape house in 1969. The zoo completed the parrot house in 1970, and Prince Philip, the duke of Edinburgh, opened the Geraldine Russell Alien Lecture Hall and Library in 1972. For his outstanding zoological achievements, Mottershead was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1973 New Year's Honours List. Annual visitor attendance fluctuated from 1974 to 1978 but remained above 900,000. An educational classroom opened in 1977 to help encourage school visits. Mottershead died in 1978 at the age of 83. Following an interim period, during which Council Chairman J.O.L. King accepted executive control, Michael R.Brambell, formerly curator of mammals at London Zoo, replaced Mottershead as director of a zoo estate that now totaled more than 500 acres (202 hectares), including adjacent farmland, which was used to grow food for the animals. Declining attendance challenged Brambell in his first seven years of office, but during that time the zoo added a large restaurant, a new penguin pool, and a flamingo lake and extensively refurbished or demolished older enclosures and facilities. Funding for these changes was supplied from limited income and from appeals. The penguin pool, opened by astronomer Patrick Moore in 1981, was possibly the best in the United Kingdom at the time, because it incorporated underwater viewing and sophisticated water treatment. The society celebrated its golden jubilee in 1984, and a new tiger enclosure opened in 1985. In the same year, Brambell outlined his vision of the strategic commitment of the global zoo community to conservation in his paper "The Time Bridge across the Next Century," delivered to the IUDZG at Calgary Zoo. Botanical Garden, and Prehistoric Park (Alberta, Canada). Chester Zoo's visitor attendance reached a low of 700,000 in 1985, mirroring the fall in the number of children in primary school in Cheshire and coinciding with a major international garden festival in Liverpool. A rift between the director and the zoo council culminated in an extraordinary meeting of zoo members in 1985. The entire council then resigned, with only one reelected at the following annual general meeting.

In 1987 the sixth Duke of Westminster became the society's first president. Visitor numbers increased to 900,000 in 1989 but fluctuated around 800,000 during the early 1990$. The aquarium closed for substantial redevelopment. In 1989 Diana, Princess of Wales, opened a new chimpanzee quarters with an attractive, conical-roofed, circular "oast house" design, and in 1991 the duchess of Kent opened the zoo monorail. New standards set elsewhere for the exhibition and welfare of large mammals, together with the zoo's insufficient capital for new and expensive large-mammal developments, resulted in Chester stopping its exhibition of both gorillas and bears. This decision enabled the zoo to focus on developing large aviaries using less-expensive construction methods based on the use of lightweight nylon mesh. By 1993 the former polar bear enclosure became Europe on the Edge, an aviary with a floor area of roughly 10,000 square feet (930 square meters) and reaching up to about 40 feet (12 m) in height; it housed an unusual community of birds, including vultures, storks, ducks, and choughs. Condor Cliffs, a spacious enclosure for Andean condors and other Neotropical raptors, took the place of the former brown bear pit. The exhibit, opened by the Duke of Westminster in 1996, received a Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) commendation in 1998. These new develop-ments permitted the demolition of the old raptor aviaries. Mammals also received attention—a new Asian Plains hoofstock area took over a former bird area in 1992., and upgrades to the elephant facilities included a nursery area and bull pen. In 1994, keeping with zoo conservation efforts, endangered Asiatic lions replaced the African lions. A new public parking area and an entrance complex and shop opened in spring 1995 on the north-west side of the zoo.

Gordon McGregor Reid, the zoo's former curator-in-chief, took over as director when Brambell retired in September 1995. In 1997 the Duke of York opened Monkey Islands, which included extensive island areas for Celebes apes, lion-tailed macaques, and mandrills. Other important developments in the 1990S included a new tuatara exhibit in 1994 and a dune-habitat exhibit for large sand lizard in 1996. The penguin pool was redeveloped in 19518 as a saltwater exhibit with a more sophisticated water-treatment system and extensive landscaping. Perhaps the most notable of the zoo's developments in the late 1990s was the walk-through Twilight Zone bat experience. The Islands in Danger indoor exhibit (on the former site of the bird house), a new bird incubation and rearing center with public viewing, and a large-scale jaguar development became concerns for the zoo as the year 2000 approached. Chester Zoo has had much success with animal-breeding programs, particularly with threatened species. Chester's early accomplishments include the first reported U.K. breeding of mandrills in 1935 and of griffon vultures in 1940. "Jubilee," the first Asian elephant to be conceived and reared in the United Kingdom, was born at Chester in 1977; a hybrid African/Asian elephant was born the following year after its parents unexpectedly bred; it survived only n days. The zoo's success rate at reproducing Asian elephants has turned Chester into an internationally important center to which other zoos, including Twycross Zoo (United Kingdom), send their cows for mating. Despite its modest size, the zoo aquarium has gained recognition as a center for the breeding of rare and endangered fish, especially seahorses. Mexican livebearers, and Lake Victoria cichlids. Additionally, the zoo has acted as a center for banking fish semen, as part of the European Union Genome Resource Bank's Cryobiology Project.

An audit of animals in the zoo's collection at the end of 1997 indicated more than 6,500 individuals representing some 500 species. Almost half of these species were listed as threatened, and the zoo participated in 145 associated breeding programs. The zoo has received more than 50 awards from the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland, including 2.0 meritori- ous breeding awards for birds. International awards for bird breeding include 17 Avicultural Society certificates of merit, and the zoo was judged Foreign Bird Breeder of the Year three times between 1990 and 1994. Chester Zoo has won many other awards for its environmental contributions, for its famous gardens, for zoo business and marketing, and for education. Its crowning achievement at the end of the 20th century was being named Britain's Zoo of the Year in both 1998 and 1999.

enlarged aerial image