A Corner of a Foreign Field: football, gardening, chocolate and an Oxfam allotment for Christmas

December 14, 2014

Once again this year we’ve ‘twinned’ our World War Zoo Gardens wartime zoo allotment at Newquay Zoo with a modern one far, far away, thanks to the fabulous gift service of Oxfam Unwrapped (www.oxfam.org.uk/unwrapped)

oxfam unwrapped ecard

It’s sometimes quite difficult to choose a meaningful gift for Christmas, especially one that lasts or makes a difference.

The Christmas adverts for 2014 are out and I have overheard much chat around Newquay Zoo about whether people prefer Monty and Mabel the John Lewis “kissing penguins” compared to the charitable chocolate merits of the Sainsbury’s advert recreation of the Christmas Day 1914 Football truce in the trenches 100 years ago.

Our gift shop, website  and office at our home base of Newquay Zoo get very busy at this time of year, with people popping in to buy cuddly toys (penguins are it this year – thanks John Lewis!) or phone calls  and emails to arrange last minute memberships,  animal adoptions (penguins and sloths amongst the Christmas 2014 favourites) and Junior or Adult Keeper Experience sessions (penguin encounters again popular). It’s good to know that this money is going to support animal conservation both at Newquay Zoo and our overseas projects as part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The clever Oxfam Unwrapped  E-card service means you can send a gift instantly to someone, even past the last posting date, a period  that I’ve experienced as a mad scramble in the Newquay Zoo office to get late orders completed. It’s also good to know that this clever Oxfam Unwrapped gift service helps support Oxfam, a charity born out of wartime famine relief, provide the training, tools and seeds to make a family self-sufficient in troubled countries like Afghanistan.

In a previous Christmas gift blog post I have written about how zoos and botanic gardens amongst other cultural institutions have struggled to survive natural disaster and civil war in many parts of the world not only in wartime but also over the last 20 years.

A ceiling field of pressed wild flowers and flower press picture frames,  Gardens and War exhibition, Garden Museum London 2014

A ceiling field of pressed wild flowers and flower press picture frames, Gardens and War exhibition, Garden Museum London 2014

The Garden Museum in London (www.gardenmuseum.org.uk) had a superb photographic display by Lalage Snow recently  about Paradise Lost: Gardens and War to complement its exhibition on Gardens and the First World War; there were sections on Afghanistan, Gaza and many other areas of conflict. There is an excellent video Artraker interview with Lalage Snow about her gardens photography project which has led to her winning an Alan Titchmarsh ‘emerging new talent’  Garden Media Guild Award 2014. The Garden Museum exhibition is well worth a visit before it ends on 19 December 2014.

I found the interviews and photos very moving, photos of gardeners, both men and women, cultivating plants  in these conflict zones by photojournalist Lalage Snow (http://lalagesnow.photoshelter.com/gallery/War-Gardens/G0000msN.x.IMPX8/) .

One interview in particular by an elderly gardener Ibrahim Jeradeh who maintains  a Commonwealth War Graves War Commission cemetery in Gaza struck me as a suitable message (like dogs) ‘for life and not just for Christmas’, so I quickly wrote it down just as The Garden Museum closed for the day:

“I keep this as the best place in Gaza, the cleanest and it’s my responsibility. I’ve worked here since I was 18 and am supposed to have retired but I can’t leave this place. It’s quiet, clean and happy. This is my garden. It isn’t a public garden but people often come to sit and reflect. I make sure the plants at each grave are happy and are well tended, and that the olive trees give shade where needed. 350 graves were destroyed in 2009 but we’ve gradually restored order and peace. War is war, no place is safe.”

“In our country it is a duty to care for both the living and the dead – there are no borders here – so there are Jews, Muslims and Christian graves. This is Palestine. In Islam we don’t usually mark individual graves – it isn’t important. All that matters is that the soul is in Paradise and the people in the graves, they are at peace. No-one can hurt them now.”

“Here in Gaza, it’s a miserable situation. But whatever you can imagine in your head as the best place in the world, it’s Paradise, it’s here in this cemetery.”

quote from Ibrahim Jeradeh, MBE, The British Cemetery, Gaza,  Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lalage Snow’s exhibition at the Garden Museum  2014

This quote has been especially poignant to me as a result of my World War Zoo Gardens recent research and talks about lost wartime zoo  keepers, botanic gardeners  from Kew Gardens like A.J.Meads and even local names from my  local village war memorial, men buried in Gaza, Egypt, Gallipoli and other distant cemeteries, beautifully maintained and planted, often against the odds of climate or current conflict, buried amongst comrades but far far away from family and home.

Gaza Cemetery (CWGC.org)

Gaza Cemetery (CWGC.org)

There is more about Ibrahim Jeradeh MBE and the Gaza Cemetery in this 2013 Al-Monitor article: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/gaza-english-cemetery-all-faiths.html 

There is more about the Gaza Cemetery on the CWGC website and its restoration www.cwgc.org   and on the Gaza Cemetery Wikipedia page. Ibrahim Jerada is pictured in an interesting interview by Harriet Sherwood in 2013 for a  Guardian article, and an interview with his son, now Head Gardener, Issam Jeradeh.

Christmas 1914 and beyond

By Christmas 1914 many of the men from zoos, botanic gardens, aquariums that we have been tracking throughout this blogpost since 2009 were beginning the journey that would take them to the trenches of the Western front, across the world’s oceans  or the deserts of the Middle East. Not all of them would return.

Some of these volunteered to enlist, others were coerced by peer pressure and employers. Former soldiers, sailors and Territorial reservists were quickly embarked. Already by Christmas 1914, some had been killed. On our research journey, we will be following the careers of these men throughout next year and the www.1914.org centenary until 2019.  Some volunteers like Herbert Cowley (who we posted about in 2013) were embarking for France on Christmas Eve 1914 just as the truce was beginning in the trenches. Others like Kew and RBGE’s Walter Morland would within months be heading for the beaches of Gallipoli, never to return.

Football, Christmas, Chocolate and Gardening

I’ve had some suitably topical christmas gifts so far, including some Sainsbury’s ‘Christmas Truce’ advert Belgian Chocolate bars. My wartime allotment at Newquay  Zoo  is by mid-December usually a suitably muddy enough patch to stage a (very tiny) recreation of the Christmas Truce Football match.

A now very empty Sainsbury's Christmas Truce advert 2104 centenary chocolate bar!

A now very empty Sainsbury’s Christmas Truce advert 2104 centenary chocolate bar!

Football, Christmas, Chocolate and Gardening are all things that should hopefully help to bring  us together or share something in common with our families and others.

It has been interesting to see how different organisations, interests and communities have embraced and engaged with the meaning of the http://www.1914.org First World War centenary, across Britain, Europe and former colonies, from villages and schools to zoos, gardens and sports clubs. The Christmas Truce and football match has been an important part of this connection, whether or not you like the Sainsbury’s advert or indeed football!

There is an interesting micro-site on the CWGC website called Glory Days, which is  part of wider ‘Football Remembers’ events.

Some conservation charities I have come across have cleverly sponsored football matches in partner developing countries  to bring groups together for the benefit of wildlife education.

Football and gardening: mud, weather, success or failure each season,  the state of the pitch / patch, maybe they have more in common than you think!

Like the weather or the ravages of garden pests, home-grown food or memories of Grandad’s allotment, these are all conversations amongst visitors  that I overhear whilst working on our wartime allotment plot in the zoo. I’m told that these are properly called “cross-cultural puncture points” across generations and cultures. To me they are also just friendly chats over the “garden fence”, Mr. Middleton style. We will feature more about Mr. Middleton in 2015, the 70th anniversary of this wartime celebrity gardener’s death.

I hope that you enjoy a peaceful Christmas, wherever you are and however you decide to spend it, playing football, eating chocolate, in the garden or at the zoo!

Look out for a wartime Christmas pudding recipe on our next wartime Chrsitmas blogpost in the next few days …

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo

With Ferrets to War – an anniversary update on Newquay’s Dr. Arthur Hardwick

December 13, 2014

Back in early 2012, I posted a blog about the wartime activities of Newquay GP Dr. Arthur (A.G.P) Hardwick and an interesting diary account of his smuggling ferrets as ratters  back to his medical post in 1918 in the trenches of World War 1.

The 16th December 2014 sees the 60th anniversary of Arthur Hardwick’s death in 1954, back in GP practice at Newquay at the Island House, Newquay.

See blogpost https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/war-horse-war-elephant-war-ferret-the-wartime-role-of-zoo-and-other-animals-from-tommys-ark-and-the-world-war-zoo-gardens/

Part of Hardwick’s story of innovative wartime pest control was told in WW1 historian Richard Van Emden’s fascinating book Tommy’s Ark.

Tommy's Ark

I was delighted to hear from Chris Blount, Marilyn Thompson and Joanna Mattingley about their research into Major Hardwick’s life, to be celebrated at the Newquay Heritage Centre / Museum when it reopens.

Chris wrote in his Newquay Voice column in 2012 about  childhood visits to the ministering hands of Dr. Hardwick, his family doctor:

“Apparently Newquay’s Doctor Hardwick – well remembered by many including myself, because he was our family doctor in the 1950s – was a medical officer Captain with the 59th Field Ambulance and served in many of the bloodiest battles of the First World War …

Little did I, or my mother,  know when we visited Doctor Hardwick’s surgery at Island House on the top corner of Killacourt many years later, where the skilful and much respected medical practioner’s hands had been – and the stories he could have told us.”

No doubt Chris would be amazed to read the further section about Arthur Hardwick’s trench medicine experiences in Emily Mayhew’s recent book Wounded: The Long Journey Home from the Great War

wounded jpeg

The chapter on Regimental Medical Officers and their Field Ambulances  is partly based on sections of Hardwick’s unpublished diary  that is now housed in the Imperial War Museum library (www.iwm.org.uk), a facility disturbingly recently threatened with closure and budget cuts, unbelievable in the 1914 centenary year.  Other chapters in Mayhew’s fascinating book are based on the experiences of nurses, chaplains, stretcher bearers, surgeons,  ambulance drivers and the many others connected to the medical treatment and rehabilitation of casualties.

Hardwick (1890-1954) went to Mesopotamia after the war, not returning to Newquay until 1927, where eventually he married Suzanne Clemens  James in 1930 and settled down to his medical practice. He also went on to become a Fellow of the Zoological Society.

Ferrets aside, one of his ways of coping with the stress of his medical role, when recalled to a quieter area  behind the fighting  trenches, is mentioned by Mayhew in Wounded (p.45):

… in late spring [1917] Hardwick attached a makeshift plough to his horse and created a small vegetable garden. It was a fertile spot, thanks also to the horse, and the neat little rows of green shoots emerging from the manure -rich soil contrasted with the devastated remains of a small town nearby.

Part of the rehabilitation at the time and still offered today though Gardening Leave is horticultural therapy, of interest to this  wider blog / research project, but that’s another story for another blogpost.

What Hardwick and thousand of other  WW1 medical colleagues learnt the hard way through improvisation, necessity and courage still informs emergency medical response teams in current conflicts like Afghanistan today.

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo




Matthew James Walton DSM of Belle Vue Zoo, fireworks and the Battle of the Falklands 8 December 1914.

December 6, 2014

The 8th December 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the 1914 Naval Battle of the Falklands.

Belle Vue zoo's sadly vandalised war memorial, Gorton Cemetery. Manchester lists their First World War dead - a tiny glimpse of the losses of men from zoos on active service in both world wars.  Image: manchesterhistory.net

Belle Vue zoo’s sadly vandalised war memorial, Gorton Cemetery. Manchester lists their First World War dead – a tiny glimpse of the losses of men from zoos on active service in both world wars. Image: manchesterhistory.net

At the base of the battered Belle Vue Zoo staff war memorial in Gorton Cemetery, Manchester under the section ‘Died From Effects of War Service’ is  an interesting link to this far off naval battle, the name Petty Officer Matthew James Walton DSM.

Belle Vue Zoo's now vandalised war memorial - luckily the names, although hard to read,  are inscribed in stone as the brass statue has been stolen. Image: manchesterhistory.net

Belle Vue Zoo’s now vandalised war memorial – luckily the names of Matthew James Walton and others, although hard to read, are inscribed in stone as the brass statue has been stolen. Image: manchesterhistory.net

Walton  died in the same year that the Belle Vue Zoo staff war memorial was erected in November 1926: the service was attended by former colleagues and managers  including the “Seawolves of Birkenhead, the latter in honour of Boatswain Walton, who fought at the Falkland Islands and died later.” I’m not sure who the Seawolves of Birkenhead were, possibly sea scouts?

The Battle of the Falklands 1914

The Falklands 1914 was an early British victory after the naval defeat at the Battle of the Coronel in the Western Pacific near South America weeks earlier on 1st November 1914. Two old British naval ships HMS Monmouth and HMS Good Hope were surprised and  sunk by German Admiral Graf Von Spee’s squadron of warships with the loss of 1570 British sailors. No survivors could be picked up with the threat of the other German ships around.

HMS Kent 1901-1920 Source: Wikipedia

HMS Kent 1901-1920 Source: Wikipedia

Walton won his Distinguished Service Medal on board HMS Kent, a Monmouth Class Armoured Cruiser which successfully pursued and  sank one of the German ships from the Coronel battle, the cruiser Nurnberg.

Five survivors from the Nurnberg’s crew of 332 were rescued and eight British sailors and marines were killed. Their memorial is appropriately for HMS Kent in Canterbury Cathedral and the ship’s bell will be rung at a memorial service at 11 a.m. on the 8th December 2014. For more details of this service, an exhibition  and the battle, see http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/2014/12/02/hms-kent-remembered/

By the end of the Battle of The Falklands 1914, two of the eight German ships had escaped, the Seydlitz and the Dresden. 1871 German sailors including Admiral Spee and his two sons. 215 German sailors survived from the sunken ships.

The Dresden did not survive for long, as Walton was on HMS Kent when it sank the Dresden at the Battle of Mas A Tierra on 14 March 1915.

“Nurnberg finishing off of Kent’s sister ship the Monmouth had been avenged” as it is deftly put in Adrian Beaumont’s book.

HMS Kent sustained some damage including damage to gun turrets and the ship’s wireless and signals room. The Imperial War Museum holds diaries or accounts of the battle  from a fellow Petty Officer  P.O. H.S.Welch and also Lieutenant V.H. Danckwerts from HMS Kent. There is much more in Adrian Beaumont’s excellent booklet which can be downloaded from the Canterbury Cathedral website.


Matthew Walton is one of the older  sailors somewhere amongst HMS Kent ship's company photo, taken during refit late 1915 after the Battle of the Falklands (Photo from Adrian Beaumont)

Matthew Walton is one of the older sailors somewhere amongst HMS Kent ship’s company photo, taken during refit late 1915 after the Battle of the Falklands (Photo from Adrian Beaumont)

Clues to Matthew Walton’s naval career

In the National Roll of The Great War XI Manchester, Walton has his wartime naval service summarised thus:

“Walton, M.J. DSM P.O. 1st Class, Royal Navy mobilised at the commencement of hostilities, he was posted to HMS Kent and proceeded to the South Atlantic, was in action at the Battle of the Falkand Islands. He was awarded the DSM for gallantry and devotion to duty and also took part in the sinking of the Dresden off Juan Fernandez Islands.

In January 1917 he returned home and until 1919 was engaged as Captain’s Coxswain of the Signal School Boat and then was sent to Russia where he saw much service.

Returning home he was demobilised in March 1920, and in addition to  the DSM, holds the 1914-15 star, the General Service and Victory Medals.  His address was listed as 9 William Street, West Gorton Manchester.”

His Distinguished Service Medal was gazetted on 3 March 1915 and in the Royal Medal Index 118358, RFR A1756, DSM 29087, Navy 29087 – more can be found on http://www.navalhistory.net. It would be interesting to know exactly what it was awarded for.

Histories of HMS Kent suggest that after Falklands and Mas a Tierra, she returned to the China Station in March / April 2015, then back to the UK in May 1915. She was involved in convoy escort duties and the China Station until July 1918. Walton left the ship to serve on HMS Victory I from 1917 to 1919.

In January  1919 HMS Kent was in Vladivostok to support American and Japanese Forces against the Bolsheviks.By this time Walton had moved ship again to HMS Fox, which was also involved in the Russian Campaign against the Bolsheviks. You can read more about this and HMS Fox at: http://www.naval-history.net/WW1z05NorthRussia.htm

More clues from Matthew James Walton’s naval records

From what I have deciphered of his Royal Navy Ratings Service record, held in the National Archives ADM/188/151, Matthew James Walton was born in Rotherham, Yorkshire on 12 November 1866. He appears to have joined the Royal Navy around January 1882 where his eyes and hair are recorded as brown. He was recorded as having scanty hair when he was mobilised again in 1914!

With good or very good conduct throughout, Walton (Navy number 118358) worked from his  home port of Portsmouth  on an impressive number of ships in the late Victorian and Edwardian Royal Navy. From 1882 to 1901 he served on the Impregnable, Northumberland, Royal Adelaide, Iron Duke, Sultan, Duke of Wellington, Raleigh, Victory I, Vernon, Boscawen, Howe, Minotaur, Excellent, Penelope, Revenge, Trafalgar and Royal Sovereign.

By 1898 he had been promoted to Leading Seaman and shortly afterwards to Petty Officer. Between 1901 and 1905 when he retired for the first time on pension, he served on Resolution, Formidable, Implacable, FireQueen? and Victory I again.

He may well have been maintained as a naval reservist as his records state that he joined the RFR Ports[mouth?] A 1756 on 13 December 1905.(Walton’s records stretch to two pages, including additions on a conveniently almost empty page of another sailor’s short naval career record). You can read more about the Royal Fleet Reserve here in an original leaflet.

On the outbreak of war 2 August 1914 as a naval reservist or former sailor, he was mobilised as a Petty Officer 2nd Class onto Victory I again until deploying to HMS Kent on 3 October 1914 until 11 January 1917. He achieved Petty Officer 1st Class on 16 September 1916.

After two years on Victory I again from 12 January 1917 to 25 April 1919, he moved to HMS Fox until 31 October 1919 on the Russian campaign against the Bolsheviks. He completed his service on Victory I on 29 March 1920 when he left the Navy. By this time HMS Fox and HMS Kent after Russian campaign service were destined for the scrapyard.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on HMS Victory, Walton may not have been always at sea when listed as part of the Victory I crew, as a “legacy of naval legislation that all naval ratings and officers must be assigned to a ship (which may include a shore establishment – still regarded as Her Majesty’s Ships by the navy). Any navy person allocated to work in a non HMS location (such as the Ministry of Defence in London) is recorded as being a member of the crew of HMS Victory!” This may cover Walton’s time as Boatswain or “Captain’s Coxswain of the Signal School Boat”. There is an interesting WW1 painting in the IWM collection Art.IWM ART 2620 of WRENS valve testing radios in the signal school at Portsmouth 1919.

His Belle Vue Zoo service would appear to have been either from somewhere between 1905 to 1914 or from 1920 to 1926 when he was living in West Gorton. There is mention of the M.Of.P Manchester (Ministry of Pensions?) on 19/8/1924 suggesting he was in this area till he died in Bucklow Cheshire aged 59 c. June 1926.

Walton and The Belle Vue Staff War Memorial

The Belle Vue Staff War Memorial entry on the UKNIWM UK National Inventory of War Memorials  suggests that Walton’s role at Belle Vue was not on the zoo keeping or gardening  side but on one of the many other trades at this early theme park. It is suggested on the UKNIWM site that Walton coordinated or orchestrated the Belle Vue fireworks displays: “The name of Matthew James Walton is commemorated. Walton orchestrated the Belle Vue fireworks displays and was complimented for them by Prince Louis of Battenberg.”

Maybe his naval experience as a Petty Officer allowed him the skill to command the pyrotechnics and the large cast with blank firing rifles that took part in these spectacles?

Under the headline  Fireworks to Firearms, the Liverpool Echo  of Thursday 11 March 1915 reports that Petty Officer Walton “of William Street, West Gorton has been awarded the DSM for naval bravery. The nature of his deed has not yet been disclosed. He was on HMS Kent in the Falkland action. Before the War he was gunner or manipulator of the Belle Vue Gardens war fireworks.”

One of Walton’s zoo colleagues present at the war memorial dedication  was Bernard Hastain, formerly of the Rifle Brigade and Drury Lane Theatre. Hastain painted the massive backdrops for these firework and mass theatrical spectaculars, often with a topical wartime or patriotic battle theme. Hastain’s name was the last name added in 1933 to the memorial section of staff who “Died From The Effects of War Service.”

Further material on http://www.manchesterhistory.net has press cuttings about the dedication of the war memorial, where speeches by Angelo Jennison mention that Walton “went off to distinguish himself at the Falklands”, also suggesting his Belle Vue service was pre-WW1. Jennison was one of the owner directors who lost a son and a nephew in the First World War; both their names are on the staff war memorial.

I have previously written a short biography about each of the Belle Vue Zoo casualties, based partly on work by Stephen Cocks. I will shortly be posting an updated blog post about these Belle Vue men with updated information from newly online records.

There is more to be researched and discovered about each of these men, as well as the Belle Vue Zoo service and wartime career of Matthew James Walton.

Family life – a few clues
Matthew James Walton was born in Rotherham, Yorkshire (some records suggest Pontefract). It appears that Matthew James Walton’s father, also Matthew Walton (born 1846, Bockleton, Yorkshire) was a basket maker working in Birmingham when he died young in his late 20s or early 30s between 1871 and 1881. This left his wife Hellenor or Ellen (born Cheltenham, 1838) to make a living with her teenage son Matthew James both as hawkers (1881 census) living in Cheapside, St. Martin’s, Birmingham; Matthew is recorded as ‘James’ in this census entry, as probably Matthew was how his father was regularly known. By the following January 1882, he had joined the Royal Navy.

Matthew James Walton got married in Cheltenham c. July 1900 to an Agnes Philips (b. 1869, also like Matthew’s mother born in Cheltenham) . They had three children by the time of the 1911 census when a Matthew J Walton is listed as a sailor, visiting with an Agnes Walton in Central Drive , Blackpool – was this a holiday? One son James Albert Walton had been born by 1901 when Agnes was living back in Cheltenham with her Philips family – presumably Matthew was at sea or serving away with the Royal Navy.

Belle Vue Zoo itself closed around 1977/8 and the site has now been redeveloped. Many of its records are now held in the Chetham’s Library collections in Manchester.

The Belle Vue Zoo staff memorial is noted as being in poor condition. The HMS Kent memorial is well cared for, despite the ship’s flags having been damaged following an air raid in WW2.

When the HMS Kent ship’s bell rings out at “six bells” or 11a.m. during the centenary memorial service, remember Matthew Walton, his shipmates and all the sailors involved on all sides in the Battle of the Falklands on 8th December 1914.

Any further information about Walton’s life, naval service or Belle Vue Zoo career would be welcome – contact me via the comments page.
Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo


A.G.L. Hellyer and beating the U boats: his childhood gardening apprenticeship in WW1

November 21, 2014


In the preface to his 1948 Gardening Encyclopedia, (my second-hand copy inscribed by the bookseller “Still the best?”), Arthur Hellyer (1902-1993) mentions an interesting anecdote about the start of his gardening career and the desire to write practical gardening books for ordinary people:

“I still vividly recollect my introduction to gardening. It was in 1915 or 1916 when I was no more than a small boy. My family in common with tens of thousands of others, started to dig up the lawn and grow vegetables on our own small answer to the U-boat menace.
We were endowed with enthusiasm and a complete lack of knowledge and I do not think our efforts were crowned with much success. But I do remember in the intervals of struggling with London Clay spending happy hours poring over the pages of Cousins’ Chemistry of the Garden and H.H. Thomas’ Complete Gardener and finding a new world of delight which has remained with me ever since.”

A 1917 Punch cartoon from our World War Zoo Gardens archive collection

A 1917 Punch cartoon from our World War Zoo Gardens archive collection

“Looking back now these seem very distant days. This is not merely due to the normal passage of time but rather to the immense changes that have taken place in almost every aspect of gardening during the intervening years.
Two wars and the necessity to fight for our national existence in a world of growing scarcities and bitter competition have given an immense impetus to agricultural and horticultural research with the result that our knowledge of plant behaviour and our control over much that occurs in the garden is far greater than it was in the early part of the century…” (1948)

Hellyer wrote a final gardening encyclopedia, in the year of his death in 1993, a remarkably long writing career. Hellyer worked for Amateur Gardening magazine from 1929 to 1966, throughout the Second World War and edited that magazine for 21 years; he also contributed gardening columns to the Financial Times, Country Life magazine, and Homes and Gardens magazine.

As well as his gardening articles Hellyer wrote several important gardening manuals during WW2 to help the “Dig For Victory” campaign in WW2. We have based some of our World War Zoo Gardens allotment garden work here at Newquay Zoo on these and other such 1940s manuals.

Arthur’s life story and that of his wife Grace Charlotte ‘Gay’ Hellyer who also wrote wartime gardening books, is well told in a recent memoir by their daughter Penelope S. Hellyer, The Haphazard Gardener (available to buy online).

The U boat blockade had a devastating effect on the lives of many in Britain including Merchant Navy Seamen, witnessed in the long list of names of sailors and fisherman lost at sea with no known grave: http://devoranwarmemorial.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/lost-devoran-sailors-on-the-merchant-navy-memorial-tower-hill

To read more about gardening in WW1 and how it foreshadowed the “Dig For Victory” campaign in WW2, read our blog post about Herbert Cowley, another  gardening writer, now mostly forgotten:


For more about gardeners (and zookeepers) in WW1, look at our summary of our WW1 blogposts:




Tower Poppies 2014 pictures

November 2, 2014

Tower Hill Poppies Oct 2014

Tower Hill Poppies Oct 2014

In case you do not get to see the WW1 centenary ceramic poppies project in the moat of the Tower of London, one poppy for each of the 888,246 British and Commonwealth troops who died in WW1, here are my recent photographs.

All the poppies have now been sold, raising millions for veterans’ charities.

I visited the Tower Poppies on the day of my well-attended talk on the World War Zoo Gardens project, wartime zoos and botanic gardens at Kew Gardens and thankfully didn’t have  the much reported difficulties of reaching  Tower Hill, so popular has visiting this centenary installation become before it finishes on 11 November 2014.

This is one of many commemorative events happening worldwide as part of www.1914.org which includes the Kew Gardens wartime tours  throughout November 2014 and London Zoo ZSL’s poster style exhibition about the Zoo at War which runs for another month or two.

Tower Poppies

Tower Poppies

You can read more about the HRP Tower of London poppy  installation “Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red” by ceramic artist Paul Cummins at https://poppies.hrp.org.uk/





Amongst these 888,246 poppies are ones which mark or commemorate the WW1 deaths of 12 ZSL London Zoo Keepers, 19 Belle Vue Zoo Manchester keepers and 37 Kew Gardens staff, along with many others from gardens staff in Britain, members of the Linnean Society and British Ecological Society that we have been documenting in our blog research since 2009:


Members of zoo families were also killed in WW1,such as two Jennison sons at Belle Vue Zoo Manchester, several brothers of Chester Zoo’s George Mottershead (badly wounded on the Somme) and a brother of Herbert Whitley, founder of Paignton Zoo (Newquay’s sister zoo).

I will be talking at the BGEN conference next week at Paignton Zoo about how to link these wartime links and history commemorations to sustainable development education, telling some of these WW1 personal stories: http://bgen.org.uk/resources/free/using-the-garden-ghosts-of-your-wartime-or-historic-past/ 

There are RBL poppies on sale in the Newquay Zoo shop in case you are visiting us and we will stop to observe the 11 a.m. 2 minutes silence on the 9th and 11th November 2014 this year.

We will remember them, zoo keepers and gardeners of all nations who served or suffered in WW1.


How botanic gardens and zoos survived wartime – talk at Kew Gardens 20/10/14

October 15, 2014

Preparing for my talk:

“How  botanic gardens and zoos survived wartime”  Mark Norris, Newquay  Zoo / World War Zoo Gardens project

Monday 20th October  6pm, Jodrell Lecture Theatre, RBG Kew. £2 entry. Please arrive by 5:45pm.

For more details and to see the other talks this coming year see http://www.kew.org/sites/default/files/kmis-updated.pdf



George Mottershead’s trip from “Our Zoo” at Chester Zoo to Newquay Zoo …

October 9, 2014

GM PL letters 6Series 1 of “Our Zoo” has come to a close with episode 6  leaving us all wondering whether the Mottershead family can  convince a visiting inspector to overturn the council ban on the fledgling Chester  Zoo. An inspection of the zoo is held but the final decision could take weeks – can the Mottershead family hang on and will there be life after Oakfield House?

If you miss it on BBC I player, the DVD is due soon – and leaves me hanging on for the wartime section which will surely come in future series.

OurZoo (October 2014) the latest version of June Mottershead's memoirs.

Our Zoo (October 2014) the latest version of June Mottershead’s memoirs.

I’ve written several previous blogposts about Chester Zoo’s wartime history. A story that not many know  is how an elderly George Mottershead in his last decade (he died of a stroke in 1978) helped and advised one of his ex-keeping staff, the late Peter Lowe to  design and partly stock my home zoo of Newquay Zoo in 1968/69. George’s correspondence with Peter Lowe into the early 1970s  has been kindly  scanned by Chester’s archive team to help us piece together our Zoo’s early history, ready for our 50th anniversary in 2019.

When someone asks why it’s worth the  bother  my hoarding and tracking down  old photos, record cards and the paraphernalia of our zoo history, I can mention the simple answer: prime time BBC 1.

GM PL letters 1

Letter by Newquay Zoo Curator Peter Lowe to his old boss George Mottershead at Chester Zoo, 12 June 1969

Peter Lowe and the Newquay Council  sent condolences to George on the death of his wife Lizzie Mottershead in 1969. They had been writing to each other about Newquay Zoo since early 1968. In the letters he asks after June Mottershead – the young June of “Our Zoo” – and her husband Fred Williams, both people that he would have known whilst on the Chester Zoo staff.

By 1969 the real cast of “Our Zoo” was thinning – Muriel had now emigrated to New Zealand, one of Lizzie Mottershead’s uncles (merged into one character in the TV series) Robert Atkinson had died fighting in WW2 and Grandma Lucy passed away in 1945. Mottershead’s aristocratic patrons and friends were still strongly supporting Chester, such as the ‘Duchess’ or ‘Sally’ (the Duchess of Westminster) who came down to see and keep in touch with Peter Lowe in Cornwall in August 1971.

Mr. Mottershead, founder of Chester Zoo - memorial plaque near Oakfield House, Chester Zoo (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

Mr. Mottershead, founder of Chester Zoo – memorial plaque near Oakfield House, Chester Zoo (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

There follows two years of regular correspondence with George Mottershead, trips by Newquay Council staff to Chester and Bristol Zoo and the successful opening of Newquay Zoo on Whit Monday  26 May 1969. There are some interesting letters arranging for  Mr Mottershead to visit the Zoo in October 1971, staying at the Kilbirnie Hotel (like Newquay Zoo, still open 40 years later).

GM PL letters 3

George Mottershead to Peter Lowe and family, 21/10/71

Miss Howard (Nancy) was George’s secretary and travelling companion on trips to Newquay and American zoos  in his later years. It is to her organisation partly that we owe the survival of this amazing cache of decades of George’s correspondence.

Sadly these all appear to be carbon copies of George’s letters to Peter, so we don’t have signed letters from George but he was obviously a very busy man into his eighties.

GM PL letters 5

The letters run from 1968 to 1971, finishing just after George Mottershead’s visit. It is interesting to read George’s comments on the fledgling Newquay Zoo and the worries of its first Curator Peter Lowe. George speaks with the reassuring wisdom of someone who has built his own zoo, often against criticism or local lack of faith in its future. In several places George with his long experience “strongly advises” against certain ideas. However George in another letter reassures Peter (and by extension the Newquay Urban District Council) that the Zoo’s first few weeks attendance of 15,322 was not too bad, considering the fine weather that saw people head to the beach, not pay the 3/6d adult and 1/6d child rate to see the zoo.A council car parking charge of 2/0d – two shillings – was causing complaint even then.

I don’t think your attendance of 15,322 is too bad for something which has just opened. Why do people want to be right in the top rank as soon as they start. Everything has to grow! When I first came to Chester we didn’t have anything like that in the first twelve months.” George Mottershead to Peter Lowe, 20/6/69

“In a month’s time we shall have been open for 12 months and have had 152,507 visitors through the gates to date”. Peter Lowe to George Mottershead, 27/4/70

This is still not too bad an annual  attendance for us today!

George’s zoo at Chester survived the recession of the 1930s and the difficult wartime years. The early days of Newquay were not without problems. Electricity blackouts, postal strikes and industrial action are mentioned, a glimpse of what was to come throughout the 1970s.

It is good to think that George got to finally walk round our zoo, taking in what Peter Lowe and his colleagues and council staff had achieved.

If you walk round Newquay today, you can still see the ‘bone structure’ of our 1969 zoo that George and Peter discussed in their letters. The  old lion and leopard houses are still standing, along with the bear enclosure,  long converted to other uses and more  suitable animals. Within a few years, these older houses will come down to make way for new enclosures;  I’m sure George would approve, his motto for Chester Zoo being “Always Building!” and that the zoo that Peter and George built is looking towards its 50th anniversary and future task of conservation and education.

Rare 'Yaki' Sulawesi Macaque monkey at Newquay Zoo enjoying fresh broad bean pods, summer 2010. (Picture: Jackie Noble, Newquay Zoo)

Critically Endangered  ‘Yaki’ Sulawesi Macaque monkey at Newquay Zoo, a group with females on breeding loan from Chester Zoo, enjoying fresh broad bean pods from our wartime allotment, summer 2010; this enclosure housed bears from 1969 to c. 1994 (Picture: Jackie Noble, Newquay Zoo)

The Chester and Newquay zoo links are still strong. An education centre and service was written about in 1970; we now teach thousands of local school children and hundreds of HE students on zoology degree programmes based next door  at Cornwall College Newquay. We have several families of endangered animals here at Newquay Zoo on breeding loan or descended from Chester Zoo animals – Humboldt penguins, critically endangered Sulawesi Macaque monkeys – as part of modern studbooks and conservation breeding programmes through BIAZA and EAZA to which Chester and Newquay both belong. George Mottershead and Chester Zoo was  part of the early Zoo Federation in the 1960s which became BIAZA in 2005.

There is more about the early years of the Zoo on our Wikipedia timeline.

The Bison enclosure on the hill outside the zoo – an advert for the Zoo’s presence in the valley –   that once  housed ex-Chester Bison Fred and Freda is now gone, probably by 1973. There are many letters discussing its construction and obtaining the Chester stock.  It is now part of the surrounding fields and crazy golf course.

I never met George Mottershead as he died whilst I was a child. I was lucky enough to meet Peter Lowe and his wife on a rare visit back to Newquay Zoo, shortly before our 35th or 40th birthday. He had with him a large battered sketch plan of the zoo that he had to rapidly sketch out when the Council appointed him to run the zoo. I had no way of copying it at the time and sadly Peter Lowe, like George Mottershead,  has now passed away.

bison record card

One of our surviving stock cards from Newquay Zoo, regarding the Bison that came from Chester Zoo. The female was supposed to be a straight swap for a llama which sadly died of ‘pulpy kidney’ before this could occur in 1971. Money changed hands for animals then in a way it doesn’t now in a modern zoo.

Chester Zoo has made much of its history, with an archive, timeline, tours, a website, and of course the TV series.This is something that we at Newquay and many zoos could learn much from. If anyone has any other archive photos, film or memories, we would love to hear from you at ‘our  zoo’ at Newquay to expand our archive. Contact us via our website.

Round the back of the Europe on the Edge aviary, once the 1940s polar bear enclosure can be seen wartime surplus concrete tank traps built into pillars, a clever bit of wartime / austerity salvage, Chester Zoo, May 2011 (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

Round the back of the Europe on the Edge aviary, once the 1940s polar bear enclosure can be seen wartime surplus concrete tank traps built into pillars, a clever bit of wartime / austerity salvage, Chester Zoo, May 2011 (Image: World War Zoo gardens project)

George Mottershead, Peter Lowe and our World War Zoo Gardens wartime allotment project share a strange wartime ‘make do and mend’ spirit of improvisation that sees a thread or link from our zoo today, our 1960s zoo origins and George Mottershead who was nearly killed on the Somme and nursed his zoo through wartime and postwar challenges. Had George Mottershead been killed or paralysed, maybe Newquay Zoo might not be here today – at least in the same shape or form – if Chester Zoo had never been built. One feels the same ‘what if?’ story about Paignton Zoo, Herbert Whitley and his family experiences in WW1. We have much to be thankful for, especially to men like George Mottershead.

As we work towards our 50th anniversary in 2019, I will scan onto and blog post about some of the early Newquay guidebooks and record cards that have survived or been acquired for our archive, one not as well filed as Miss Howard’s neat Chester Zoo correspondence files.

There are many more interesting snippets to type up and explore of what might have been at Newquay – second thoughts considering housing a baby elephant, strongly advising against whether wolves would be suitable alongside leopards or the noise affect neighbouring houses, whether staying open till 10 pm was sustainable in the summer months. A Zoological Society of Cornwall to run the zoo was hinted at, to relieve the financial pressure on the Council funds and taxpayers; this never happened but many years later, Newquay is now run as part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust charity.

Newquay 70s guidebook cover

The cover of the first Newquay Zoo Guidebook from the early 1970s – c. 1974

I’m not sure the early days of Newquay Zoo are quite dramatic enough for a screenplay, although we were established in the Apollo Moon Landing Year of 1969, built as the swinging 60s became riotous, when Newquay had Magical Mystery Tours from The Beatles, early surfers on real waves not in cyberspace, all Pure Heartbeat / The Royal  1960s nostalgia period stuff. The few photographs we have of the staff, visitors and builders’  haircuts and clothes alone are worth a series in themselves …

newquay penguins

Great hair and Humboldt penguins, where our meerkats now roam. Newquay Zoo postcard and photograph in our guide book c. 1974

So Newquay Zoo staff and visitors, past and present, owe a small debt to George Mottershead and his “Our Zoo” family. Thanks, George!

I hope you enjoyed  the “Our Zoo” series, the website coverage on the BBC and Chester Zoo website (including a Chester Zoo YouTube website) and June’s books Our Zoo or its predecessor Reared in Chester Zoo, if you can track a copy down. Happy reading, happy viewing and of course, happy gardening!

Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo, World War Zoo Gardens project.

Picture of the Week: Coxley Primary School Project

October 8, 2014

Originally posted on :

Coxley Primary School Poppy Project. 11281 petals commemorating the men who died from Somerset along with those who served in the county regiments during the First World War.


View original

Reared in Chester Zoo: Reading more about the Chester “Our Zoo” story

October 2, 2014

For the many zoo visitors I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks whilst doing our daily animal talks at Newquay Zoo, quite often the BBC’s series of “Our Zoo” about the early days of Chester Zoo is mentioned.

Those that know of my wartime garden project or interest in wartime zoos and botanic gardens often ask what I think of it and how accurate it is. Until the new book “Our Zoo” by June Mottershead comes out in October 2014, alongside the BBC Series 1 DVD, I direct people to track down a copy of “Reared in Chester Zoo, the Story of June Mottershead” written by June with Janice Batten (published by Ark Books, 2008).

OurZoo (October 2014) the latest version of June Mottershead's memoirs.

OurZoo (October 2014) the latest version of June Mottershead’s memoirs.

Within the 2008 book are many of the wonderful photographs glimpsed in the “Our Zoo” title sequences. You should be able to find copies easily enough online.  June’s earlier book about Chester Zoo, “Zoo Without Bars” (by June Williams, her married name) is now out of print and only available from  secondhand bookshops.

Tucked inside my well read copy, I keep the CD-Rom of scans of the surviving Chester Zoo Newsletters, written by the Mottershead family, dating back to the earliest days of “Our Zoo” in the 1930s (available from Chester Zoo’s library /archive) , which have given such incredible detail to the book. For me this is superb  month by month detail to help understand how the zoo struggled and survived the 1930s and the wartime 1940s. With the speed that the first series of “Our Zoo” is going through the early 1930s section, no doubt this wartime  section will be in “Our Zoo” Series 2, which I hope is in the BBC pipeline …

(BBC staff please note:  I have my own tin hat, spade, stirrup pump and ARP uniform from our wartime zoo schools workshops if the BBC want any 1940s  extras  :)

I’ve written previous blogposts about Chester Zoo’s wartime history. A story that not many know (and so a  blog post to save  for another day) is how an elderly George Mottershead in his last decade (he died in 1978) helped and advised one of his ex-keeping staff, the late Peter Lowe to  design and partly stock my home zoo of Newquay Zoo in 1968/69. George’s correspondence with Peter Lowe into the early 1970s  has been kindly  scanned by  Chester’s archive team to help us piece together our Zoo’s early history, ready for our 50th anniversary in 2019.

So the next time someone asks why it’s worth the  bother  my hoarding and tracking down  old photos, record cards and the paraphernalia of our zoo history, I can mention the simple answer: prime time BBC 1.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the “Our Zoo” series, the website coverage on the BBC and Chester Zoo website  and the book Reared in Chester Zoo, if you can track a copy down. Happy reading, happy viewing and of course, happy gardening!

I’m off soon to Kew Gardens on 20th October 2014  to deliver an evening talk at 6pm (open to the public) as part of the annual Kew Mutual Improvement Society KMIS session talks, all  about how  zoos and botanic gardens survived wartime,  where no doubt Chester’s canny George Mottershead and wartime surplus concrete will be mentioned. See Kew’s http://www.kew.org website  for details.

Reared in Chester Zoorearedinchesterzooback

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh commemorate WW1

September 19, 2014

Much has been made by politicians on various sides of the Scottish Referendum in the 1914 centenary year about the contribution of Scottish people to the Allied war effort in World War 1.

In the week of the Scottish Referendum, I received a surprise email from Ann Hill about a press cutting in the Downs Mail Maidstone online edition for September 2014, asking if I had any more information or contact with relatives of Walter Henry Morland? The Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh are looking for relatives of their fallen staff, including Morland who worked at Kew Gardens as well as Edinburgh. Through the World War Zoo Gardens project I have met or heard from several relatives of keeper and gardener casualties from London Zoo and Kew Gardens.

At last a photo of Walter Morland, part of Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh search for Walter Morland's relatives, Maidstone Downs Mail September 2014

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh search for Walter Morland’s relatives, Maidstone Downs Mail September 2014

I had come across Walter Morland through his Commonwealth War Graves Commision entry as a “rose garden specialist” when researching the lost staff of RBG Kew Gardens, alongside Sydney Cobbold, . Staff at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh have been putting together a display, alongside a poppy lawn sown by staff and Scots military veterans.

The Scotsman – Wednesday, 22nd July 1925


Sir Lionel Earle, K.C.B., K.C.V.O., C.M.G., Secretary of H.M. Office of Works, yesterday afternoon unveiled a memorial tablet to the twenty members of the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens staff who gave their lives, in the Great War. The tablet is in the entrance hall of the laboratory. About a hundred relatives and members of the staff were present. Sir Lionel Earle said the memorial served a double purpose. Firstly, it was a lasting testimony to the members of the staff who sacrificed their lives for the great cause; and, secondly, it was a memorial to Sir Isaac Bayley-Balfour, late botanist, administrator, and agriculturist, who did so much for the Botanic Gardens. It had been Sir Isaac’s last wish that a memorial to these men be placed in the entrance hall. The Rev. E. C. Houlston, B.D., officiated at the service, which concluded with the sounding of the “Last Post.”
Extract taken from the Scottish War Memorial project website

I had come across photos of the memorial to the RBG Edinburgh staff photographed on the Scottish War Memorials Trust website.

What I hadn’t seen was the Roll of Honour of all the RBG Edinburgh staff which isaccessible on their website. In a future blogpost I  will look more closely at the details in case as with some information that I’ve found on other sites during  my research  has become unavailable over time.

Knowing that Walter Morland had died at Gallipoli on 2 May 1915 and having an interest in Gallipoli where one of my relatives served, I was surprised to read how many of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh men had served or died at Gallipoli, all as a result of serving at the hard-pressed 5th Battalion, The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment), obviously the local regiment for many of these Edinburgh men.
Breifly, the http://www.1914-1918.net/royalscots.htm webpage lists the 5th as 1/5th Battalion (Queen’s Edinburgh Rifles)
August 1914 : in Forrest Hill, Edinburgh. Part of Lothian Brigade, Scottish Coast Defences.
11 March 1915 : transferred to 88th Brigade, 29th Division at Leamington Spa.
Sailed from Avonmouth 20 March 1915, going via Egypt to Gallipoli 25 April 1915.
Returned to Egypt 7 January 1916.

Brabyn’s other surviving RBGE colleagues in the 5th Royal Scots then fought in France, after their service in Gallipoli.
Moved to France, landing at Marseilles, 10 March 1916.
24 April 1916 : transferred to Lines of Communication.
15 June 1916 : amalgamated with 1/6th to become 5/6th Battalion (due perhaps to decimation of numbers?)
29 July 1916 : transferred to 14th Brigade, 32nd Division.

Some of Walter Morland’s RBGE colleagues in the 5th Royal Scots served and thankfully survived to be demobilised in 1919, no doubt to see the war memorial erected.

It is good to see many organisations taking time  to commemorate the service and sacrifice of  their past staff and families.  It is also good to put a name to a face for Walter Morland at last, gone but definitely not forgotten. As Lawrence Binyon phrased it in his poem “For The Fallen”, published in the Times 100 years ago this week, “We Shall Remember Them”.

I hope that somebody eventually makes a family connection with Morland and his colleagues, so  are able to help RBGE and the research of its archivist Leonie Paterson at commemorate@rbge.org.uk

I will talk more about some of these lost Gardeners from zoos and botanic gardens in my forthcoming KMIS / Kew Guild related talk about may World War Zoo Gardens research and the blogpost research ‘Such is the price of Empire’ (a quote from Walter Morland’s Kew Guild Journal obituary) at Kew Gardens on the evening of the 20th October 2014. Check the http://www.kew.org events and what’s on section for details.


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