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

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 website  for details.

Reared in Chester Zoorearedinchesterzooback

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