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).
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.