Friday 28 April 2023

We're going to the Zoo...

Zoological Gardens in Scotland

Welcome to my last post in this April A to Z Blog Challenge. It's been good for me to consolidate information I've researched and it sharpens my focus on writing something every day that will most likely be used in my current writing. and if not that, it's an interesting exercise! 

The letter of the day is Z and Zoos are the subject matter.

Zoological gardens, or parks, no longer have the popularity that they once had. In the past, when information on the animal kingdom was harder to access, going to see a real live animal in a zoo caused quite an excitement – especially amongst the younger people in the family. The advent of better video photography of today makes seeing the animals in their own wild habitat much more realistic, much more sensible, even if it lacks the ‘day out’ festivity of a family, or visitor group, to a zoo.

The present Edinburgh Zoo facility, at Corstorphine, was officially opened in 1913, but that was not Edinburgh’s first zoo. The first zoological garden in Edinburgh was opened in the 1840s, in East Claremont Street, a nice little stroll from Edinburgh Castle.

NLS map 1840s

Though small at only some six acres, the zoological park on East Claremont Street had an enclosure for  large carnivores; a bird house, and a monkey house. A large aviary was built in the style of a Chinese pagoda, and it housed a collection of pheasants and pigeons.

An 1842 guide to the zoo gives information that an elephant enclosure would be built in 1843, with a bathing pool for a male Asiatic elephant from Sri Lanka. The specimen was about eight years old and had been the mascot of the 78th Highlander Regiment for about five years. There was also a sizeable, circular bear pit with a central climbing pole that was seventeen feet high. Nowadays, animal lovers will shudder at the descriptions of what were actually pretty confining enclosures but attitudes were different in the 1840s.

In 1850, the East Claremont Street zoo was granted royal patronage by Queen Victoria and it was re-named ‘The Royal Edinburgh Zoological Gardens’. However, by 1855, the zoo was already losing popularity and to draw in custom various entertainments were taking place that were more like those at a cheap showground.

Sir William Jardine

Initially the zoo had the support of some influential people like Sir William Jardine. Sir William Jardine was a naturalist and ornithologist. and was the Seventh Baronet of Applegarth (Applegirth, Dumfries, was the seat of the Jardine Clan) 

[He is, therefore, in some form, a somewhat distant relative of my late husband Alan Jardine and has a nose a little bit similar to my late father-in-law.],_7th_Baronet

Edinburgh Zoo at Corstorphine is still open for visiting, though it becomes more and more difficult for any zoo to comply with the strict rules in place for animal welfare.

I haven't written it yet, but my character Margaret will probably pay the zoological gardens at East Claremont Street a little visit, since it's not very far from her employer's house. 

Meanwhile across in the west of Scotland, in Glasgow… also in 1840, the first zoological garden in Glasgow was opened at Cranston Hill.

NLS maps 1841

A very small site of no more than three acres at Cranston Hill, the first Glasgow zoo was on the edge of Henry Houldsworth’s estate. Houldsworth had hired Thomas Atkins to run it (Atkins was the founder of the first Liverpool Zoo) but the Glasgow facility was not a long-term successful venture. It probably only operated for one summer season in 1840 (?). Atkins had tried to import Alpacas, important probably to Houldsworth for exploiting their wool. There may also have been a golden eagle; a pig-tailed macaque monkey, and an Indian goat. It must have been an odd venue since adverts of the time make mention of an ‘erupting’ model of the volcano Vesuvius, pyrotechnics being used to display the phenomenon. Reports indicate that some 40,000 people viewed the spectacle, both inside the park and from the outside, so it must have been a sizeable feature!

Henry Houldsworth

Henry Houldsworth was likely much more interested in his business concerns close by than in ensuring a long-term success of his zoo. Originally, Houldsworth had come from Manchester to Glasgow in 1799 to manage a water-powered spinning mill at Woodside. Houldsworth purchased the mill a couple of years later and built a second mill in the nearby Anderston district. The second mill was steam driven, powerful at the time, and made Houldsworth one pf Glasgow's most successful cotton 'spinning' mill owners.  He then went on to purchase an iron foundry in Anderston and even later, became the founder of the Coltness Ironworks (1839) and the Dalmellington Iron Company (1848).

After 1840, a number of other places in Glasgow had small animal collections open to the public but the Glasgow Zoo, at Calderpark, was the most well known of these.

Calderpark Zoo opened in 1947 and was closed in 2003. I visited the Calderpark Zoo a few times during my childhood while living in Glasgow, the last visit I remember being as a teenager on a school day-trip to the zoo. I thought then, during the late 1960s, that the poor polar bear was looking extremely neglected, its fur a dull, matted, dirty-white. It appeared demented as it prowled around its relatively small enclosure. It was probably an old creature and naturally a bit sad looking, but by then I was already thinking that animals ought to be left in their own wild habitat.

Glasgow is now one of the few larger European cities without a Zoo, or an Aquarium, for the visiting public. I don’t know if Glasgow City Council have any plans to build a new zoo though I doubt it, cost-wise and ecology-wise.

We can now watch fantastic worldwide-photography documentaries via video from the likes of the fabulous broadcaster David Attenborough, and other wonderful nature photographers, so why confine the animals to un-natural habitats?

This brings my April alphabet series on Victorian historical research to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed my research notes as much as I’ve enjoyed compiling them.



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