Brief history of Chessington Zoo
Chessington Zoo was founded in 1931 by entrepreneur Reginald Goddard, a flight lieutenant in the Great War and managing director of his family's Battersea-based slate and slab firm. History dictates that he was driving past the site when he saw the house and land for sale. He had been looking for a place to house his collection of exotic animals and immediately put in an offer.
On Tuesday 28th July 1931 animal enthusiast Reginald opened Chessington Zoo to allow the public to view his private animal collection, which consisted of some truly exotic species. Chessington Zoo soon became known for the many different types of entertainment on offer, which included a circus, a funfair and a miniature railway in addition to the Zoo. Adverts from the era tell of Joey the tightrope walking monkey, bears’ tea parties, lions, elephants, tigers, leopards and hyenas. According to history, the zoo had over 200,000 visitors during the first season.
In 1939, with World War Two impending, government restrictions lead to the temporary closure of the zoo, as part of a programme preventing large crowds forming at entertainment venues during wartime. This resulted in a partnership between Reginald Goddard and Herbert Whitley, the owner of Primley Zoo in Paignton. Animals including Peggy, the daughter of the tigress Beauty and star of the film ‘Elephant Boy’, and a home-bred lioness and her four cubs were moved from Chessington to Paignton, and the Devon Zoo and Circus was created. The ‘exile’ lasted until 1946, when Reginald returned to Chessington with his stock, sadly Reginald died on Christmas Day 1946, and Chessington was registered as a company.
Chessington was a popular attraction for many decades, but with investments needed the park was sold to the Pearsons Group in 1978. Pearsons later purchased Madam Tussauds and The Tussauds Group was formed. The Tussauds group saw the potential of Chessington as a family adventure park, and in 1981 plans to transform the park into a theme park and animal adventure area were put in motion...
Six years and £12 million later Chessington World of Adventures was opened in July 1987