The Zoo at Chessington World of Adventures Resort was founded in 1931 in the grounds of a country mansion of considerable history. As far as can be traced, the original mansion was built in 1348, probably as a country house named Chessington Lodge. It is thought that it was used as a school for Officers in Archery, and a visit from Queen
Elizabeth I resulted in an act being passed permitting the practice of archery in the grounds on Sundays.
The original building became a Cavalier stronghold during the Civil War (1642-1660), and was burnt to the ground by Cromwell’s forces. Rebuilt after the restoration, it was renamed ‘Burnt Stub’, and has continued to be so known.
The site was used as a wayside alehouse during the late 17th century, and it is presumed that the farmstead was rebuilt on a larger scale in the 18th or 19th century.
The estate came into the hands of the Vere Barker family at the beginning of the 20th century, but was again seriously damaged by fire. It was reconditioned in 1919 at a cost of £50,000, and in 1931 the owner, Sir Francis Barker, offered it for sale.
History dictates that entrepreneur Reginald Goddard, a flight lieutenant in the Great War and managing director of his family’s Battersea-based slate and slab firm, 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 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. The Zoo at Chessington World of Adventures Resort 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 prevented large crowds forming at entertainment venues during wartime, leading to the temporary closure of the Zoo at Chessington World of Adventures Resort. This resulted in a partnership between Reginald Goddard and Herbert Whitley, the owner of Primley Zoo in Paignton. Animals including Peggy the tiger, daughter of tigress Beauty, and star of the film ‘Elephant Boy’ and a home-bred lioness and her four cubs were moved to the Zoo in 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. Shortly after Chessington was registered as a company.
Chessington was a popular attraction for many decades, but with investments needed the park was sold to the Pearson Group in 1978. Pearson later bought Madame 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 began.
Six years and £12 million later Chessington World of Adventures was ready, opening in July 1987 – at the same time as the nearby M25, ensuring easy access to the park from various parts of the country.
In October 1998 it was announced that Pearson had sold The Tussauds Group to Charterhouse Development Capital for £352m, adding a number of attractions to the growing portfolio, including the nearby THORPE PARK. The Tussauds Group was then owned by Dubai International and operated a varied portfolio of leisure attractions, including Madame Tussauds, Alton Towers, THORPE PARK, Warwick Castle and Chessington World of Adventures.
In May 2007 The Tussauds Group merged with Merlin Entertainments Group to create Europes leading visitor attraction group. MERLIN ENTERTAINMENTS is the leading name in location-based, family entertainment, and has seen the most successful and dynamic growth of any company in the sector over the last five years. Europe’s Number 1 and the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator, Merlin now operates 100 attractions, eight hotels/three holiday villages in 22 countries and across four continents. The company aims to deliver memorable and rewarding experiences to its 54 million visitors worldwide, through its iconic global and local brands, and the commitment and passion of its managers and more than 21,000 employees.
For more information, please visit this website www.chessington.com