The disastrous Preston Zoo, a Victorian madness?

Plan of Preston Pleasure Gardens

There was once a beautiful, green pleasure palace, it was billed as “Lancashire’s most charming seaside resort” – and that was in Preston.


For a short time, in the 1880s, Preston boasted of having a zoo. This was part of the Pleasure Gardens site, off New Hall Lane. Remarkably, there were over 100 species of animals, including a visiting elephant. Many locals had never seen anything like it! Exotic creatures such as monkeys, toucans and vultures could be observed. Even a camel took walks between its humps.

Unfortunately, by 1884 the zoo had become run down and poorly managed. As a result, the death rate among the animals was horrendous, with seven animals per week succumbing to improper treatment.

Something had to be done, and famous author and naturalist Arthur Patterson was brought in to save the day. He began by monitoring the feed and living conditions of the animals. Regular cleaning was introduced and the death rate was reduced to one per month.

In addition, he introduced new species. There was a large glass building that housed trees, in this one he added white herons, cockatoos, peacocks and doves.

However, Patterson was unable to save the zoo and left in 1885, when it closed permanently. The poster below dates from the opening period of the zoo.

Preston Pleasure Gardens Poster
Preston Pleasure Gardens poster, which dates from when the zoo was open

How it all began

At the end of the Victorian period, the increase in leisure time resulted in the opening of a number of outdoor entertainment venues. Big cities such as London boasted of these sites and the time seemed right for the growing Preston to join in. Such sites were known as pleasure gardens. They differed from parks in that they hosted events such as balloon rides and fireworks.

The gates of Farringdon Park
The gates of Farringdon Park

In 1875 a large 90-acre site was acquired by the Preston Nursery and Pleasure Gardens Company. The company has offered shares of £ 50 to raise £ 20,000 capital. Most of the site is now under the Farringdon Park subdivision. The scenery has been improved and eight miles of trails have been constructed.

A waterfall has been added to the wooded dingle to the east of the site. In addition, a large number of greenhouses were built including one of the largest greenhouses in the North. The gardens opened in 1877. Later, a large dance platform was installed, where guests circled to the sound of a military band.

Over the next 50 years, important national fairs were held here, including the Royal Horticultural Society Show, in 1878.

Horse-drawn trams in the park

Another factor encouraging development is the advent of the tram network. Single-story horse-drawn trams first reached the Pleasure Gardens in 1879. The conveniently located terminus near the entrance was put to good use in the year of the Guild of 1882. Preston station was 3d. Notice the use of local advertising on the tram in the image below.

Horse-drawn tram
Horse-drawn trams were used for local advertising

George Formby races at the speedway

Still of George Formby in No Limit
Still of George Formby in No Limit

In 1929, part of the site became a fast lane. It was very popular with the particularly large crowds of 14,000 fans. They may have been drawn to the many deaths! Famous musician and movie star George Formby won a race here on a two-stroke machine. George made a film about TT racing in 1935 called No Limit. The film was shot on the Isle of Man, where he performed all of his stunts!

Depression and the end

In 1929, the Wall Street crash devastated the global economy. As a result, the Speedway closed in 1932. The glories of the garden’s past faded into memory, as the council searched for the land for housing. Little remains of the original site now remain.

Read more: See the latest news and headlines from Preston


About Lillian Coomer

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