Making a zoo on a 6-acre green-field site in just 6 months from the submission of plans to first opening was a remarkable achievement.  Mr James Chipperfield was the person who made it happen with the able support of family members.  He had opened a zoo in Southampton earlier in 1961 and wanted to replicate the success in Plymouth’s Central Park. 

Not everyone was happy with the idea of a zoo or the loss of parkland which had been understood to be inviolable.  There were protests in the letters’ column of the Western Evening Herald and especially by Councillor Stanley Goodman although most Council members were in favour of the scheme.

The protests went unheeded and an outline planning application submitted by the City Engineer on 17th October 1961 was considered by the Planning Committee ten days later.  It had “no objections subject to conditions about submission of detailed plans, design, accommodation, external appearance of buildings and compounds, siting, materials, drainage, access, enclosure of site, landscaping, signs and advertisements, loading and unloading of goods and refuse.”  

The full planning application on 13th December 1961 was approved by the council’s Planning Committee on 29th December 1961.

The plan that accompanied the planning application in 1961 (The Box accession reference PCC 60/1/23803)

Construction work started immediately afterwards with the laying of water pipes and electric cables, and other groundworks. 

Looking towards Coronation Avenue at the bottom of Zoo Field. Western Evening Herald, 7th February 1962
(The Box accession reference 2732/16)  

On 23rd March 1962, the Western Evening Herald described the work as “an example of efficiency and determination to fulfil a dead-line.“  The report continued like this: “It was only a few weeks ago – as soon as city council permission was given – that the bulldozers and cement mixers moved in.  Electricity and water had to be laid on by the corporation and even while this work was going on private contractors were busy ripping up Gilbert’s Field to lay foundations for the cages and other zoo installations.  At present the site is scattered with patches of turned-over earth, piles of sand and prefabricated building sections.  A number of buildings have taken shape, however.”

Photo in the Western Evening Herald of Mary Chipperfield helping to build her father’s zoo. (The Box accession reference 2372/17)

The first animals arrived at the end of March 1962. 

Photo and article in the Western Evening Herald 11th April 1962 (The Box accession reference 2372/17)

The zoo opened on Thursday, 19th April 1962, ahead of the Easter weekend, and two days later, over 1,000 people had visited it.  

Newspaper advertisement for the zoo’s opening (The Box accession reference 2372/17)
Crowds walking down Coronation Avenue towards Plymouth Zoo on 21st April, two days after its opening.
(The Box accession reference 1418/20999)

Seventeen weeks later, on 20th August 1962, the 100,000th visitor, Mr T. Crago, passed through the gates.  He was presented with a magnum of champagne by the zoo manager, Mr G. Houghton.  There is no doubt that the zoo was a very well-visited attraction in its heyday although its popularity waned during the 1970s until it eventually closed on 8th January 1978.