London Zoo

London Zoo is in Regents Park. It is a gentle walk through the park or a short bus ride from Baker Street tube station.

London Zoo, the first scientific zoological gardens in the modern world, was founded in 1828, and opened to the public in 1828 as a way of funding its scientific work. The word 'Zoo' only emerged in a music-hall song of the 1920s. Of interest regarding these pages, the Zoo contains a modest collection of statuary and many buildings of architectural significance. In addition, generations of artists have gone there to study animals from life, an excellent example on these pages being the bird-painter Henry Stacy Marks.

The Zoo in 1837


London Zoo contains a variety of sculptural works featuring animals. Most noticeable is Guy the Gorilla (1982), one of the most famous of all the inhabitants of the Zoo. The statue, by William Tymym, is near the main entrance by the Michael Sobell Pavillion for Monkeys and Apes.

Winnie the Pooh was based on a black bear called Winnie who was the mascot of a Canadian regiment in World War I, and there are two statues in the Zoo. Behind the Reptile House is an overly sentimental version by Laura McKean, and a much better modern statue of Winnie with a soldier (1992) by Bill Epp is by the Children's Zoo. At the entrance to the Children's Zoo is a small statue of a boy on a bear, in memory of Sigismund Goetze.

There are two sculptural works by Shenda Amery - the Ambrika Memorial Fountain (1994) depicts a girl releasing a pigeon; the girl is somewhat pained-looking in a modern fashion, but the pigeon is most naturalistic. The fountain is near the camel ride. A good study of two cheetahs in motion called Unseen Prey is near the restaurant.

There seems to be only one older sculptural work: Negro fighting a Lion, by Henri Teixeira de Mattos (1856-1908). The group is heroic, and a bit brutal, in the spirit of French Orientalist pictures of lion hunts etc, of the sort found in the Wallace Collection.

Alas, the inspiring copies of the Lascaux cave paintings in the main tunnel are now gone, following restoration work to maintain the structure of the tunnel.


The architect Decimus Burton laid out the 20-acre grounds (later expanded) of the Zoo, and of his original design the East Tunnel (in its original form of 1829) and the canalside walk remain. His only surviving buildings are the Clock Tower (1828), once part of a camel house (the building at the back to the right in the picture above), and his excellent Tuscan-style Giraffe House (1836/7), still used for that purpose, on the Cotton Terraces. There is also a Raven's Aviary by Burton dating from 1828.

There are a few surviving Victorian buildings. The original reptile house, now the Bird House (1883, extended 1920s) by C. B. Trollope is rather plain brick, but sympathetic inside. The parrot house seems to have closed its interior to the public on a permanent basis now - a shame. It is by A. Flower and dates from 1898. Big aviaries in Kew Gardens Palm House style also survive. The old Lion House of the 1870s was replaced in the mid-1970s - I recall visiting it as a child, and remember looking upwards at the big cats in their iron-barred cages.

The famous zoo designer Carl Hagenbeck found little sympathy for his 'zoo without bars' in his native Hamburg, and the Mappin Terraces at London Zoo (1913/14) are one of the earliest examples of his ideas put into practice. The zoo in Paris, now rather dilapidated, was partly built to a similar theme, with mountains of reinforced concrete.

The Reptile House dates from 1927 and is by Sir Guy Dawber, as is the main gate of the Zoo. In the 1930s, the innovative architectural firm Tecton produced buildings for the zoo. The most well-known is the oval Penguin Pool (1934) with its interlocking curved walkways. Also surviving are a Gorilla House (1933) near the Clore Pavillion, used until a few years ago for Orangs and now with the outer part rather derelict and the interior housing the odd wildcat, and the North Gate Buildings (1936).

More recent buildings have tended to the informal, the scattered, and with more and more attention paid (rightly) to the well-being of the animals as opposed to their display. Good still, despite problems at the Zoo in recent years, are the towering Snowdon Aviary of 1961/5, the Clore Pavillion (1967/8), the Sobell Pavillion for Monkeys and Apes and the Lion Terraces of the 1970s, and the more recent aviaries. However the Elephant House (1962/5) - sneeringly noted as being 'ideal for the arboreal elephant' is in the worst style of concrete brutalism.

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