This establishment was first muted as a possibility when representatives of Chipperfields Circus met up with the Coventry Council Parks and Allotment Committee back on 15th May 1963 … On that day 6 sites in Coventry were visited and within days 2 possible sites had been selected … Neither site was disclosed at the time until 17th December 1963 when Whitley Common was announced as the chosen site an 8 Acre site which could be developed into a Zoo .
By May 1965 the local papers were referring to the Proposed new Zoo within Coventry as Chipperfields Zoo …. 9th July 1965 Stewart and Jill Banks were by this time living in a caravan on the Whitley Common site in a caravan and were awaiting on a Bungalow to be built … the first arrival for the Zoo was Lulu the Ostrich .. Mr and Mrs Banks were to be fellow directors alongside Dick and John Chipperfield (brothers of Jimmy Chipperfield who had only recently opened Plymouth and Southampton Zoos)
20th July 1965 it was announced that Coventry Zoo would be opened by 28th August 1965 ..although it would not be completely finished there would be enough interest for visitors as 2 Tigers and a Lion were now on site as well as Lulu the Ostrich … with the rest of the animals being held at Chipperfields Circus winter quarters at Chipping Norton , Oxfordshire (Bears, Tigers , Lions and Exotic birds would be in Coventry by the opening day along with 2 Leopards which were “famous” as having been on the Film “In Search of the Castaways”
September 1965 the opening was delayed until at least March 1966 due to construction delays but it was also announced that a Hippopotamous and 9 Bears would soon be at the site and the 2 Tigers had now been named as Royal and Bengal … Also in September Zak a Leopard Kitten was born on the site and Mrs Banks had to hand rear him as he was rejected by his mother at birth.
At this point just a little “background” to the Banks family … Jill’s Maiden Surname was Palethorpe and she was the sister of Dawn Palethorpe (Wofford) who was one of Britains Greatest Showjumpers in the 1950’s and early 60’s … Jill herself was a showjumper and had also ridden for Britain … Also probably a little known fact was that Jill was the Grandaughter of the Co Founder of Dudley Zoo Ernest Marsh … Jill Married Peter Ward in 1953 and unfortunately he was killed in a Road Aciident in 1955 … Jill married Stewart Banks in 1956 approximately and for a while they farmed in Yorkshire (possibly near Scarborough as there were reports that the Chipperfields wanted the Banks family to run a Circus complex there for them …Jill had 2 sons , one from each Marriage..
In December 1965 an attempt was made to break into the Big Cats house and Guard dogs had to be installed to “protect” them from future break ins .
On the 20th January 1966 there were local complaints as 2 buses in the Coventry area had been painted with Coventry Zoo Park adverts stating that the Zoo was open daily and there were some disappointed people who turned up at the site to discover it was not yet open … this was put down to a “Misunderstanding” between the Zoo and the Contractor and the Contractor had to put right the error quite rapidly.
Then come the big day 5th April 1966 an unlikely celebrity in the form of Pickles the Dog , who had found fame by finding the stolen World Cup trophy, assisted in the opening of Coventry Zoo Park … 8,000 people turned up on the first weekend . the car park was full and in the surrounding side roads cars were parked bumper to bumper….. Boris the Camel and Suki the Elephant had by now joined the collection
An amusing side to the opening as by 19th May 1966 the Zoo had to ask the GPO to monitor their phone calls as they were getting lots of prank calls for Mr G Raff and C Lyon , something I guess happens at all Zoos especially on April 1st …. But yes the nuisance calls were screened by the GPO
An announcement was made on the 25th May 1966 that 50,000 had visited since April …. Which was quite amazing turnaround as initially the locals objected profusely that Chipperfields Circus were opening a Zoo in the Area but once it was announced it was going to be run by the Banks family essentially things calmed down and was accepted much easier ….
September 1966 saw the first controversial negative headline when a 17 Year Old Keeper was mauled by Harry the 2 Ton Hippopotamus … Harry had been born at Whipsnade Zoo and had also travelled with Chipperfields Circus even to their South African base … The Keeper was critically ill but had not had his head bitten off as has been widely suggested in “local folk myths and tales” … Had it not of been for the HeadKeeper Jon Voce things could have been worse as he intervened in the attack . In October the Mauled Keeper left hospital
In November 1966 the Zoo was invited to join the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland
December 1966 and the Mauled Keeper quit working at the Zoo and began working on a Milkround instead.
By Easter 1967 there was now a Flamingo Pool , Bat Eared Foxes and Jackals at the Zoo
November 1967 a Foot and Mouth Epidemic had hit Britain and discinfectant mats were laid down to try and protect the vulnerable animals … It was thought about long and hard whether to close the Zoo temporarily but the decision was made to protect the Zoo with the mats.
February 1968 Ringo the 4 year old Russian Bear broke out of his cage and went on the run for 45 minutes … Armed Police and an Armed Mr Banks pursued him but luckily he was persuaded by Zoo Keepers to return to his cage without violence … Incidentally 2 other Bears that also made good their escape at the same time gave up their bid for freedom within minutes ..
July 1968 there was a fire in the feedhouse at the Zoo fortunately the following day it was Business as usual as empty stables were utilised as the Feeding house.
In August 1968 Mr and Mrs Banks flew to India to search for a mate for their Indian Elephant and roughly at the same time Mr Banks announced he believed their 2 18 month old Polar Bears were or may have been pregnant to their recently acquired 10 year old male Sir Matt (named after Sir Matt Busby).
Surprisingly on 17th February 1969 it was announced that the Zoo had been sold after 10 months negotiation … 2 cousins of Dick and John Chipperfield had paid £100, 000 and were now the owners of the Site outright .. their names were James and William (Billy) Chipperfield and they were known as the Chipperfield Brothers …. who had an Amusement Park down in Weymouth …. Mr Stewart Banks was said to have returned to farming in Yorkshire but there was no mention of what Jill Banks was to do .. … Terry Duggan was appointed the Zoo Manager and he was the Brother in Law of William (Billy) Chipperfield
April 1969 saw the arrival of a new 1 year old Elephant and shortly after Newspapers were regularly receiving complaints about the condition of the Zoo since its take over … as prices had increased , Cleanliness was down and the new Elephant was chained in its quarters … The Zoo replied that the Elephant had to be acclimatised first before being allowed out for the general public to see .
August 1969 another complaint aired in the Newspapers as a family had paid 6 shillings to see empty pens and paddocks where there were once animals and the Sea Lion pool was empty and there was litter everywhere …. The Zoo replied :- 1 Sealion died , 1 Sealion was sold and they are awaiting arrival of 2 more from California … with regard to lack of animals seen they were resting out of the sun because it was far too hot…
September 1969 saw the arrival of Dolly a 12 year old Elephant
19th March 1970 saw the arrival of The Zulu Warrior a 30 foot fibre glass statue which had cost £1500 this was placed at the entrance to the Zoo (it weighed 2 1/2 ton)
27th March 1970 Elsa and Rama 2 lionesses are added to the collection
Also by March 1970 the Zoo Park Manager had changed it was now Robert Cyril Waite (sometimes known as Robert and others as Cyril) he had been the Tent Manager for Chipperfields in Weymouth for 20 years and was married to the Previous Managers Sister ( so he too was brother in law to William (Billy) Chipperfield
April 1970 a Leopard clawed a boy on the head apparently a safety barrier had been left open by 2 workmen
May 1970 More Newspaper complaints this time in relation to the stagnant water of the Hippo and the Bears and also about the size of the Cages the lions were kept in …The Zoo replied :- Hippos love dirty water , whilst the Bears water is currently dirty it is changed at least twice a week and the Lion cage at 12 feet square is the standard size for a Lion
July 1970 and the Zoo tell Newspaper Reporters that they are well aware of the minor complaints and they are confident to state that the Zoo will be as good as Twycross within 2 years .
October 1970 Complaints made about Chimpanzee just staring into space and the Polar Bear water being black and also about tiny cages for the animals. A third of local residents hated the Zoo and would rather have shops on the site instead … A question was asked of the Zoo as to where Harry the Hippo had gone and the reply came that he had died a month ago at the age of 23 and that a new Hippo had been purchased but had not yet arrived
November 1970 an application was made for the erection of a Dolphin Pool / Dolphinarium.
March 1971 saw part of the Zoos car park compulsorily purchased for road improvements in the area and also in March 1971 there was a race to get the Dolphin Pool built …it was to be a 500 seat arena … 4 Dolphins had been purchased from Florida … 2 were already being held at Weymouth …
9th April 1971 the Dolphin Arena was opened Admission to the Zoo and Dolphins was 30p for Adults and 20p for Children
Throughout the rest of 1971 letters of complaint about the Zoo continue to be published in the local newspapers in relation to standards at the Zoo
In June 1972 a Reporter and the RSPCA visited the site together … RSPCA say the Polar Bears have insufficient water and the problem stems from the original design … The RSPCA inspector likened the Animal Conditions to the National Health in a slum area … they are well cared for but their living conditions are very poor in relation to other Zoos .. It was apparently better than 3 years ago but there was a long way to go
August 1972 there were Dock Strikes and fruit was not getting through to the country which affected Animal Feed
January 1974 local roadworks had halved the visitors to the Zoo over the past year
April 1974 The admission prices increased due to soaring costs of food for the Animals
Early December 1974 it was announced that due to high costs of Fuel and Feed for the Animals prices for Admission have to increase yet again
27th December 1974 a pregnant Wild Boar was found dead on the railway line (it had escaped from the Zoo the previous day) a few weeks previous the Zoo had announced that 5 Wild Boar were destroyed due to the high cost of feeding them . … The Dead Boar discovered on the Railway Line was fed to the Lions .
During 1975 the Dolphinarium was closed down .. not a lot was written about this
1st December 1975 a Circus was installed at the Indoor Centrally Heated Arena this was presumably within the Dolphin Arena the show ran from 23rd December 1975 to 17th January 1976 …. Ironically it was not Chipperfields Circus …
Throughout 1976 Complaints continued mainly about the smell and disgusting conditions
8th March 1976 the Zoo was reported as being disgusting .. Mick , the Baboon , cage was badly corroded . The Porcupines cage offered no protection from Childrens fingers .. The fire extinguisher in the Lion House was rusted . The Elephant was living in almost total darkness and the Bear Pit water was stagnant .. The Zoo replied to these complaints as follows :- The Baboons cage will be fixed by Easter , with regard to the Porcupine cage it was up to parents to supervise their children , the fire extinguishers work and are regularly checked , the Elephant has a window and lights in its quarters , The Bear Pit was badly designed originally and to change it will cost a lot of money and the RSPCA regularly visit and give the Zoo a clean bill of health.
July 1977 Tourist Office officials visited the Zoo to see whether the complaints were justified and if so they may omit the Zoo from future booklets … one such complaint was that there appeared to be no adults in attendance at the Zoo and it appeard that children were running it … The Zoo declined to comment on this complaint
November 1977 Coventry Zoo was seemingly up for sale and Gerry Cottles circus were interested in the site to overwinter their animals, to breed animals and to Establish a Skateboard Park
January 1978 negotiations were being had between the Zoo and Coventry Council to have a Skateboard Park
May 1978 there was a petition to wind up the company that ran the Zoo …. due to monies owed to Customs and Excise in June 1978 this was adjourned … the amount owed was stated as £2,225
June 1978 half the debt was paid up and the other half was expected to be settled within 21 days which it was and the Winding up order cancelled
June 1978 the Zoo were in court again as a Visitor was bitten by their Alsatian dog .. the Magistrates ordered that the Zoo keep the dog under control
August 1978 the building attached to the Elephant House (believed to be a flat) had a fire only furniture was damaged
September 1978 the RSPCA wrote an open letter to state that they were unhappy with the Zoo but as there is no legislation controlling welfare of animals in Zoos they can only make recommendations which are often ignored … They suggest that the public write to their MPs to voice their opinions about the Zoo
23rd June 1979 a new owner emerged … his name was Gerry Hambrook he had bought all 10,000 shares for an undisclosed fee and was looking to raise a further £100,000 from local industry and the public and he was forming a campaign to do so .. He planned to rename the Zoo as Coventry Zoological Gardens… The animals still at the site on take over were Lions , Pumas, Leopards, Rhesus Monkeys, Apes , Danish Sheep , Llamas , Boars and a few others … There were no plans to replace the Elephant which had recently passed away (3rd one in 13 years) … He was to stop charging visitors to visit the Zoo ((to encourage people back through the door) and was running it with Staff being Doreen Duggan (sister of Terry Duggan and so sister in law to Billy Chipperfield the previous owner ) and her 2 children
September 1979 one family stated that for 50p per family to enter it was well worth a visit
October 1979 Mr Hambrook stated that he was fed up 16 weeks into owning the Zoo but he was not quitting … He asked for volunteer labour to help clean up the Zoo .. He admitted in his 16 weeks he had taken only £260 at the gates and the Zoo needed at least £200 a week to break even …. Also to compound his problems the Zoo had had 3 break ins during his 16 weeks ..
December 1979 was the last report I can find on the Zoo when “Project Zoo” got underway .. 50 children organised by the Coventry Mormon Church turned up to clean , paint and tend the gardens.
So it seems its demise was December 1979 although other websites have stated 1980 as it’s closure date…
The Warwickshire Racquet & Health Club currently are upon the site where the Zoo once stood
First 2 images are of Zoo Guides from 1969 and approx 1972 , 3rd Image Jill Banks with Lola the Ostrich , 4th Image opening day advert and 5th image shows the Dolphin Dome at the Zoo.
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