Our Zoo by June Mottershead
Published by Headline
9th October 2014
When George Mottershead moved to the village of Upton-by-Chester in 1930 to realise his dream of opening a zoo without bars, his four-year-old daughter June had no idea how extraordinary her life would become. Soon her best friend was a chimpanzee called Mary, lion cubs and parrots were vying for her attention in the kitchen, and finding a bear tucked up in bed was no more unusual than talking to a tapir about granny's lemon curd. Pelican, penguin or polar bear - for June, they were simply family.
The early years were not without their obstacles for the Mottersheads. They were shunned by the local community, bankruptcy threatened and then World War Two began. Nightly bombing raids turned the dream into a nightmare and finding food for the animals became a constant challenge. Yet George's resilience, resourcefulness and tenacity eventually paid off. Now over 80 years since June first set foot in the echoing house, Chester Zoo has achieved worldwide renown.
Here, in her enthralling memoir, June Mottershead chronicles the heartbreak, the humour, the trials and triumphs, above all the characters, both human and animal, who shaped her childhood.
I recently saw the BBC1 drama of Our Zoo and totally loved it. It focuses on the dream of one man, George Mottershead, to build a zoo without bars, initially starting it in his back garden, before buying Oakfield Manor in Upton, near Cheshire, to start what is now known as Chester Zoo.
Chester Zoo is also our local zoo, and Shavington, where the Mottershead family initally began the zoo, is just down the road from us, so we have always been fascinated by this story. If you did see the drama, don't be put off reading the book, as it covers much more than where the television programme left off, and besides, allowing for filming discrepancies, you'll find much more to discover than was shown.
The book is written by June Mottershead, now in her eighties, who was just four when her father started his zoo collection. Growing up among bears and monkeys was the norm for June and her sister Muriel, who became the zoo's first animal keeper, but convincing the people of Upton that this was a project that would only enhance the village was no mean feat in itself. In addition to this, no sooner had the zoo started to draw in customers than the Second World War broke out, bringing with it the heartbreaking decision of whether the zoo could continue during this period of time.
This is a wonderful book about the how the ideas of one man have turned into one of the best-loved zoos in the country. The book is full of the joys and heartbreaks of working with animals during the most turbulent time possible. Now I've finished it, my husband is reading it for himself, and already planning on starting his own zoo!