Walworth’s very own zoo animals
London Zoo is certainly the place to visit today to see wild and wonderful creatures in the capital, but in the 1800s Walworth was home to the only zoo in the UK to have giraffes as its residents.
The new piece of public artwork at Walworth Square, produced by London-based artist Kerry Lemon, celebrates the animals that once called this historical corner of the city home at the Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens, now known as Pasley Park.
The attraction was opened in 1831 by Edward Cross, who also owned another zoo at The Strand. The Royal Surrey Zoological gardens was a popular destination with reportedly over 8,000 visitors flocking to the attraction daily.
The eclectic mix of animals, which were housed in a domed, glass conservatory, even rivalled the menagerie of beasts housed at The Tower of London from the 1200s to 1835, where lions and polar bears once lived after being given to The Tower as royal gifts. The former Walworth zoo is also believed to have been a popular destination with members of the royal family and was visited in 1848 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their children.
As well as being the first zoo in the UK to show giraffes to the public, it also had lions, tigers, rhinoceros’ pigmy elephants, apes, bears, baboons and monkeys in residence. Many of these animals have been brought to life again in the striking artwork on display outside Walworth Town Hall. The gardens were also the location for a whole range of other entertainment including firework displays, balloon flights and re-enactments of historical events.
The popular zoo closed in 1856 shortly after the death of its founder and until the new artwork hoarding was created in 2018, has been physically remembered by two stone statues of ostriches in Pasley Park. Now residents and visitors can get a glimpse of giraffes in Walworth once more, while learning even more about the vibrant history of this fascinating area.