Who remembers Brighton Zoo?

Does anyone else remember Brighton Zoo, behind the Withdean Sports Arena? I was taken there at the age of about 3 in 1950 or 1951, but it must have disappeared soon afterwards. I can’t remember the animals (though I think I saw a tiger and a bear – but not in the same cage), but I have a photograph of me on a swing, grinning broadly!

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  • I was taken to Brighton Zoo as a small child in 1949/50. My main memory is of the geese that were allowed to roam freely and snapped at my mother’s ankles, so we never went again. I now have a photo of the zoo at that time with the words ‘Brighton Zoo’ across the top but it is easily recognised as the present Withdean Stadium.

    By Jacqueline Pollard (25/06/2004)
  • I don’t remember this but my husband does, as his grandfather was the owner of Pantzer Mansions, one of the big manor houses that was demolished to make way for flats, along London Road. Pantzer Mansions was replaced with the flats to the left of Tongdean Lane. He spent many of his childhood hours at the Zoo. My Mum also remembers the Zoo, being a long-standing Brighton family resident.

    By Pam Pantzer (20/05/2005)
  • Brighton Local Studies Centre holds a range of large scale O.S. maps including one published in, I think, 1952 which includes the stadium area. This map records the buildings that were on the site a couple of years earlier including one to the north of the NW corner of the general arena which is listed as ‘Lion House’ and another structure to the arena’s west called ‘Bear House’. The area to the immediate east of The Sportsman is shown to be (part of) Brighton Zoo. I’ve lived in Withdean for nearly 30 years and have been collecting information and photos relating to the area for 20 of those. Does anyone know the year in which the zoo enterprise finally folded ?

    By Peter Booth (13/07/2005)
  • As a teenager in the 1940’s, I lived near Preston Park railway station. A favourite afternoon jaunt for me and my pal was to take a walk along Station Road, known to us as Snakey Lane, across the railway brige at the end, and into Cherry Woods which are immediately adjacent to Withdean Stadium/Zoo. The reason I have a lasting memory of the zoo is that in one corner was a pony ride which was run by a girl called Angel. She had a friend, Hazel, who helped out and I fell head over heels in love with her. Alas, I was a very shy young lad, and admired Hazel only from a distance. But the memories of Cherry Woods, Withdean Zoo and Hazel still linger.

    By David Blackford (28/07/2005)
  • Dont remember much about the zoo itstelf, but I do recall that as soon as you passed under the railway bridge, your nose was immediately invaded by that distinctive smell of animals.

    By Roy Grant (06/03/2008)
  • I was taken to the zoo by my parents when I was small. I believe there was a mechanical elephant that ran on a track, or am I imagining it?

    By Dave Elphick (14/08/2008)
  • I am a carer within the Patcham area and one of my clients was telling me about the Brighton Zoo and he went there many times. I can’t imagine Withdean being a zoo. My client thinks it shut about 1952 if that’s any help.

    By Jo Hazelgrove (16/08/2008)
  • As a child of 10 or11 and born in1940, I remember the zoo well as I was taken there by my parents quite often. In reply to a previous post, yes there was an elephant ride on rails. The small hut in the picture was a parrot house, this I remember well because a parrot was kept outside on a perch and obviously took a dislike to me as when I walked past him he decided that my right ear would make a tasty meal (ouch).

    By Anthony Duke (31/08/2008)
  • The Brighton and Hove Society of Miniature Locomotive Engineers owns and operates the miniature railway at the north end of Hove Park. This year in August, 2009, we are planning a celebration of 100 years of model engineering in the Brighton and Hove area. As chairman of the society, I am researching the origins and history of our and kindred societies since 1909.
    In the early spring or summer of 1949, the management of Brighton Zoo at Withdean allowed the then Brighton & Hove Society of Model Engineers, (from which our society split in 1962), to erect a small passenger carrying railway within the zoo area. It was only about 250 ft long, raised off the ground and catered for 2.5inch, 3.5inch and 5inch track gauges. It was operated with steam locomtives built by the club members, as is the Hove Park railway today. The track only existed for a year or two as by 1951, it was re-erected on the present site at Hove Park. Has anybody got any memories, or perhaps even photographs, of the track at the zoo. I would be very interested for our archive records.

    By Mick Funnell (01/02/2009)
  • Has anybody got any pictures of either Brighton Zoo or of the big stand that used to be at the East end of the ground?

    By Gavin Cherriman (06/02/2009)
  • We lived in Kings Mews Hove, and made one family trip to the zoo in the late forties. Memories are vague, but I do remember it was a nice place to visit, although the animal displays were a bit sparce like everything else after the war. The main thing I recall is munching on a bag of Smith’s Crisps, and sucking on that blue salty one for ages.

    By Richard White (28/02/2009)
  • The zoo was still running in the early 60s (1965’ish) as my cousin took me there by bus and I wasn’t born until Dec 1960.

    By Bryan Dean (08/04/2009)
  • I remember the zoo very well. By today’s standards it would have been shut down. There was a black panther in a tiny cage as was the hyena. Most of the other animals that were there, especially the ones bordering Cherry Wood, were domestic; sheep, goats etc. There weren’t many wild animals.

    By Harry Atkins (28/05/2009)
  • I remember there was a Zoo at the Withdean Stadium when I was a child, probably early 1950s. Being horse mad the only thing I remember was having my first pony ride there. I just loved it.

    By Joyce Evans (24/06/2009)
  • I started work at Withdean Stadium in 1960 and was made Head Groundsman in 1967. I left the Stadium in 1988. The Zoo was finished by 1955/6 when the Brighton Corporation took it over and made a cinder running track and laying an all weather track called “Tartan”. The original half of the tennis court grandstand was used for the changing rooms.

    By bill timson (18/12/2009)
  • Well, well! I never knew there was a zoo at what became Withdean Stadium, despite being born in Brighton in 1949 and living there till 1968. The nearest I’d ever have got to seeing a zoo there was a visit to the Horse Show held there in 1961, when the central grass oval was set up with fences for jumping. I love this site – every time I visit I discover something new about my old home town.

    By Len Liechti (28/11/2010)
  • Apropos the mechanical elephant at Withdean Zoo. We lived in Preston Drove and I can remember being taken there by my Mother on one of our afternoon walks when I was about four in 1952 and having a ride on the thing. I seem to recall that there were seats either side of its back for children as I can remember looking down at my mother from there. The elephant had a male attendant I believe. I do remember wishing at the time that it had been a real elephant like at London Zoo. I don’t recall anything else about the zoo and suspect it closed shortly afterwards

    By Anthony Beeson (27/02/2011)
  • Concerning the mechanical elephant again, it seems that there was a craze for mechanical walking “robot” elephants in the late 1940s and several were made for zoos and seaside resorts by Maurice Radburn and Frank Stuart. I could not recall the Withdean version being on rails as one of the above correspondents but expect that it was actually one of these walking ones. there is an excellent website that features two Blue Peter programmes showing these mechanical elephants and they tally with my memories. http://cyberneticzoo.com/?tag=mechanical-elephant

    By Anthony Beeson (27/02/2011)
  • Yes, I remember Brighton Zoo at Withdean, as kids we used to go there quite often. Great memories. I went to Brighton recently and went to lunch at the pub there – some of the people could not believe there was a zoo there!

    By Kenneth Mchale (24/02/2012)
  • It seems that people think that the Zoo predated the stadium. It was there before the Zoo and was probably built in the 30s.

    By John Snelling (08/06/2013)
  • We lived at the top of Tongdean Lane and with my siblings and friends we used to go along Wayland Avenue (I think it was called), down through the meadow and into the woods, then under the fence and into the zoo. I particularly remember the bear. I remember too Pete Murray, the disc jockey, visiting the zoo, no idea why, and me pushing my little sister to ask for his autograph!

    By Helen Bregman (21/08/2013)
  • As a boy I lived in Pantzer Mansions from 1946 until it was demolished. I knew Willy Pantzer and his wife who remarried after Willy’s death becoming an Azurelay. (Or akin to this name.) Two midgets were still at the Mansions when we arrived (from St John’s near Old Woking) as the war ended. There were still performing ducks – which Willy wanted slaughtered, and eventually they were! Other residents at that time were Mrs Cohen, the Hendersons, Mr Champion and a Miss Bird and the Gravetts. I recall Whittinghams and Page and the very kind Mr and Mrs Kent who lived in the flat over us Hancocks. The Lidells were for a period the caretakers until Charlie fell from a number 5 by the sub station at the bottom of Tongdean Lane and killed himself. My mother helped run the Rendesvous Cafe – which was the old Mansion gatehouse converted. The Mansions’ main and gleaming hall rose high, to balcony walkways to the upper flats – it was skirted by this wonderfully polished bannister and sweeping staircase on both sides and always smelt of Mansion Polish. Labyrinth cellars existed too – an exciting place for kids to live! The Stadium Zoo was preceded by the stadium being used for boxing matches and I recall the large advertising posters for Bruce Woodcock, Freddie Mills and Tommy Farr appearing on the facade.

    By John Hancock (03/09/2013)
  • To John Hancock: Hello I am one of the Gravetts you mention from Pantzer Mansions, there with my parents from my birth in 1953 – I think for only a couple of years, we moved away in probably 1955. Trying to trace any decendants of Willy as I still have an old costume box my Dad handed down to me and getting near to throwing it out, but it may mean something to a family member.

    By Clive Gravett (29/07/2014)
  • Hi John, don’t think you’ll remember me, but I was a good mate of yours when we were 11-12ish. Your Dad used to be the caretaker of Pantzer Mansions, I think you lived in the cottage just inside the gate. We used to go on our bikes to “Cherry wood” behind the zoo and had some great times and we built a camp in the wood in Peacock Lane. I went to Varndean and lived in 245 Preston Road, which is now an eye-sore. Hope you remember me.

    By Harry 'Bluey' Atkins (03/08/2014)
  • To Clive Gravett: Hi, I am a descendant of Willy and Hilda Pantzer. Have you by any chance still got the box of costumes? It would indeed be fascinating to see it. My email address is:  paul.littler12@gmail.com
    Hope to hear from you.

    By Paul Littler (17/11/2016)
  • I recently rediscovered Willy Pantzer’s headstone in the Patcham All Saints Churchyard (it was overgrown with ivy) and as I stood there I afterwards said to Willy, (who used to berate my brothers and I for playing on the back lawn in Pantzer Mansions where we lived until it was demolished after his death) ‘Well, who would believe it Willy?’

    By John Hancock (27/06/2017)
  • Hi Clive, I remember your folks well when at Pantzer Mansions where Denis was a GPO postman as well as fulfilling the role of the Pantzer Mansions caretaker. After your family moved to a farm location in Bedfordshire in 1955 I visited you whilst on a GPO Telephones training course at Bletchley Park to try my hand at apple picking for the weekend. (I am pleased to note you have made a successful contact re the box of costumes.)

    By John Hancock (27/06/2017)
  • I was at the opening of Brighton in zoo 1948. It was opened by actress Jean Simmons. The zoo was closed in 1952 due to lack of interest.

    By Rodney Lawrence (05/09/2019)
  • I have an old slide I had taken on 7/5/1984 where you can just discern the words ‘Withdean Zoo’ on the wall of the Stadium stand.

    By Geoffrey Mead (06/09/2019)
  • There is a building that is on the car park of the sportsman pub that was once the monkey house for the Zoo. If you look closely at the brickwork on the side of the building facing the running track, you can still see the words monkey house.
    I will take a picture when I am there next and post it on this site.

    By David Cressey (01/10/2019)
  • I remember being taken to Brighton/Withdean zoo by my parents, it would have been in the early 1950s. I’d have been 5 or 6. I do not remember much about it but strangely remember roughly where the zoo was.At the time we lived in Horsham and we were on our way to go shopping in Western road something they did at times. My dad would park in Hove and we’d walk to the shops.

    By Malcolm Sayers (12/05/2020)
  • I have a Brighton street plan c1959/60 which shows Withdean Stadium and Brighton Zoo.
    We did go there a few times in the late forties or early fifties as my mother had a friend in Carden Avenue who had children the same age as we were.

    By Tim Sargeant (13/05/2020)
  • Does anyone have any information regarding the Henderson family that lived at Pantzer Mansions? Rookie Henderson was a hairdresser and she was married to Alf Henderson living at 2 Pantzer Mansions with their daughter Helen Joyce Brewer but went by Terry. My father, William Derek Howard, also lived with them from 1945 – 1951. Rookie Henderson was my dad’s great aunt. My father would have been 15 in 1945 which is similar to the age group of John Hancock and Harry Atkins. If anyone has any information or photos they would be willing to share my email address is derek.howard8@gmail.com Thanks!

    By Derek Howard (19/10/2020)
  • To John Hancock: You mentioned that you moved to Panzter Mansion from St Johns. Would you mind emailing me more information about the Hancock family? The Hancocks were a large part of my ancestry and they lived at 26 St Johns Lane. Would love any information you can provide. Thanks! derek.howard8@gmail.com

    By Derek Howard (19/10/2020)

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