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1950's

Working at Chester Zoo

By Tanny (Edwin) Robinson

My job was to get to the zoo early and to stoke up the boiler to heat up the parrot house. The boiler was at the entrance of the house, and on a freezing morning was a most welcomed place to thaw out. The fire was also a great place to warm up a tin of soup for my lunch.

When entering the parrot house I am welcomed by all the birds. Many of the birds used to belong to old navy men. I lived thirteen miles from the zoo and had to borrow my mother’s old, 'sit up and beg' bicycle, that rattled and wobbled to the zoo and back each day for six days of the week.

My wage was £2.17.6 a week, I think this was the normal agricultural wage at the time. It sounds like a small wage but it was enough for me to save and buy myself a super-dooper brand new, dropped down handle bar, Raleigh Lenten sports bike. Before I really got used to the speed of the bike I had an accident close to the canal before the zoo, it seems that I had my head down and crashed into a lorry. I ended up in hospital with a broken collar bone.

From my first interview with the boss (Mr Mottershead) I felt relaxed, he would stand and listen to even me a fifteen year old and he was always there to give advice. After feeding and cleaning out the bird aviaries I would either give boat rides, or donkey rides. The boat rides were a time when I mixed with the public and I did my best to inform them about the wildlife we saw around the water ways.

I think I was the youngest trainee keeper between two other young lads, Bill Timmis and Rodger Ainsly. Bill was a little older than me. He also would cycle to work from Rhyl, North Wales, well over 40 miles a day. Bill left the zoo while I worked there. Rodger was the keeper of the reptile house; he did his training at London Zoo where his dad was a keeper. Bill was also a trainee bird keeper and had care of all the raptors. The only girl trainee keeper I remember was Angela Mayer Jones, my girlfriend (image) she was a trainee with the large animals.

None of us in those days were highly qualified to be keepers like they are these days with college and university education. Occasionally we would get a phone call from people in Upton saying they have one of our escaped birds in their garden and Jim and I would dash around to the house on our bikes, only to discover a green or great spotted woodpecker.

Read more from Tanny here.

See more: Birds, Staff