The History of Chester Zoo

Back at the turn of the twentieth century, a boy named George Mottershead was taken to a zoo in Manchester. What George saw that day inspired him to do something different.

Determinedly he told his father: ‘When I have a zoo, it won’t have any bars.'

George never forgot that day, or the vow he made. In 1930, now grown up and with a family, he bought Oakfield house and seven acres of land for £3,500. And with him, he brought a group of animals from a zoo at Shavington, near Crewe... the first animals of Chester Zoo.

Find out more on our interactive timeline

The zoo opened in 1931, and in 1934, the North of England Zoological Society was born. Keeping the young zoo open through the Second World War was no mean feat. But George did it. (As you can tell, he wasn’t one to give up easily.)

With the war over, the zoo began to grow – fast. One of the zoo’s slogans back then was, ‘Always building.’ George’s amazing energy, enthusiasm and skill earned him an OBE, and honorary Master of Science degree, and a term as President of the International Union of Zoo Directors.

George Mottershead - Chester Zoo founder
George Mottershead in the Tropical Realm

By the time he died in 1978, aged 84, George’s dream of a ‘zoo without bars’ was well and truly flourishing at Chester.

How amazed and proud he’d be today, to see the huge estate we have now – in total, about 500 acres. The zoo itself takes up a massive 125 acres – more than ten times the size of that first bit of land George bought in 1930!

There are now 170 buildings at Chester Zoo, from the animal exhibits to the shops, restaurants, toilet blocks and admin offices. Plus, of course, the original Oakfield house itself and stable block, which are both Grade II* listed.

We’ve had a long history here at Chester Zoo. It hasn’t always been easy (George had to fight opposition to his very first zoo in the 1930s). But we’ve always come through stronger than ever.

Today, we’re not only the UK’s most popular zoo, and one of the top 15 in the world; we’re also a highly respected centre for global conservation and research, and passionate campaigners for wildlife.

All because one little boy cared deeply about animals, more than 100 years ago.

Find out more on our interactive timeline