IT was a popular childhood day out for many Glaswegians in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

At its peak, Calderpark Zoo attracted around 140,000 visitors a year and was home to more than 600 animals, from African lions and a polar bear called Winston, to elephants and snakes.

This month (December 15, to be precise) marks the 84th anniversary of the date the Zoological Society of Glasgow was founded in 1936.

Set up originally to create a zoo for the 1938 Empire Exhibition, that proposal was rejected and instead, the city’s first open-air zoo, and the first in Britain since the end of the war, was created on 31 acres of the Calderpark estate.

It opened in July 1947 and it became part of Glasgow life for many city families until it closed, amid mounting debts and controversy over animal welfare standards and licensing, in August 2003.

Glasgow Times:

Its sad ending was not at all on the horizon at the official opening, where our photographers captured an array of happy images, including a great shot of the Marchioness of Bute and her young daughter captivated by the penguins.

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In his opening speech, the Marquis of Bute said the zoo was an “institution of which the West of Scotland has long stood in need.”

The VIP platform party included the Marquis and Marchioness and Glasgow’s Lord Provost, Sir Hector McNeill, who spoke of the joy with which news of the zoo’s opening would be received by the great army of 130,000 Glasgow schoolchildren, “who, with the 80,000 in Lanarkshire, would provide a ready-made clientele.”

Glasgow Times:

Dr Edward Hindle, scientific director of the Zoological Society of London, who had taken an active interest in the setting up of Calderpark Zoo, said that London Zoo had, the previous year, attracted more than 2,75 million visitors.

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The zoo, he added, was the capital’s most popular place of entertainment after the cinema, and he had no doubt the Glasgow zoo would soon be able to report the same happy experience.

At the time of the opening, the new zoo was home to more than 150 animals and birds, including lions, wallabies, monkeys, Soay sheep and parrots.

Glasgow Times:

An ostrich, two cheetahs and some baboons were on their way, and there were hopes that the operation would eventually occupy 100 acres of the parkland.

In June 1982 the bosses at the zoo were so delighted with improvements that had been made to the attraction they reduced their prices to what they were when the zoo opened in 1947.

Visitors paid 5p – equivalent to the shilling paid by those 35 years earlier – while children paid 2p (an old five pennies).

Normal admission was £1.50 for adults and 80p for children.

Those who took advantage saw spacious new enclosures for the animals, particularly the lions and cheetahs and could use the three miles of tarmacadam that had been laid to make it easier for visitors to walk around.

In 1960, the zoo had its busiest ever day, with officials describing conditions as “absolutely chaotic”, and a “200-yard-long queue at the entrance.”

Glasgow Times:

There were other zoos and menageries in Glasgow - Wilson’s Zoo, for example, in the former St Peter’s Parish Church on Oswald Street opened in 1936.

It was home to a variety of animals, including a hyena, baboons, a black panther and exotic birds.

In 1960, the Evening Times reported an unusual legal case when, at Glasgow Central Police Court, a 21-year-old man admitted charges relating to an incident at Wilson’s Zoo in Oswald Street, during which he had climbed over a guard rail and tugged the mane of a sleeping lion.

Drink had been taken, the court was told, which perhaps explains this gent’s bravery/stupidity.

He was fined £8.

*Do you remember Glasgow Zoo, or Wilson’s? Get in touch to share your memories.