Royal Zoological Gardens, Brighton

This print from the 1830s shows a proposed zoological gardens in Brighton. The zoo was never built, but it would have been sited on land just north of St Peter’s Church and the Level.

What can we see?

A long and winding road

The print exaggerates the scale of the design for the zoo. It looks like a vast area of parkland and geometrically laid out gardens, stretching far to the north.

On the right in the picture is a long road disappearing eastward into undeveloped countryside. This is the road leading out of Brighton towards Lewes, now heavily built up and one of the main traffic routes in and out of the city.

Were there ever animals on site?

Yes, a few. Although a zoo was never laid out on this scale, a small zoological gardens operated here in the early 1830s. A book from 1833 notes that:

‘The collection of animals is at present small … It consists of two young tigers, two fine leopards, a panther, hyaena, a lynx, two Russian bears, foreign goats, deer, lamas, monkeys, &c. &c. The lion and the elephant are still wanting.’

You can see that the bears’ pole is very close to the edge of the enclosure. This was to give visitors a chance to poke them. A cruel thing to do, but very common at the time.

Grand designs 1: Sweeping cages

Two large semi-circular structures appear to contain cages with metal bars, possibly designed for larger mammals and birds.

The shapes may have reminded visitors of elegant Georgian crescents. It may also have been a reminder of the circular menagerie at the Tower of London: this dated back to the 13th century and had only recently closed to the public in 1830.

Grand designs 2: domes and hipped roofs

The large central building has domes that are similar to the onion-shaped domes of the Royal Pavilion. The hipped roofs (meaning they slope on all sides) and the pagodas borrow from Chinese design.

The designer was clearly inspired by the Royal Pavilion, but ‘oriental’ features like these were often used in pleasure gardens and zoos at this time.

Silent witnesses

Regrettably, these grand-scale Zoological Gardens were never fully built as seen here. However, one small feature survives: the south gate, topped by a pair of stone lions.

This now forms an entrance to the gated private gardens of Park Crescent, with the lions still guarding it.

Author: Alexandra Loske, Royal Pavilion curator



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