“One of the most remarkable institutions of which Manchester, or indeed any city or town, can boast.”
This is how one newspaper described the now-demolish theme park and zoo that Manchester once held dear.
Known as Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, for 150 years the park was one of the most successful entertainment destinations in the UK.
It survived war, hosted rock legends, and was a truly iconic landmark for many.
Founded in 1836, at its peak, the zoo occupied over 165 acres of land and attracted around two million visitors a year. People traveled from all over the country to wonder at the elephants, monkeys, and camels.
Privately financed, Belle Vue also boasted some brilliant fairground rides and rollercoasters in its amusement park – which ultimately became an equally tempting attraction as time went on.
And that wasn’t all. People would also come to sing along to their musical idols in The King’s Hall, dance the night away with their first love, marvel at the circus and see Speedway champions racing to glory on the stadium tracks.
Belle Vue really did have everything, and as a result of this, became known as “Showground of the World”. But who was behind this private northern tourist attraction?
Belle Vue Zoological Gardens was the brainchild of entrepreneur and part-time gardener John Jennison.
Born in 1793 in Bulwell, Nottingham, he moved to Macclesfield as a child with his family the Jennsions’ before returning to Stockport following his father’s death in 1826.
Interestingly, Belle Vue wasn’t the Jennisons’ first foray into commercial business ownership. Prior to opening the park, John had developed and opened his own garden to the public – later adding cages of British birds, pheasants and macaws afternoticing visitors displaying interest in the garden’s native birds.
A brewhouse was even added to the plot of land too, whilst the family house was later converted into a pub called the Adam and Eve.
The Jennisons were doing well, but with what they had, there was little room for expansion.
John was approached by businessman George Gill and encouraged to lease Belle Vue – then a public house in 35.75 acres of open land between Kirkmanshulme Lane and Hyde Road in Manchester.
The land was isolated and had been used for the digging of lime, but John saw its potential.
After taking out a six-month trial lease,he soon extended to a 99-year lease and relocated his family from Stockport. They traveled light, with a handcart filled with belongings and a handful of birdcages containing parrots and other birds.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Belle Vue first opened as a ‘pleasure garden’ in 1836, containing lakes, mazes and hothouses, as well its beloved aviary.
Still, the Jennisons decided that their zoological collection had to be expanded as a matter of priority and by 1839, elephants, lions, and other exotic African animals had been added.
Fierce competition came from other attractions like the Vauxhall Gardens in Collyhurst, and the Manchester Zoological Gardens in Higher Broughton, meaning that Belle Vue was not an instant success. Jennsion. however, persevered.
Between the closure of a neighbouring zoo at Higher Broughton and the opening of the Longsight train station, more visitors soon began trickling in.
Before long John, inspired by a visit to the Great Exhibition in 1851, began to rapidly expand – and plenty of other popular attractions were subsequently added, including a racecourse in 1847.
By the late 1860s, Belle Vue was a hugely profitable business and had become iconic draw – across not just the northwest, but the whole of the UK.
But John was forced to take a back seat to his sons when it came to the day-to-day running of the attraction after he was diagnosed with cancer that began to quickly spread.
Ultimately, he passed away as a result of his illness in 1869 – leaving his family to sell Belle Vue for £250,00 (equivalent to £14.4 million in today’s money) to Harry George Skipp and Belle Vue (Manchester) Ltd in 1925.
In 1956, the park was sold again – this time to Leslie Joseph and Charles Forte – with Forte gaining sole control in 1956.
Drawing its final breath in September 1977, the zoo’s owners decided they could no longer afford its upkeep, having suffered a loss of £100,000 that year. Still, somehow it remained open on summer weekends until 1980 – officially closing for the very last time in 1982.
As quoted in Stackhouse & Hyams’ book – Belle Vue: Manchester’s Playground – published in 2005: “When it closed, Belle Vue left a gaping hole in the heart of the region that has never been completely replaced. It gave people a focal point, something to be proud of, a place where they could take their families and be sure of a great day out at a reasonable cost.”
But for all Mancunians with a special place in their hearts for the attraction, the legacy of Bell Vue still lives on.
Peter Kay Live at Manchester AO Arena – times, tour dates, tickets and more
Peter Kay will finally make his long-awaited return to the stage this week with a massive UK tour.
The beloved Bolton comedian is set to play a whopping 42 dates here in Manchester, as well as a monthly residency down in London at the O2.
His AO Arena dates begin on Friday 2 December and will run all the way through to 2025 (yes, really).
According to Ticketmaster, this will be the seating plan for the AO Arena for Peter Kay’s gigs.
It’s a fully seated tour but every block is set to be in use.
Venue security and requirements
The show is strictly for people aged 15+.
The AO Arena has a few strict policies to keep gig-goers safe, so make sure to check entry requirements carefully before you travel.
For example, only one small bag per person is allowed, and bags like backpacks, travel cases and laptop bags are not permitted inside the arena.
All bags are scanned on entry to check for prohibited items like laser pens, flares, projectiles, weapons, drugs and alcohol, and even selfie sticks.
Featured image: Publicity picture
Man uncovers long lost photos in charity shop depicting historic suffragette march
Whilst digging away in a charity shop, a man has uncovered a set of old Victorian era glass slides depicting what appears to be Women’s Sunday – a suffragette march held in London, organised by Moss Side’s own Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
Amongst a heap of slides that appear to be taken sometime around the early 1900s, one depicts a large group featuring women in the signature stripy hats worn by the protest group.
What’s more their new owner, Ray Newman, has even suggested that one of the photos may depict Emmeline Pankhurst herself.
Writing on Twitter, he shared a thread of the images with his followers: adding short commentary to each one.
One the photo in question, he comments: “If you zoom in on the woman in dark clothing seen looking towards the camera from between two PCs she looks like Emmeline Pankhurst, or am I fooling myself?”
Others have chimed in with suggestions as to the date of the photograph, with one writing: “The boater straw hats plus mutton sleeves equals c.1910.”
Given that the Women’s Sunday protest was held just two years prior to this in 1908, it does seem possible that this incredibly old photograph has captured one of the biggest moments in the suffragette’s history.
The event, organised by Pankhurst’s WSPU, featured the organisation’s colours (purple, white and green) for the first time in public. In days leading up to the event, over 10,000 scarves in the colours were sold at two shillings and elevenpence each, whilst men donned ties in solidarity.
Held to persuade the then Liberal government to support votes for women, the march is thought to have been the largest demonstration to be held until then in the country – drawing around 30,000 women marched to Hyde Park in seven processions.
Of course, the photos not being dated or marked in any way, it is hard to know if these really are images of Emmeline Pankhurst and the historic march but there are quite a few people online speculating that it could well be.
Several have pointed to the seemingly large police presence (and one person claims to have counted eleven officers), suggesting that that could indeed point to it being a photograph of a large suffragette protest.
Elsewhere amongst the collection of photos, images show a stately home, school or institution with flamingos outside, what appears to be a boy scout troop or group of cadets armed with rifles, boaters on the water at Alexandra Park, and a number of people posing in period dress.
Writing above a picture that depicts an old British high street, Ray comments on how the glass slides are tricky to scan adding that he had to “do it with my phone against a bright white screen.”
He continues: “This is a high street… somewhere… c.1910, I’d guess. I can see a sign for an inn with an ‘excellent motor garage’ but can’t work out any more than that.”
Above another, he said: “A stately home, school or institution. There are statues of flamingos on the left. Definitely haunted. (House and slide.)”
Offering a fascinating look into a lost world, some of the images are over 100 years old and taken when photography was something of a new art form. Unlike today, when everyone has a camera in their pocket, to own a camera was something of a rarity – making these images even more intriguing.
If you would like to see the full thread of pictures uncovered by Ray, you can do so by clicking here.