Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
In 1831, Edward Cross opened one of the first public zoos in London on part of the old Walworth Manor Estate. Named the Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens, at the centre was a large glass conservatory which housed the large carnivores. As well as lions and tigers, the zoo included rhinoceros, pigmy elephants, apes, bears, baboons, monkeys and the first publicly shown giraffes in Britain. In addition to the animals, other attractions included fairs, flower shows, balloon flights, firework displays and re-enactments of historical events.
By 1855 the gardens were in financial difficulties. It had competition from the new zoo at Regent's Park and the public were fickle and no longer excited about what the Gardens had to offer. Sadly, the animals had to be sold off.
In an attempt to save the gardens, a music hall was built but this did not prove sufficient to attract the customers back again and the Gardens were closed in 1857. For a few years, the music hall was used for religious purposes when celebrated evangelist Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached there, attracting a congregation of 1,000, while a new chapel, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, was built at Newington Butts. The buildings in the Gardens were again put to an unexpected use in 1862 when St Thomas' Hospital moved from their ancient site adjacent to London Bridge to accommodate the expansion of the railway. In need of temporary accommodation, the gardens were purchased by the hospital and 200 beds were sited in the repaired music hall, a laboratory was housed in the pavilion and the elephant house became a dissecting room.
After the hospital left for permanent accommodation opposite the Houses of Parliament, there were other attempts to revive the Surrey Gardens as a place of amusement but these failed. The site was sold in 1878 to local builders Frederick Sutton and John Dudley who laid out new streets and built the Surrey Gardens Estate. One of the new streets was called Pasley Road which is how the park came by its name.
As an echo to the zoological gardens of the past, there are two sculptures in the park depicting ostriches, their bodies formed from boulders. Other animals are remembered in the nearby Lorrimore Square Gardens adjacent to St Paul’s Church where wooden totem poles featuring animals that include a lion, an ape, a snake and an elephant were installed in 2002. These were adapted from the remains of a 14 foot totem pole by William Mitchell that was installed at the time of the opening of the Brandon Estate and originally complete with hanging chains for children to climb on.
Pasley Park was opened in the 1980s as part of the reconstruction of the area after the second world war but the history of the site as a place for public recreation and amusement goes back to the 1830s when it attracted visitors from all areas of London.