Last year I watched the BBC’s charming drama series Our Zoo (2014) which dramatised the life and work of George Mottershead and his family who created Chester Zoo. At the end of the series though I was left wanted more so it was fortuitous for me when I spotted the memoir Our Zoo by June Mottershead.
Our Zoo chronicles the up and downs, successes and failures of the Mottershead family. George Mottershead is a determined and hardworking man who has the vision to create a zoological garden for the people, not just the rich, to enjoy where the animals would live in comfortable enclosures without bars. George decides to create his vision at Oakfield Manor in Upton but it is to face many obstacles; funding issues, protests from villagers, sickness, bombing raids, rationing, escapee animals and death. George and his family never give up though and Chester Zoo is still going to this day.
The family consists of George, his wife Lizzie, and their daughters Muriel and June. George’s parents Albert and Lucy also move to Oakfield Manor to help. They are a nice, strong family unit. June our narrator was only 4 years old when they made the move to establish the zoo so has never known any other life. There is a large age gap between June and her sister Muriel, who is virtually an adult and becomes the first keeper at the zoo. Meanwhile June’s friends and playmates become the animals themselves, in particular the cheeky chimpanzee called Mary. I enjoyed hearing from the innocent perspective of June and found it interesting to see how she grew physically and emotionally.
I picked up Our Zoo by June Mottershead because I had enjoyed the BBC’s drama so much. I am pleased to say I enjoyed this just as much. It was wonderfully nostalgic to see what it was like to work in Britain of the 1930’s and 1940’s, touching to see the troubles and deaths they endured but still never lost hope, and inspiring to see how this working class family finally built their dream. There are differences between real life and the TV drama but mainly to do with scope, the real life story is much longer and more intricate than I think the TV drama could have ever covered. I am pleased to have got to know the Mottershead family more closely.
Our Zoo is a nostalgic, touching and inspiring memoir of June, her family and their zoo. I recommend to those interested in memoirs, family, animals, and history. Good read.
Thank you to Headline for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Did you watch the BBC drama?