Chester Zoo is a zoo at Upton by Chester, in Cheshire, England. Chester Zoo was opened in 1931 by George Mottershead and his family. It is one of the UK’s largest zoos at 125 acres (51 ha). The zoo has a total land holding of approximately 400 acres (160 ha).
Chester Zoo is operated by the North of England Zoological Society, a registered charity founded in 1934. The zoo receives no government funding. It is the most-visited wildlife attraction in Britain with more than 1.9 million visitors in 2018. In 2007 Forbes described it as one of the best fifteen zoos in the world. In 2017 it was named as the best zoo in the UK and third in the world by TripAdvisor.
The Mottershead family’s market garden business was based in Shavington near Crewe. George Mottershead collected animals such as lizards and insects that arrived with exotic plants imported by the business. A visit to Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester as a boy in 1903 fuelled his developing interest in creating a zoo of his own.
Mottershead was wounded in the First World War and spent several years in a wheelchair. Despite this, his collection of animals grew and he began to search for a suitable home for his zoo. He chose Oakfield Manor in Upton by Chester, which was a country village then but now is a suburb of Chester. He bought Oakfield Manor for ?3,500 in 1930. The house had 9 acres (3.6 ha) of gardens and provided easy access to the railways and to Manchester and Liverpool. There were local objections, but Mottershead prevailed, and Chester Zoo opened to the public on 10 June 1931. The first animals were displayed in pens in the courtyard.
An Ordnance Survey inch-a-mile map published in 1936 shows the area around as farmland and villages and marks the present Zoo area north of Oakfield as “Butter Hill”.
Rapid expansion followed after the Second World War, despite the difficulty of sourcing materials. Mottershead had to be resourceful; the polar bear exhibit (1950) was built from recycled wartime road blocks and pillboxes. “Always building” was the zoo’s slogan at the time. Mottershead received the OBE, an honorary degree of MSc, and served as President of the International Union of Zoo Directors. He died in 1978 aged 84.