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When Lions Roared in Ferndown!

Did you know that there used to be a zoo in Ferndown? It was open from 1947 to late 1954. and was located on the north side of Ringwood Road, slightly east of the junction with Glenmoor Road.

It began as a small shop (which is now the garage) and then it became a stable. There was a shallow well in the grounds of the house which supplied water for the horses. Just prior to WW2 there was a drought during one and all of the wells in the neighbourhood dried up causing water to be rationed – except the one at Sunnylands and they managed to not only keep the horses watered but the other locals as well

The zoo gradually took shape in the grounds of Sunnylands, a late 17th-century cottage. The house is still standing and although the name has changed the wall remains where the turnstile entrance was.

See if you can spot it on your way into Ferndown, on the left-hand side from the Angel Inn direction.

In 1947 when planning permission was granted for a ‘zoological garden and bird sanctuary’. and grew into a zoo as the owner, Mrs Dorothy Sadler, filled it with animals. Local children and their parents loved to visit it.

In 1949, Mrs Sadler applied for permission to keep a lion and lioness in the zoo. Of course, the local town and parish councils objected and Wimborne and Cranborne RDC refused. Mrs Sadler appealed against the decision and a public inquiry was held in 1950 to see how Ferndown’s residents would feel about having lions as their neighbours.

These Ferndown folks are a hardy lot and overwhelmingly voted in favour of supporting the appeal.

By 1952, the zoo was able to advertise that it now contained lions, bears, leopards, monkeys, reptiles, dingoes, huskies and a gorilla. The zoo boasted other attractions beside the big animals. There was a miniature railway, swingboats, a model village and ‘Pets’ Corner’ with smaller animals.

The bears were contained in a pit with a tree trunk in the centre. The bears frequently climbed the tree to observe the people – perhaps they didn’t realise the order of things as it was the bears that were supposed to be looked at, not the other way around.

One of the bears had an obsession with boiled sweets – he did not just eat them. He would suck the sweet, then stick it to his fur. Then having worn it as an ornament for a while would place the sweet back in his mouth again and commence the whole routine again.

Pets’ Corner consisted of goats, tortoises, parrots, budgies, pigs, rabbits and a family of toads!

Local people who remember the zoo often referred the lions and the bears as the most popular animals. The lion was named Ajax. He was blind in one eye or possibly lame. No one seems to be able to provide an accurate recollection of which it was.

Children from the local Primary School would go on a nature walk across the common onto which the zoo backed.

There were problems however with local residents complaining about the noise made by Ajax, often after he had been given de-worming tablets. Apparently, his roars of discomfort could be heard at the top of Victoria Road.

People also complained that some animals were not being humanely look after, about shots in the night and horrible smells. There was also the constant fear that the animals, especially the lions, were not properly fenced in.

This was shown to be a justifiable concern when Major Kenneth Ayres, the zoo manager, was attacked and badly bitten by a South African raccoon. Other animals escaped too,two silver foxes broke out – one was caught, the other shot. A python went missing and the local school had to be closed for two days while the nearby common was searched.

Eventually the snake was eventually caught much to the annoyance of pupils who had been enjoyed their unscheduled break from school.

Planning permission expired in 1953 and Wimborne and Cranborne RDC decided to close the zoo. Mrs Sadler appealed. Another public inquiry was held.  However, in the same year the Minister of Housing said that the zoo’s location was ‘not in the best interests of planning’ but that it could stay in Ferndown, on the condition that it moved to another site by 1954.

In July 1954 the zoo was reprieved by Dorset CC, but it had to be downsized to a Pets’ Corner only. Mrs Sadler decided it was easier to move, but her search was in vain. She appealed once more, this time to the Queen’s Bench Divisional Court but was ultimately she was overruled.

In late 1954, the zoo was closed and the the animals were sold. The majority of the ‘pets’ went on to Butlins Holiday Camps.

The various item from the zoo and tea rooms were all sold locally.

The zoo still managed to cause problems even after it had closed. In the early 1950s, one of the bears had been taken ill, died and was interred in the grounds. After the zoo had closed new houses had been approved for the site and whilst excavations were taking place to lay pipes a vile stench arose. It was discovered to be the still rotting corpse of the bear from years earlier.

If you have any recollections of the zoo please make a comment or if you have any photographs you can share please let us know.

One Comment

  1. Rona Bailey Rona Bailey July 15, 2021

    My Grandmother was the said Mrs Dorothy Sadler! I was born in in 1958 and have quite a few recollections of what my mum and dad told me over the years of my childhood! Kenneth Ayers was my uncle by a second marriage to my Auntie Dot, who along with Bette were the daughters of Dorothy Mona Sadler

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