Lions, Vesuvius and a parachuting monkey

Map: Cassini Maps – Ordnance Survey County Series 1:2500 – 1875
Surrey Zoological Gardens

Royal Surrey Gardens – Surrey Zoological Gardens and the Surrey Music Hall

Royal Surrey Gardens were pleasure gardens in Kennington, London opened in 1832, comprising of the Surrey Zoological Gardens and later the Surrey Music Hall. The gardens occupied 15 acres to the east side of Kennington Park Road, including a lake of about 3 acres. The land, originally the grounds of the manor house of Walworth, was acquired by impresario Edward Cross as the location of his new Surrey Zoological Gardens with the aim of competing with the new London Zoo in Regent’s Park.

A large circular domed glass conservatory was built, 300 feet in circumference with more than 6,000 square feet of glass, to contain separate cages for the animals including lions, tigers, a rhinoceros, giraffes and in a female gorilla. At that time it was the largest building of its kind in England. The gardens were also dotted with picturesque pavilions, heavily planted with native and exotic trees and alongside the broad walk Parrots, Maccaws, and Cockatoos sat on perches in the open air.

Other attractions included the leading balloonist in Britain at the time, Charles Green. As balloon flights became more commonplace, the accompanying attractions became more bizarre. Two of Green’s ascents from the Surrey Zoological Gardens on May 26 1835 included him being “ … accompanied by the Celebrated Monkey Jacopo who will Descend in a Parachute!”. Jacopo was credited as “… the Monkey who has seen the World”

From 1837 the gardens were used for large public entertainments such as re-enactments of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Great Fire of London, The Siege of Gibraltar and Napoleon’s passage over the Alps, using large painted sets up to 80 feet (24 m) high, and spectacular firework displays.

By 1856, following the death of Edward Cross and with the intense competition from the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, the animals were sold off and the money used to build Surrey Music Hall, a building capable of holding 12,000 seated spectators, making it the largest venue in London.

Apart from the nightly musical entertainments, religious services were held at the Music Hall at weekends by the famous Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, who at just 25, had established himself as the “most wonderful preacher” in England. The first service was held on the evening of Sunday 19 October 1856 with an audience, estimated at 14,000, crammed inside with many thousands more outside. It was, however, to end in tragedy when someone shouted fire and panic ensued. Seven of the congregation were killed in the crush, and many more injured. Not daunted, Spurgeon returned a few weeks later and the services continued to attract audiences of over 10,000.

Charles Spurgeon moved to new premises in 1859 but the music hall continued until it was destroyed by fire in 1861. The gardens finally closed to the public in 1862.

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