Oxford’s Long-Lost Zoo


After being muggled in May 2022, this cache has been archived.


For a brief period during the 1930s, Kidlington was home to Oxford Zoo, a local attraction drawing crowds from around the county and beyond. Owned for most of its short life by Captain William Frank Cooper (son of Frank Cooper, owner of The Jam Factory, and Sarah Jane Cooper, inventor of “Oxford Marmalade”), the zoo was home to local celebrities Rosie the Elephant and Hanno the Lion. Kidlington itself was back then barely more than a hamlet, surrounded by farmland in every direction, and most visitors travelled in by bus from Oxford, paying 6d to enter the zoo (or 3d for children under 14).

Rosie the elephant provides rides for children
Zoos in the 1930s were very different from zoos today. Here we see Rosie the elephant giving rides to children.

The zoo itself provides a wealth of stories and history, many of which have been catalogued by the efforts of the Kidlington and Gosford Historical Society, whose book on the subject – along with old copies of the Oxford Mail – were instrumental in planning this geocache. Ronald Wilson, whose father worked as the zoo’s manager from 1933, recorded his memories of the place as having a “family-run” atmosphere. He told stories of how they used to use an open-topped 100-gallon tanker lorry to fetch water from the Oxford Canal with which to fill the pool in the polar bear enclosure (an effort that took many return trips) and how Captain Cooper’s favourite animal – a lioness called Sheba – would allow him to pet her through the bars of her cage and would purr when she was stroked.

Map of Oxford Zoo in 1932
The entrance road at the bottom-left of this 1932 map roughly correlates to with the road that today leads to the police station.

The zoo was closed in 1937 and most of the remaining animals were moved to the then-new Dudley Zoo. Subsequent development on the site belies the history of the place, which is now dominated by the Thames Valley Police North Headquarters, parts of the field behind the leisure centre, and the Southernmost part of the Cromwell Way housing estate. The buildings of the zoo remained for a short while after its closure and were even put to other purposes: the former monkey house was converted to a school during the Second World War to house and teach girls evacuated from East Ham Girl’s Grammar School (doubtless to the amusement of the pupils) and after the war the local Scouts occupied a building on the site. The remaining buildings were eventually demolished in the 1960s to make way for the police station, and services operating out of them were moved elsewhere (the youth club, for example, was moved to the “Forum” building up the road at Exeter Hall).

Entrance to Oxford Zoo
The entrance to Oxford Zoo as seen from the Oxford-Banbury road (A4260, then A423).

This geocache was placed in May 2018 as a reminder of the widely-forgotten history of the site of Oxford’s long-lost zoo. The cache contains an informational card about the site and about geocaching in general, the log, and a collection of animal toys for trade.

Finding this cache

If coming by car, consider parking in the leisure centre’s “overflow” car park at N 51° 48.908′, W 001° 16.745′ which will put you closest to the GZ. Do not park in the staff car park (which is closer, but restricted to leisure centre staff and covered by CCTV). However you travel to the cache, I recommend the walk through the field on the East side of the leisure centre building: it’s a nicer walk and it’ll also make you look less-suspicious. The cache itself should be very easy to find, but please be careful extracting it from and replacing it in its hiding place: at some times of day (e.g. when the nearby school day begins and ends, or when shifts change at the leisure centre) there can be muggles about. Seal the cache container carefully and make sure it’s re-hidden at least as well as you found it.

Logging this cache

You can log this geocache at any or all of the following:

Further exploration

1 comment

  1. Michael Michael says:

    The old zoo is located on the now Thames Valley Police HQ South site, not the North site which is by the Kidlington Airport.

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