Southend's foremost entertainment venue needed to keep the offer to the public fresh and exciting, which is why in 1916 the owners decided to make a radical move away from the theme park model and build in a zoo. The first of its kind in the town. Located within the grounds of the Kursaal, cages were erected ready to accommodate their new residents, amongst which would include tigers, bears, wolves, jackals and many other interesting animals. the site within the grounds was formerly a tea garden and the cages would be arranged to allow the anticipated thousands of visitors to be amazed at these tropical and wild animals normally seen within a natural encyclopaedia.
The animals which Mr C J Morehouse arranged to have on exhibition numbered over 100, and were known to consume around 70,000 lbs of meat. They belonged to a collection from Maidstone owned by Mr. Tyrritt Drake, (left). Who had developed this collection as a hobby called Cobtree Zoo. The collection was started in 1910, and was then thought to be one of the largest collections in England, including.
The Kursaal Zoo opened to the public on 10th June 1916. The animals arrived a week earlier much to the excitement of local people as real animal sounds were heard moving through the streets of Southend. The public were bated with breath and could not wait to inspect some for the very first time animals from around the world.
Take a Tour of the Zoo Via the Words of the Southend & Westcliff Graphic Reporter....
On entering the zoo we were greeted with the bleating of a Sudanese sheep "The noisiest animal in the show" was the keeper's comment "More noisy than a lion!" He continued to bleat noisily while we passed on to his neighbour, a quiet and docile deer, and next to her was a beautiful specimen of a llama. This was from Peru where it is used for carrying ore from the mountains; it carries a weight of not more than 200 lbs in sacks and "strikes" at any over-loading. A yak and a fighting ram are close neighbours, the latter and one other are the only animals of their kind on exhibition in this country. A beautiful little creature is the wallaby, with its handsome coat.
A couple of ostriches were feeding in the open, and after admiring the beauty of their plumage, we came to the cages containing two superb specimens of the king of beasts - a forest bred lion and a lioness. The former has a magnificent head and mane. Though he was little inclined to display it, having only lately finished a meal, and being in no mood for anything else than to be drowsy.
A succession of wonderful specimens of nature's handiwork in the animal world next met our view, such as the hyena, with his restless moving up and down the cage; bears (one of which, formerly in Bostock's collection, instantly recognised a former employee who is now and employee at the Kursaal), a panther, wolves and so forth. the panther seemed to be the most upset of all the animals by the journey; he snarled most unpleasantly and would only venture to thrust out his head once, at the same time displaying a beautiful and ferocious looking set of teeth. when his food was first placed in the cage, soon after his arrival at Southend, he did not immediately go to it, but when he thought no one was looking he went with a bound the full length of the cage, and as quickly returned with it into his box.
The birds form a very interesting collection, there being some fine specimens of the eagle; while another very entertaining department is that consisting of the freaks. These include the smallest donkey in the world, standing only 29 inches high; a four horned ram. "the old Nick of the animal world"; the largest guinea-pig in the world, weighing seven stone, a giant rat, a three legged duck, and other strange and wonderful creatures.
Then there are monkeys, but space prevents our dealing further with the subject. What we have said is sufficient, we think, to whet the appetite of the public of Southend to go to see for themselves this wonderful menagerie which, through the enterprise of Mr. CJ Morehouse, is now introduced to Southend.
What Happened to the Kursaal Zoo?
It is interesting to note that the zoo was disbanded at the beginning of the Second World War. There was a distinct fear if the site was bombed the animals could escape and cause more mayhem in the streets of Southend. Unfortunately it was necessary therefore to put most of the animals down. The Kursaal was commandeered for the war effort so no entertainment was on offer during the war years. Afterwards, a new fresh holiday resort in Southend emerged and the thoughts of resurrecting a zoo had long been forgotten.