Hull's Woolly Zoo


Between February and April 2018, Hull History Centre held a rather unusual exhibition that was made entirely of wool. Throughout 2017 people from all over Hull were knitting, crocheting and felting fantastic animals out of wool. This was in response to a City of Culture year appeal for entries to help us put on an exhibition about Hull’s 19th century Zoological Gardens.

Inspiration for the woolly zoo…

In 1840, the city of Hull was welcomed to the opening of a new and most exotic attraction the Zoological Gardens! At the northern end of Spring Bank and set out in 7 acres of land, the gardens were home to lions, tigers, kangaroos, eagles, owls and monkeys.

Most famously, they also housed polar bears and an elephant. Also to be seen were model replicas of the city of Naples and the Crystal Palace that once stood in Hyde Park, London.

Regular galas were held in the gardens with refreshments and entertainment, including charity tea dances, balloon ascents, brass band competitions and much more. Although hugely popular and famous throughout Yorkshire, the gardens proved too expensive to operate.

In 1861, after just two decades, the gates closed on the public for the last time. The land was sold and was eventually built on, becoming a continuation of Hutt and Peel Street. However, a century and a half later, they were relocated to Worship Street for a two month reprieve. 

Big reopening...

Over 200 animals were submitted by the public and History Centre staff. These ranged in size, from Gertrude the 6cm Goat made by our own Pete Dixies, to St the 6ft Daphne-Geraldine the Giraffe made by St Barnabas Church. We were overwhelmed by everyone’s enthusiasm for this project.

As well as the animal exhibits, there was a hungry polar bear to welcome any donations, and a charity auction of many of the inhabitants raised £714 in proceeds, split equally for the benefit of the Lord Mayor’s charities and the Children’s University. To accompany the exhibition, we held a lunchtime club talk which 114 people attended. Other events included a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, two ‘Knit and Natter’ sessions, and a dedicated History Makers event.

If you want to learn more about the original Zoological Gardens you can download our free PDF booklet ‘The Zoo on the Avenue’ (5.9MB).