This week I got to delve into yet another new collection in the Chetham’s holdings: a massive box containing materials belonging to Gerald Iles, Belle Vue’s former head zookeeper.
Iles’ uncle John formed Belle Vue Manchester Limited in 1925 to purchase the park from the Jennisons, who had run the Belle Vue since its establishment in the 1840s. Continuing Belle Vue’s tradition as a family affair, Gerald’s father was appointed as general manager of the park and Gerald later became zoo director in 1933 at the young age of 21. A lover of animals since childhood, Iles studied Zoology at the University of Manchester and undertook a number of trips to European zoos, gaining inspiration for how to make Belle Vue a top-notch, modern zoo. Iles infused the zoological gardens with a renewed vigour throughout the 1930 and 1940s, utilising the media and celebrities to raise publicity and the profile of the zoo. While many of Belle Vue’s beloved animals died during the Second World War, in the post-war period Iles set out to revitalise the zoo with new, exotic animals to entertain and educate visitors. Iles served as zoo director of Belle Vue until 1957 when he moved to Montreal, Canada.
The materials come to Chetham’s Library by way of Gorton Monastery where we held our Belle Vue Roadshow open house 8-9 March 2015. The collection offers some familiar items, including copies of Belle Vue’s guidebooks and circus programmes from 1930s-1950s, which you can find on the Virtual Belle Vue website, as well as a plethora of new material.
As I usually find when digging into archival collections, the finding guide only scratches the surface of exactly what is inside. Within the covers of 3 huge (and very heavy) scrapbooks I found a ton of black and white animal photos of Belle Vue’s menagerie, as well as animals from zoological collections around Europe. Leafing through the various photographic studies of lions, tigers, and bears (literally!), one really gets a sense of Iles’ passion for animals, big and small.
|Clockwise from top left: Feeding the giraffes at the giraffe house; giraffe in enclosure; boating lake and clock island; Belle Vue speed boats (all photos undated).
|Iles presents the python (1953/54)
|Clockwise from top left: Iles with baby crocodile; with lion cub; with python (1953-54)
I have been away in Norway or would have written before. I enclose photos of the monkeys, which I am sorry to say are bad.
The only plan to take such (?) and different subjects is to take them out of doors in summer. If you think it worth while I will see if these plans can be informed in any way, but I think the better plan would be to try again under more favourable conditions.
|Bad photograph of good monkey? (Orang-utan, 1894)
|Letter signed Fraser Sandeman (1894)
|Two men enjoy the gardens
|Ballroom interior, viewing stands along Firework Lake (undated)