Thursday, 29 July 2010

A Zoo... it's true!

As writers, we are always being encouraged to find some point of interest in our lives to engage our readers. Something that we've done or experienced that might raise an eyebrow or draw an audience to us. Often, we play down aspects of our childhood that might seem unusual to others. We see things as commonplace things that others might find exotic or mysterious.


It occurred to me a few months back that my childhood playground was indeed quite different. We just called it Eastham Woods. We ran and fought and built dens there but infact, we were always mindful of the fact that it had once been a zoo.

 



In fact the Zoological gardens at Eastham boasted Exotic birds, Lions, polar, silver, black and brown bears, seals, leopards, ocelots and "all kinds of holiday amusements." It was the place to be. It was even visited by a tightrope walker by the name of Blondin, the 'King of the Niagra.'

 


But Eastham's fortunes as a ferrypoint faded as the railways and roads made travel to Birkenhead, a shorter crossing point, quicker. The gardens fell into neglect. Nature reasserted itself, pushing roots through the stonework, filling the seal pools with leaf mold, burying the fountains.

 


And for around seventy years it lay neglected. Generations of Eastham children played in the ruins, built dens from perfectly dressed blocks of sandstone, lit fires, slept rough, fought battles and looked nervously over their shoulders in case anything still lived in the dark shadows.



The animal dens must have been hellish for the poor creatures to live in but they were perfect caves for us.

In the late seventies, the local council designated the woods a country park. Newly appointed 'Country Park Rangers' pulled down our dens and sent us back to our homes. We felt like Red Indians being forced into reservations. The woods were never the same again.


It's a nice place to wander around but part of me rebels. This is the entrance to the bear pit. It was filled in but you could scrabble through the leaf mold and tunnel into this passageway. It was dangerous. It was fun.


Now it's a little sanitized, with a carved bear in it for those who might not have the wit to imagine bears of their own... Or maybe I'm just a grumpy old man!

So when I tell you that I grew up playing in the ruins of a Victorian Zoo... you know... it's true.

7 comments:

elissa said...

that. is awesome. what a great childhood playground!

maryom said...

That must have been a wonderful place to play. I used to play with friends on a disused colliery site - not somewhere we were supposed to be because of the possibility of falling down mine-shafts.

kathryn evans said...

What a fab place to play....my siblings and i used to play in a sewer - it was my sister's fault, Mum said don't cross the main road - so we never did, we went under it, through the sewer...

Jan said...

Hello Jon
Eastham was very much part of my childhood too...I lived on the Wirral till I was 15...and Eastham was somewhere we often went...not least to glimpse the pink cottage just off the main road going down into Eastham...and also a little hut in the woods where our dad said The Three Bears lived...
And talking of my dad, he ALWAYS had his hair cut at a barber's shop called Teddy Vaughan's on the main road....long gone...but I can still smell it and see it and hear all the Man Talk as Teddy V clipped away...and my brother and I sat reading comics while we waited...

Anonymous said...

Eloquently put Joll, all this I remember - and someone falling on their backside in the foul-smelling slop of the abandoned seal pool. No names, no pack drill..

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

Wonderful! Me and my sisters just played in the road. It must have been great to go back and visit. so atmospheric and nice to reminisce. Love the piccies too. :)

Anna-Marie said...

I was there the other day getting emotional in the bear pit imagining how awful it must have been for them...poor old bears. Great pics.