Join our zoo community

Calling all Elephant House Visitors - London Zoo!

Discussion in 'Zoo History' started by Lewiswill13, 27 Jul 2022.

  1. Lewiswill13

    Lewiswill13 New Member

    Joined:
    26 Mar 2022
    Posts:
    4
    Location:
    Mid-Wales
    I am currently researching elephant houses at London zoo, most notably the Casson pavilion at London zoo and the elephant house by Tecton at Whipsnade Zoo. Unfortunately both of these are closed to the public now.

    If anyone has visited either of these buildings whilst they house elephants or anything else I would be really interested to know what your personal experiences of the building were. How did the space feel? How was the interaction with the animals? What were your first thoughts? What stuck out to you the most? Did they feel well designed? Any comments / thoughts would be appreciated!

    If you’re lucky you may get a mention in my research paper!
     
  2. ZSH

    ZSH Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    22 Jan 2021
    Posts:
    55
    Location:
    UK
    I was only young when I visited the Casson but I found it gloomy and very quiet. I might describe it as meditative now but 10 year old me did not appreciate that kind of thing! It is very impressive inside architecturally. It worked better for the Elephants than it did for the Pygmy Hippos who sat in an ugly, concrete pond.
     
    StoppableSan likes this.
  3. Zorro

    Zorro Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    2 Jan 2017
    Posts:
    2,826
    Location:
    West of the black stump
    I have been there many times over many years and I agree not so good for the pygmy hippos however I believe they could of still kept and bred black rhinos there even today,
     
  4. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    7 Mar 2015
    Posts:
    13,051
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Visiting the Casson Pavilion as a child is one of my earliest memories. I remember being captivated by the proximity of the three elephants, which stood side by side in the dark interior.

    One thing I’ve heard people say is no matter how many years have passed, you never forget the aroma; and indeed re-entering the building again as an adult brought back a plethora of memories - though the elephants were long gone.

    As someone who’s interested in zoological architecture, I’ve long admired the Casson Pavilion. I think it’s concept of pods grouped like animals around a waterhole is ingenious and as an adult have spent much time admiring it’s design and textured walls.

    On a side note, I was so enamoured with the architecture of London Zoo that both Decimus and Casson were on the name list for my son who was born last year. :cool:
     
    Lewiswill13 and ZSH like this.
  5. ZSH

    ZSH Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    22 Jan 2021
    Posts:
    55
    Location:
    UK
    Not Berthold? :D I have to say Decimus is a right name! Sounds like a Roman emperor!
     
    Zoofan15 likes this.
  6. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    7 Mar 2015
    Posts:
    13,051
    Location:
    New Zealand
    As much as I love that Helter-Skelter, I couldn’t do that to a child! :p

    Decimus is well decent. A proper lad’s name and a tribute to my favourite architect. Unfortunately it just didn’t really fit with sibling names etc.

    I know just about everyone who works at ZSL resents the heritage listed buildings for the uncompromising restrictions they set re. the development of the zoo, but having lived most of my life in New Zealand, which doesn’t have a fraction of the history, I consider them blessed to have these historic buildings on their doorstep.
     
    ZSH likes this.
  7. ZSH

    ZSH Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    22 Jan 2021
    Posts:
    55
    Location:
    UK
    I agree, I guess we have the luxury of not having to run the place though :D
     
  8. oflory

    oflory Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    19 Mar 2013
    Posts:
    493
    Location:
    London

    I can remember various stages of the Casson. Even as a child, I thought it was too small and gloomy for elephants, though I remember the rhinos looking good in the space. In a similar way, the Bactrian camels looked much better than the bearded pigs or tapirs.

    In its latter (and slightly depressing) incarnation as 'Zoo World', as you will know, some of the bays or dens were converted into exhibit space, each with about six wood and wire enclosures for small mammals and birds (most of which were used in the educational shows) like meerkat, armadillo, kinkajou and polecats. The hippo pond always felt small and a compromise from their spacious accommodation in the old seal pool across the path. There were also a lot of signs detailing ZSL conservation work and pictures of upcoming developments.

    I once did a keeper for the day at London and was taken down into the very extensive corridors and backstage area beneath the Pavilion, which was fascinating - clear memories of a big zoo kitchen.

    The Tecton elephant house at Whipsnade I can barely remember, but I do remember being able to feed the elephants, under keeper supervision. This would have been in the mid 1990s, I think.
     
    Lewiswill13 and StoppableSan like this.
  9. Tim May

    Tim May Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    16 Nov 2008
    Posts:
    2,912
    Location:
    London, England
    I agree that the pygmy hippos looked rather cramped when housed indoors in the Casson building; that pond was originally intended as the elephants' indoor bathing pool.

    It's also interesting to note that in 1966/67 a young walrus named "Alice" was housed in that pool.
     
    ZSH likes this.
  10. Maguari

    Maguari Never could get the hang of Thursdays. Premium Member

    Joined:
    12 Oct 2007
    Posts:
    5,165
    Location:
    Chesterfield, Derbyshire
    I believe Decimus Burton was a tenth son, which may go some way to accounting for the choice of name..!
     
    ZSH likes this.
  11. gentle lemur

    gentle lemur Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    8 Sep 2007
    Posts:
    4,830
    Location:
    South Devon
    I did see the Tecton elephant house at Whipsnade in use, but I don't think visitors were allowed inside when I visited for the first time in 1972 - I'm sure that few other ZooChatters saw it in the 1970's and I hope they will correct me if my memory is wrong. It is a nice light, airy building and deserves to be listed: but of course it is utterly wrong and inappropriate for modern elephant keeping, as it is just stables where 4 elephants could be chained up at night. I am sure that with some imagination, and a fair amount of expenditure, it could be repurposed for some species that would use those cylindrical spaces to the full.
    On the other hand I have never liked the Casson building. So massive and so unnecessarily tall, with a vast tiered space for the visitors and a scattering of unappealing concrete benches which rarely seemed to be used, leaving the elephants and rhinos on relatively small stage-like areas around the sides. Even the barriers between the animals and the public featured massive concrete blocks rather like small modernist standing stones. I never remotely understood how Casson could claim to have been inspired by elephants at a water hole.
     
    Lewiswill13 likes this.
  12. ZSH

    ZSH Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    22 Jan 2021
    Posts:
    55
    Location:
    UK
    Must have been an amazing site (if you could get past the animal welfare issues)
     
  13. Tim May

    Tim May Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    16 Nov 2008
    Posts:
    2,912
    Location:
    London, England
    I believe Decimus Burton was a tenth child but not a tenth son.
    (Incidentally Decimus had siblings called Septimus and Octavia.)
     
    StoppableSan and Maguari like this.
  14. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    7 Mar 2015
    Posts:
    13,051
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Yes, it was a common naming convention of that era. There were male/female variations of each name:

    Octavius/Octavia (eighth)
    Septimus/Septima (ninth)
    Decimus/Decima (tenth)

    Decimus Burton was the tenth of his parent’s 12 children. They had six sons and six daughters.
     
  15. Tim May

    Tim May Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    16 Nov 2008
    Posts:
    2,912
    Location:
    London, England
    Back in the 1970s and early 1980s Whipsnade's Tecton Elephant House was normally closed to visitors whilst the elephants were in the outdoor enclosure; however visitors were normally allowed inside the building in the late afternoon after the elephants had been put into their stables for the night.
     
    Lewiswill13, pipaluk and gentle lemur like this.
  16. zooboy

    zooboy Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    13 Jan 2008
    Posts:
    160
    Location:
    UK
    While by the 1970s the Whipsnade elephants had the outdoor paddock, that was not present when the house was built; in the 1930s elephants were often considered as semi-domesticated animals, provided with stalls where they were chained at night and, in the day, weather permitting, exercised outside, often by giving rides. Dudley Zoo's elephant accommodation - from the same period - also had no outside enclosure. The moat in the Whipsnade house was originally filled with water anf visitors could view the animals from either inside the house or from outside through (opening) windows. While this building would fail any of today's elephant welfare standards, it is a classic structure and it would be great if it could be re-purposed and given a new lease of life.

    Although built a few decades later, the Casson Elephant House was still designed on the principle that animals would, or could, be chained in stalls at night, and with an off-show stall where a bull, sick or pregnant animal could be isolated despite the fact that London Zoo policy at that time made the keeping of a bull most unlikely. The height of the building was important as in the towers above each stall were rooflights, ventilation louvres, lighting and radiant heaters, and there were also fixtures that could allow an animal to be lifted - all of which needed to be above an elephant's reach. Although many recollect the Casson building being dull inside, the animal areas were well lit but the public space was intentionally under-lit so animal viewing was quite theatrical. As someone else has mentioned, there are extensive service areas below ground level, all of which could be put to better use albeit at a cost that is probably not high in ZSL's current priorities,
     
    Lewiswill13, ZSH and Zorro like this.
  17. Tim May

    Tim May Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    16 Nov 2008
    Posts:
    2,912
    Location:
    London, England
    The Whipsnade elephant house was built in 1935; the outdoor enclosure was added thirty years later in 1965.
     
    Zorro likes this.
  18. Zorro

    Zorro Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    2 Jan 2017
    Posts:
    2,826
    Location:
    West of the black stump
    The original idea for the lighting only in the elephant house coming mostly from above the animal was it wanted to give the view of it being viewed in a jungle cleaning so sunlight could penetrate on top of the animals beneath
     
    Lewiswill13 likes this.
  19. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    5 Dec 2006
    Posts:
    20,009
    Location:
    england
    Prior to that, certainly in the 1950's - (may be up to 60"s?) the Whipsnade House was open to visitors all day as there would usually be at least one or two of the Elephants in there even during the afternoon with Elephant riding etc. I never remember the moat being other than dry though have seen photos of it with water.

    Apart from giving rides, a keeper would often appear with an elephant on the outside lawn in front of the house. Visitors would gather round them and the elephant would collect coins and put them in the keeper's pocket. Two Elephant names I remember from that era, Mangal Peary(large) & Valli(smaller).
     
    Lewiswill13 and Zorro like this.
  20. Zorro

    Zorro Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    2 Jan 2017
    Posts:
    2,826
    Location:
    West of the black stump
    Also they had a mix of African and Asian elephant together. The house was open in the 60s