Bristol Zoo Gardens has provided a leisure space for people of all ages since it first opened to the public on July 11, 1836. Changes in that space over time reflect the management’s evolving priorities. The story is generally one of increasing provision of activities specifically aimed at children, both for education and entertainment, particularly from the turn of the twentieth century. This has resulted in the common conception of zoos as primarily places for young visitors. Examining the experiences of children themselves shows how they have responded to this provision and how they have appropriated space for their own enjoyment. This article contributes to the growing discipline of childhood studies by exploring the place of children in zoological gardens, using Bristol as a case study. Making the most of the very limited sources depicting children’s perspectives (an essay and postcards written by children) in combination with sources created by adults (minute books, correspondence, guidebooks, and newspaper articles), the article makes some preliminary observations about the extent of children’s agency in the Zoo and about how children’s experiences have differed from the expectations of their seniors in providing a space for children to enjoy.


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pp. 87-106
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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