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Where The Wild Things Are

The sorry state of Craigend Castle today

The 15th April, 1949 was a memorable day for Milngavie as it saw the official opening of the zoo at Craigend Castle. Over that Easter weekend 50,000 visitors flocked to the new zoo. The sun shone and tramcars from Glasgow arrived at the Corporation Terminus in Milngavie’s Park Road at the astonishing rate of one per minute! From there, fleets of single and double-decker Alexanders buses ferried the excited visitors the remainder of the way to Milngavie’s newest and most unprecedented attraction: the Zoological and Botanical Park at Craigend Castle Estate.

A contemporary report in the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald states that ‘At the peak of the rush on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Mugdock Road leading to Craigend Castle looked like the approach to Hampden Park for the cup final.’ But then, having got so many people to the zoo, there was the matter of getting them all back again. Despite the very many extra trams and buses, the waiting queues of returning visitors were so long that it was after midnight before the last passengers finally found themselves on their journey home!

But how exactly did a 19th century castle, built as a statement of ostentatious wealth, its interiors awash with opulent furnishings, become the setting for something as unusual as a Scottish zoo? The answer lies with father and son Andrew and William Wilson. Andrew Wilson was a successful businessman, his son William a zoologist. When Andrew bought the estate, he was already the proprietor of Wilson’s Zoo in the centre of Glasgow and he and his son were both Fellows of the Zoological Society. They had great plans for the creation of a zoological park in the West of Scotland and their achievement, Craigend Castle Zoo, was the most up-to-date zoo in the country at that time.

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iScot issue # 40 - April 2018 is now available to download - we apologise in advance for the sensitive nature of the front cover and suggest that one displays the issue face down on one’s coffee table.