When George Mottershead moved to the village of Upton-by-Chester in 1930 to realise his dream of opening a zoo without bars, his four-year-old daughter June had no idea how extraordinary her life would become. Soon her best friend was a chimpanzee called Mary, lion cubs and parrots were vying for her attention in the kitchen, and finding a bear tucked up in bed was no more unusual than talking to a tapir about granny's lemon curd. Pelican, penguin or polar bear - for June, they were simply family.
The early years were not without their obstacles for the Mottersheads. They were shunned by the local community, bankruptcy threatened and then World War Two began. Nightly bombing raids turned the dream into a nightmare and finding food for the animals became a constant challenge. Yet George's resilience, resourcefulness and tenacity eventually paid off. Now over 80 years since June first set foot in the echoing house, Chester Zoo has achieved worldwide renown.
Here, in her enthralling memoir, June Mottershead chronicles the heartbreak, the humour, the trials and triumphs, above all the characters, both human and animal, who shaped her childhood.
June Mottershead was born in June 1926 and from the age of 4 lived with the rest of her family at Chester Zoo started by her father in 1930. After working as a Land Girl in the latter stages of WW2 she returned to the zoo to become keeper of the aquarium. In 1949 she married Fred Williams who arrived as bear keeper in 1947. Apart from a break of five years in the fifties which they spent in Australia, June and her husband lived and worked at the zoo where they brought up their three children. A widow since 2012, June continues to live within a short walk of her childhood home.