A History of Windsor Safari Park
During the 1970s and 80s, the site that is now LEGOLAND Windsor was home to Windsor Safari Park, the UK‚Äôs second Safari Park. In this article we will take a look back at the history of Windsor Safari Park,¬† focusing on the many changes that occurred in its final years to try to create a small Theme Park at the park.
Windsor Safari Park was originally founded in 1969 by Billy Smart‚Äôs Circus, as a permanent home for the circus and its large collection of circus animals. The park was built on the grounds of St Leonards Mansion, a mansion house that was first constructed around 1760. From 1937 ‚Äď 1940 the mansion was home to John F. Kennedy‚Äôs family, during a period when his father Joseph Kennedy was the US Ambassador to Great Britain. By 1970, when the park was officially opened to the public by Princess Margaret, it had become a drive- through Zoo/ Safari Park inspired by Longleat Safari Park which had opened in 1966. Longleat Safari Park was the UK‚Äôs first attempt at giving the public a chance to see exotic animals in a safari inspired setting; a concept that had been conceived by Jimmy Chipperfield, from the rival circus company, Chipperfield‚Äôs Circus.
Even though Windsor Safari Park proved itself to be a popular success, the Billy Smart family sold the park in 1977. The company was bought by a few different companies during its 23 years in operation, including Trident Television in 1977, and Southbrook & City Holdings in 1984. The last company to take over Windsor Safari Park was Themes International Plc in 1988, and it was during this ownership,¬† that a small Theme Park area began to the site. To do this they installed many African themed rides, including the heavily themed ‚ÄúAfrican Queen Riverboat Ride‚ÄĚ, an animatronic children‚Äôs show ‚ÄúAfrican Tiki Show‚ÄĚ and new large themed areas including an Egyptian themed entrance called Port Livingstone. Port Livingstone contained many heavily themed areas including a large Moroccan courtyard with market streets, alongside replicas of the Pyramids and Sphinxes. During their ownership it is believed Themes International spent around ¬£11 million on upgrades and creating these African themed areas. More photos of the highly themed areas can be found here.
With this move towards themed experiences, the Safari Park adopted new African inspired branding and the strapline ‚ÄúThe African Adventure‚ÄĚ, which can be seen on the 1990 guide book (in the gallery at the bottom of this article).
By the 1990s, attractions at the park included:
- The African Queen Riverboat Ride ‚Äď A heavily themed boat ride.
- Mumbo Jumbo Elephant Ride ‚Äď A Dumbo the Flying Elephant type ride.
- Safari Jeep Ride ‚Äď A small tracked ride on which young children could ‚Äėdrive‚Äô their own Jeeps.
- Black Mamba Snake Slide ‚Äď This was a double helter skelter style tube slide, where you could choose to ride either the green & yellow or black & white snakes that entwined the same tower.
- Limpopo Crocodiles Ride
- Swamp Devil Octopus Ride
- Turtle Ride
- Kilimanjaro Toboggan Ride
- Small motorised bikes and carts for younger children
- A Shooting Gallery
- Elephant Gardens (a ¬£1 million pound new elephant enclosure with the ‚ÄėTreetops‚Äô walkway viewing platform).
- New for Spring 1990 were the Safari Roadtrains ‚Äď Which allowed guests to experience the Safari Park section without having to take their own cars through.
- Seaworld Show ‚Äď Featuring performances from the park‚Äôs Sealions, Dolphins and Britain‚Äôs only Killer Whale.
- The African Tiki Show ‚Äď An animatronic children‚Äôs show.
- Birds of Prey Show
- The Arabian Knights Extravaganza Show
- Parrot Island Show
- African Arts Theatre
- Adventureland ‚Äď An outdoor adventure playground
- Children‚Äôs petting zoo
Opened by boxing legend Frank Bruno, the African Queen Riverboat Ride was a highly themed, but relaxing boat ride, during which passengers could ‚ÄúTake a trip through the uncharted waters of the Congo River, where many surprises lie in wait…‚ÄĚ. The ride lasted for around 5 ‚Äď¬†6 minutes and was similar to Disney‚Äôs Jungle Cruise with each boat having its own Captain, who guided the boat on its adventure and had a set script to follow at the beginning and end of each trip. Some of the impressive theming around the ride included a crashed plane, as well as animatronics of Elephants, Hippos and Crocodiles. The ride also used live actors positioned around the course, whom over the years, played many different characters whilst trying to scare and entertain guests,¬† including cannibals and lost explorers. If you survived your journey along the Congo River you were taken back to the dock to continue exploring Port Livingstone and the rest of Windsor Safari Park. Part of the script from this ride can be found here.
Another classic attraction at the park was the African Tiki Show. This Disney Country Bear Jamboree style children‚Äôs show had a cast of many animatronic characters including singing apes, dancing ducks, laughing hyenas and a rather hung-over grizzly bear.
But even though the park had added all of the attractions the animals were still a major draw for the public. In the early 1990s there were over 600 individual animals at the park which were looked after by 140 staff. Some of these animals included:
- 56 Baboons
- 54 Deer
- 34 Lions – ‚ÄúThe largest pride of Lions in Britain‚ÄĚ
- 30 Sheep
- 19 Flamingos
- 16 Zebras
- 13 Wolves
- 13 Camels
- 13 Capuchin Monkeys
- 13 Elands
- 11 Giraffes
- 8 Dolphins
- 8 Sealions
- 7 African Elephants
- 6 White Rhino
- 6 Tigers
- 6 Chimpanzees
- 5 Hippos
- 4 Buffalo
- 3 Bears
- 2 American Alligators
- 2 Cheetahs
- Britain‚Äôs only Killer Whale
- Birds of Prey
- Crowned Cranes
- A large collection of Butterflies
As the 1980s progressed, and people‚Äôs expectations of Zoos and animal welfare standards started to increase, Windsor Safari Park began to look quite antiquated in the way it displayed some of its animals and some people started to question the welfare of some its animals. This situation was highlighted in 1986 when the Department of the Environment (a department of the British Government) issued new guidelines for dolphinariums, such as Seaworld at Windsor Safari Park. These new guidelines stipulated strict criteria that would have to be met in order for the UK‚Äôs existing dolpinariums to remain open. It soon became clear that the park would not be able to simply modernise their dolpinarium complex, they would have to completely rebuild it. The cost to do this would have been in the millions and despite the fact they were given 8 years to make these changes, it seems that the last two owners of the park decided that they would not spend the money on this part of the park.
Then in the early 1990s, a huge recession hit the UK which badly affected many businesses including Themes International, who went into receivership in January 1992. This meant that Windsor Safari Park officially closed its doors to the public on the 25th of October 1992. It is believed that Themes International owed lenders around ¬£40 million at the time the park was forced to close. After the park‚Äôs closure, a huge project was started to find new homes for all the animals. The animals were mostly transferred to other animal parks and zoos in the UK, with a large number going to Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire In addition, the full colony of Chimpanzees were re-homed at Monkey World in Dorset. A full list of where Windsor Safari Park‚Äôs animals were moved to can be found here.
In 1993 the LEGO Group purchased the land, and in 1996, LEGOLAND Windsor opened as the first new LEGOLAND Park outside of Denmark. The only attraction from the Windsor Safari Park era that still remains at LEGOLAND is the funicular railway which is now known as the hill train.
Our next article will take a look at the history of LEGOLAND Windsor and some of the attractions that have been added and replaced since it opened.
Here are a couple of videos of Windsor Safari Park from around the internet. The first is an amusing clip from the British Path√© archives that was filmed at the park in 1969 and can be viewed here. The second video is a 1991 television advert for the park based around ‚ÄúThe African Adventure‚ÄĚ theme, directed by Simon Gargette. It can be viewed below.