In 1834 William Crisp took out a lease on a piece of land at the junction of Hyde Road and Kirkmanshulme Lane that had been used for digging lime.  He advertised it as the "Belle Vue Tea Gardens".  Two years later John Jennison, from Adswood near Stockport, took out a 99 year lease on the land and so began the story of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, a story that spanned 145 years. 

The image above was generously donated by Les Cotton

John Jennison created a zoo on the site but from the beginning he wanted Belle Vue to be much more.

Under John's leadeship, and with the active involvement of his sons, the family added hotels and restaurants.

They even built a brewery on site and created two lakes for boating.  In the middle of one of the lakes they made a "firework island" on which dramatic historical firework displays were played out.  The fireworks were made in their own firework factory.

He brought amusement rides that he had seen in London.

In one of the publicity events of the era he bought an elephant in Edinburgh and walked it to Belle Vue in the company of its exotic keeper Lorenzo Lawrence. 

The skeleton of Maharaja in the Manchester Museum

Lorenzo Lawrence

People travelled to Belle Vue by special trains which stopped at the Belle Vue Station, Ashburys Station and the nearby Longsight Station.  They came to dance on the outdoor dancing platform and in the dancehalls.  There were sports fields and even hot air balloon events.

The Jennisons created a Victorian venue that offered something for everyone in the family.

This program cover is shown with the generous permission of Chetham's Library.


The Jennison era at Belle Vue ended in 1925 when the remaining family members sold the park to Belle Vue  (Manchester) Limited.  Three years later control of operations was assumed by John Henry Iles and another golden era began.  Iles had his fingers in a number of pies and owned the rights to a variety of attractions that he brought to Belle Vue.  He contracted with one of the world's leading roller coaster builders, Fred Church of Buffalo, New York, to design and build one of his "Bob-style" wooden coasters.  Church's coasters simulated the kind of ride you got in a bob sled and the iconic Bobs roller coaster was erected in the expanding amusement park near the Hyde Road entrance.

The building to the left of The Bobs is the Jennison's brewery.

Under Iles' leadership Speedway and Stock Cars became a big attraction in a purpose built stadium.

The park attracted numerous shows and festivals and to serve this part of the business exhibition halls were built.  Brass Band competitions became an annual feature and along the way the Christmas Circus was added in the Kings Hall. 

Celebrities, including Royalty came to visit.

Maurice Chevalier arriving at Belle Vue

Princess Margaret and her mother visiting a new addition to the zoo.

The post WWII aerial photograph above shows the park in the 1940s.


Belle Vue continued to change over the coming decades and there were many attempts to modernize and hold on to the interest of the public.

Every opportunity was taken to attract the attention of the media to the charms of the park and big name musical acts added Belle Vue to their tours.  Below you can see the Rolling Stones arriving in a "Black Maria" police van for their own safety.  The fresh faced musician in the front is the barely recognizable Keith Richards.  Behind him Brian Jones and Charlie Watts are stepping out of the van.

By this point things were starting to fall apart for Belle Vue and one of the first victims was the zoo.

Changing attitudes to the welfare of zoo animals and the appearance of out of town zoos, like the one in nearby Chester, meant that people found it increasingly unacceptable to see large animals held behind bars in cramped and often decrepit conditions.  Despite the efforts of a succession of dedicated zoo staff the owners were not interested in investing in the zoo and there wasn't the room to convert it into the kind of facility that people saw at Chester.

Despite the cult status of The Bobs people were now much more mobile and able to drive to the newer Theme Parks like Alton Towers and the rides at Belle Vue started to be regarded as rather ancient.

To add to the problems the addition of new concert venues and exhibition and convention facilities in the city centre meant that Belle Vue wasn't making ends meet and the owners Trusthouse Forte weren't willing to make the sort of investment needed to breathe new life into the park.  The zoo closed first in 1977, with the resulting distressing sale and dispersal of the collection. 

In 1979 the amusement park was sold and operated only on weekends during the season. 

Some of the amusement park rides were sold and moved to places like Blackpool and Southport.  The Water Chute becoming The Vikinger and operating for many years in the Blackpool Pleasure Beach.  There was no buyer for the Bobs though and it was sold as scrap.

The last event was the circus of Christmas 1981 after which the process of demolition and redevelopment began.

Today a Wimpy-built housing estate occupies the Longsight end and Kirkmanshulme Lane portion of the site.  A modern hotel occupies the position once held by the Lake Hotel and next to it is a Showcase cinema complex.  Where once the Belle Vue Aces roared around a cinder track there is now a Car Auction Centre.  If you look carefully you can still see remnants of the outside wall of Bell Vue but the magic has gone forever.


Telling 145 years of Belle Vue's history in one page is a bit of a challenge.  To read A LOT MORE about this Manchester landmark you can click on the "Our Manchester" button above and then choose the Belle Vue button to go to my "Belle Vue Revisited" website.