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Page last updated at 13:29 GMT, Friday, 4 June 2010 14:29 UK
Woodstock in Oxfordshire housed UK's first zoo
Manor House in 1677
A manor house once stood in The Royal Park of Woodstock

When King Henry I had a wall built to protect his strange menagerie of animals, he effectively created England's first zoo.

The year was 1110, and the seven mile long wall enclosed The Royal Park of Woodstock and his exotic collection of lions, camels and porcupines.

More importantly, it also kept peasants out of the manor grounds!

Henry, son of William the Conqueror, also wanted the land so he could indulge in his love of hunting.

"The animals were then moved to the Tower of London under later kings," explains John Banbury, editor of Woodstock and the Royal Park: Nine Hundred Years of History.

"And guess where they are now? Regent Park's Zoo. London Zoo."

There was no settlement in Woodstock 900 years ago but the clearing in the forest had been a royal park since the time of King Alfred.

It was there in 888 that Alfred had translated Latin texts such as Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy.

Later it was the location of Æthelred the Unready's hunting lodge, during the period when he fought the Danes. But it was the Normans who changed the place forever.

John Banbury takes up the story: "When William the Conqueror came in he took all land in England as his.

"But a lot of it was already settled by abbots and religious houses from Normandy and they were left with their piece of land.

"Others he gave to his noblemen... but 20% of all land in England he kept for himself as hunting park.

"He set up his hunting lodge in Woodstock as kings before had done."

Henry I took things further, chasing the peasants out and building the wall out of Cotswold stone.

Henry II wanted to put a palace up there and make it the biggest in Europe.
John Banbury

Old Woodstock was established as a village for the peasants whose previous homes provided bricks for Henry's undertaking.

"Henry I made a lot of trips abroad. He had got in touch with a lot of foreign princes. They had given him lions, tigers, porcupines and that sort of thing."

His grandson Henry II also had ambitions for the land.

"He wanted to put a palace up there because of a marriage of part of his family into the Spanish kings. He wanted it to be the biggest in Europe.

"Henry II kept the menagerie, probably put it in the old park farm, and built his large manor house there.

"The house had several courtyards, a gatehouse and six chapels and all the people coming to this had to be put somewhere.

"So he bought by exchange of land from the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem 51 acres, and built some houses and inns."

Thus New Woodstock was created, providing the lodgings for his court.

Henry II also courted Rosamund Clifford in the royal park.

His mistress, also known as The Fair Rosamund, had a bower, gardens and a spring, and the king constructed Rosumund's well in her honour.

Henry II's palace in 1714
The remains of Henry II's Palace in 1714. Blenheim Palace was being constructed at this time.

In the following centuries the house continued to be used by members of the extended royal family.

In 1554 Elizabeth I, before her succession, was imprisoned there by her sister Queen Mary. Guarded by over 100 soldiers, she was detained there for almost a year.

In the 17th century Oliver Cromwell had the house demolished, fearing it would provide shelter to soldiers of the king during the English Civil War.

"The Civil War raged around that park for several years" explains John Banbury.

"As soon as the parliamentary forces had defeated the Royalists he then did a survey of all the king's property and of the manor house.

"It was put up for sale by Cromwell's men to get money at the end of the Civil War and then it was left alone practically in ruins."

In 1704 the estate was granted to the Duke of Marlborough after his military triumph at the Battle of Blenheim.

The next 70 years completely transformed the area. The creation of the palace and the new stone buildings of Woodstock gave the town the appearance that we are accustomed to today.


Every year there is a Woodstock Charity Carnival. This year it takes place from 18 to 20 June, 2010 and will be commemorating the building of the wall as part of its celebrations.

In addition to the stalls, live bands and street entertainment the parade will include the whole history of the last 900 years whilst the pupils of Woodstock Primary School build their own version of the wall.

Woodstock and the Royal Park: Nine Hundred Years of History is available in Woodstock bookshops, as well as the library, museum, post office and at Blenheim Palace.

It is edited by John Banbury, Robert Edwards, Elizabeth Poskitt and Tim Nutt and includes contributions from Carol Anderson, Gavin Bird, Sheila Budden, Brenda Cripps, Pat Crutch, Monica Holmes-Siedel, Peter Jay and Marlborough School pupils Christopher Cooper, Hannah Cooper and Poppy Lambert.

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