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Herbert’s Gang


Herbert’s Gang is a short children’s story about the life of our founder, Herbert Whitley, that we’ve put together as part of our Centenary celebrations to mark World Book Day. We hope you enjoy getting to know a bit about Herbert through this story.

If you’d like to learn more about Paignton Zoo’s history, we’ll be releasing frequent blogs throughout our the year on our blogs page and social media.



Once upon a time, a boy called Herbert Whitley was born in Liverpool. He was part of a very well-known family that owned a beer company, and his dad was even the mayor.

From a young age, Herbert was fascinated with nature and animals. When he turned 6, he was sent away to boarding school, where he spent lots of time looking after his canaries, rabbits, chickens and pigeons! Herbert went to university to learn about farming, and afterwards he moved to Devon with his family. His mum bought a big house by the sea with farmland for sheep and cows, stables for horses and kennels for dogs – the perfect place for Herbert to live!

At his new home in Paignton, Herbert started gathering plants and animals from around the world and learning all about them. He worked with his brother William to breed the best farm animals and they won lots of awards. Herbert bred dogs, too, and his greyhound even won the first ever Crufts show!

Primley House 1961

Out of all his animals, Herbert’s favourites were his pigeons. He bred special homing pigeons to deliver secret messages in the war, and he bred rare pigeons too. He was obsessed with the colour blue, so he bred blue pigeons and lots of other blue animals and plants.

mary 1922 e1677684743452

Herbert’s gang of animals and plants grew and grew until he needed to find them their own home – a zoo! He had birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and even a chimp! He wanted everyone to see his zoo so they could learn all about his favourite animals, so he opened it up for the people of Paignton to enjoy.

The zoo got bigger and bigger and people came from far and wide to see it. He built a tropical house with all kinds of jungle creatures and interesting plants, and he even grew bananas for his animals to eat!

When the second world war broke out, Herbert helped out his friend from London by looking after some of his animals, so his gang got even bigger again with a new elephant, more monkeys and even the world’s strongest man!

Herbert followed his dreams to help people learn all about animals and plants, and his best friend started a charity so that everyone would remember all of Herbert’s hard work. That charity is now Wild Planet Trust.

Herbert’s zoo is 100 years old now, and his dream is still alive through all of the people that love animals and plants just as much as he did. His gang at Paignton Zoo has continued to grow and teach people all about our amazing planet and the ways everyone can help halt species decline.

Everyone who visits the zoo, everyone who supports their work, everyone who does something nice for nature is part of Herbert’s gang.

Paignton Zoo Herbert Whitley edited 3
Herbert Whitley