The Victorian Zoo 

Entering the Giraffe House, you find yourself inside the only Victorian building at London Zoo that’s still used for its original purpose – providing a comfortable home for our tallest residents!

In the early hours of 25 May 1836, a remarkable procession took place through the streets of London. Four young giraffes were walked by their attendants from the docks at Blackwall to the Zoo in Regent’s Park, accompanied by a police escort to keep the roads clear. The three males and one female (known as Selim, Mabrouk, Guib-allah and Zaida) had been transported from Sudan by a French trader, Monsieur Thibaut. They were not only the Zoo’s first giraffes, but virtually the first of their species to be seen in England. Their sole predecessor was a female giraffe that had been given to George IV and lived briefly in the royal menagerie at Windsor. 

Not surprisingly, the giraffes’ arrival at the Zoo caused a public sensation, and providing these new residents with suitable accommodation was a priority. On arrival, the group was initially housed in an elephant barn, but the new Giraffe House was completed for them in June 1837. 

Decimus Burton architecture 

The Giraffe House was designed by Decimus Burton, the Zoo’s original architect. Unlike some of his earlier, more picturesque Zoo buildings, it was relatively simple and functional in design. Being purpose-built for giraffes, the brick ‘shed’ was suitably tall, reaching 6.5m (21 feet) at the eaves. It also included an early central heating system, designed by inventor Charles Sylvester, to help keep the giraffes comfortable.

East and west wings were added to the building 12 years later. The east wing housed the Zoo’s famous hippopotamus Obaysch – the first hippo ever seen in England – and the west wing accommodated eland antelopes, and later, zebras. 

Pioneering giraffe breeding success 

Between 1839 and 1867, 17 giraffe calves were born to the group at the Zoo. Queen Victoria recorded seeing one of these in her diary on 31 March 1852, after visiting with her eldest daughters. “A little giraffe was born at 5 this morning & was lying in the straw.”

In 1940, a World War II bomb damaged the west part of the Giraffe House and the zebra wing. One of the zebras escaped, but was rounded up later in Camden Town.

The Giraffe House was renovated in 1960-63 when this part of the Zoo was being developed, with new buildings and paddocks added around the original building.

Giraffe calf feeding
Giraffe at London Zoo outside of giraffe house

The Giraffe House today

In the 185 years since it was built, the Giraffe House has rarely been unoccupied. Despite the extensive intervening renovations, it retains a number of original features, including its distinctive tall, rounded stable doors. Now Grade II listed, the Giraffe House is one of the oldest zoo buildings in the world that is still used to house its intended residents.

Today, you can get even closer to nature with our animal experiences at the Zoo.

Journey through our history

  • Penguins at Lubetkin penguin pool at London Zoo designed by Berthold Lubetkin
    Pioneering Berthold Lubetkin design

    Lubetkin penguin pool

    Our Lubetkin Penguin pool at London Zoo is iconic. The sweeping spiral ramps kick-started a new era for British architecture, and inspired an enduring love of penguins in the British public.

  • Winnie the bear at London Zoo which inspired Winnie the Pooh
    The real story behind Winnie the Pooh

    Winnie the Pooh origins

    Winnie was one of our most famous residents, a black bear taken in when her mother was killed by a hunter and she has an enduring influence on pop culture today.

  • Historic photo of flamingos at Mappin Terraces at London Zoo
    Built over 100 years ago

    Mappin Terraces and Pavilion

    At the time of their creation in 1913, they represented an innovative step to provide more naturalistic settings for animals at the Zoo. Over the years, the terraces have been home to goats, bears, penguins, ibex and snow leopards

  • The London Zoo aquarium photographed in July 1981
    World's first public aquarium

    The Aquarium

    We were home to the world’s first public aquarium. We popularised the name “Aquarium” and pioneered the first environments to provide the correct living conditions for salt-water animals.

  • Zookeeper with a toucan bird
    Home to more than 50 different birds

    Blackburn Pavilion

    Blackburn Pavilion originally housed crocodiles, and is one of the only Victorian animal houses at the Zoo to remain in use today.

  • A portrait of the gorilla 'Meng'. London Zoo, June 1939.
    One of Britain’s first modernist buildings

    Round house

    Designed for gorillas by Berthold Lubetkin, the building was home to our first gorillas Mok and Moina.

  • A view of London Zoo by James Hakewill from 1835 and featuring the Raven's Cage and the Llama House. In the background a bear is being fed by visitors. The Raven's Cage has since been relocated.
    A monument of our history

    Ravens' Cage

    Designed by London Zoo’s original architect, Decimus Burton, this ornate ironwork aviary dates back to our earliest days.

  • Designed by Decimus Burton in 1828 for llamas, in 1831 a clock was added to the top of the building, and the llamas were replaced with camels.
    Decimus Burton design

    Clock Tower

    The oldest original building at the Zoo, and it still has closing-time bell on the outside of the building.

  • Our history