Reptile House history
The Reptile House you can visit at the Zoo today was built in 1926. It was erected on the site of the Ape House, and two other Reptile Houses had existed previously, the first erected in 1849 (before London Zoo had even opened to the public) and the second in 1882.
The building itself was designed by Dr Joan Beauchamp Procter, Curator of Reptiles, with the architect Sir Edward Guy Dawber. The reptile sculptures at the entrance to the building are by the sculpture George Alexander. At the time, the building was hailed as one of the most sophisticated building of its type in the world.
Among other key features, the Reptile House has differentiated heating to provide "hot spots" for the reptiles and "aquarium principle" lighting which means the visitors walk around in relative darkness and lighting highlights the animals in their environments.
Snake being moved to the Reptile House
Reptile House 1928
Komodo Dragon at the Reptile House
American alligator in original Reptile House
Reptile House 1928
Animals in the Reptile House
Her passion for nature began at a young age and in the ZSL Collection we have a book on reptiles gifted to her by her younger sister Chrystobel for her 13th birthday.
She kept many reptiles as pets, and entered into correspondence with George Boulenger who was the Keeper of Reptiles and Fishes at the then British Museum (Natural History). He was so impressed by the skills and knowledge of the young Procter, that he invited her to work with him in 1916, and acted as a mentor to her. When George Boulenger retired, Procter took over from him at the British Museum.
At 19 she authored her first paper for the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, about the Pit Viper and she was elected as a fellow of ZSL in August 1917.
Procter was friends with George Boulenger’s son – Edward – who was at the time Reptile Curator at ZSL London Zoo. Having grown tired of the work at the British Museum, she began to help Edward with tasks at the Zoo. With her artistic flair, and keen draughtswoman skills, she helped with plans for the new aquarium in 1923 – and after four months joined the staff as Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians – the first woman to hold this position. She started on a salary of £360 (about £20,000 in today’s money).
Reptile House design
Joan Protcter's Reptile House design included ‘vita glass’ which provided natural ultraviolet light needed by the reptiles, and was a high tech concept at the time. Procter’s deep understanding of reptiles helped to produce a design that was, at the time, very forward thinking.
Procter contributed to numerous other pieces of rockwork and outdoor enclosures in the gardens – including Monkey Hill (on the site of the old animal hospital), which contained 80 sacred baboons; and helping with the design for the main entrance gate.
Procter corresponded widely with fellow reptile experts and enthusiasts around the world – in several languages. The letters written to her that we hold in the Archive show that she was well regarded by everyone from professional herpetologists, to neighbours, and school children.
She was an expert in the routine handling of animals such as large pythons, crocodilians and Komodo dragons. A dragon named Sumbawa became Joan Procter’s particular pet and accompanied her when she walked around the Zoo.
Sadly, Procter suffered from poor health for most of her life, and she went to Whipsnade for convalescence, but died in 1931 aged only 34. Whipsnade commemorated her with the road ‘Miss Joan’s Ride’ which still runs through the site today. In the reptile house at ZSL London Zoo, there is a bust of her by George Alexander [image ]
She also had two species of reptiles named after her: Buhoma procterae (snake) and Testudo procterae (tortoise)
Harry Potter at London Zoo
A famous scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was filmed in the Reptile House in November 2001. In the scene, a Burmese python speaks to Harry Potter, played by Daniel Radcliffe for the first time. In fact, the enclosure filmed is actually home to our black mamba.