Virtual Belle Vue

Belle Vue History

Belle Vue was founded in 1836 by jobbing gardener and silk weaver John Jennison. It became one of the North West's principal centres of entertainment, reaching the height of its popularity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Belle Vue provided entertainment on a vast scale. It combined the country's premier provincial zoo with a host of other attractions including grand firework displays, re-enactments of celebrated battles, brass-band concerts, an amusement park, a circus and speedway, and exhibition halls. There was a boating lake with paddle steamers, a scenic railway, music and dancing in various ballrooms, and any number of sporting events. At its peak, the attraction occupied 165 acres and received over two million visitors per year.

It has been fondly remembered by many generations of Mancunians, in particular for the popular rollercoaster ride known as the Bobs, and the celebrated zoo animals including Consul, the chimp who wore a cap and jacket and smoked a pipe, and Maharajah the elephant who walked from Edinburgh to Manchester to take up residence at Belle Vue.

Following their sale of the gardens in 1925, the Jennison family gave a significant collection of archival and printed material to Chetham's Library. The Jennison material has been supplemented by a number of other collections that cover the subsequent history of Belle Vue up to its closure in the 1970s, including those of Robert Nicholls, R.T. Talbot and Morris Marshall.

Today, little survives of the splendour that was Belle Vue. Much of the site has been developed for residential and business use, with only a greyhound racing stadium, snooker hall and cinema remaining as traces of the extravagant pleasure gardens that once graced the area.