NOSTALGIA: Safe haven for Alfriston zoo’s history

Drusillas remained in the Ann family until 1997 when it was acquired by current owners Laurence and Christine Smith
Drusillas remained in the Ann family until 1997 when it was acquired by current owners Laurence and Christine Smith

The archives of Drusillas Zoo in Alfriston have recently been acquired by The Keep near Falmer.

The zoo began in 1925 as ‘Drusilla’s Tea Cottage’, where wealthy motorists could take tea while their chauffeurs were given refreshment in a separate room.

During the next few years owner and entrepreneur Douglas Ann bought ducklings, monkeys, rabbits and various birds to amuse visitors and their children.

He also laid a narrow gauge railway to a landing stage on the nearby Cuckmere river where canoes and punts were available to hire.

In 1959 the zoo passed to Douglas’ sons Michael and Christopher who installed a flamingo lagoon, a duck reserve and a rare breeds farm.

Together with their wives Kitty and Lucy, Michael and Christopher managed Drusillas until its eventual sale in 1997.

Keep archivist Christopher Whittick said, “Most Sussex people know about Drusillas but few realise its long and interesting history, nor the other enterprises established by its founder Douglas Ann.

“We are delighted to hold this archive, and hope that some of the many people who have been entertained by the zoo and its animals will come to The Keep to explore its history.”

The archive includes diaries, postcards, photograph albums and plans, which are available to order and view, on production of a reader’s ticket.

For more information about the Drusillas archive or to obtain a reader’s ticket, contact The Keep, Woollards Way, Brighton BN1 9BP (01273 482349) or visit

The Keep is a world-class centre for archives that opens up access to all the collections of the East Sussex Record Office (ESRO), the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections and the internationally significant University of Sussex Special Collections.

It is also a centre of excellence for conservation and preservation and represents the new generation of archive buildings in the UK.

A spokesperson at The Keep said, “The combined collections have synergies and have been brought together to provide, under one roof, an unrivalled, detailed record of the region’s history, dating back more than 900 years.

“These archives document the lives of individuals, places and events from across the county and beyond, and they include written records, maps and plans, prints and drawings, photographs and films, oral histories, and digital and electronic records.”

The building, constructed with a budget of £19 million, superseded the East Sussex Record Office in Lewes when it opened on October 31 2013.

The Sussex Family History Group is based in the building and has moved its library there.

Facilities are provided for public access and research and educational visits by schools and other institutions, volunteer groups, societies and similar are catered for.

Facilities include lecture rooms, a public reading/study room and similar provision for the archivists, a recording centre for oral histories, conservation laboratories and areas where archive materials can be repaired. It is open 9am-5pm Mondays to Saturdays.

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