In 1834, arguably the greatest attraction in the country at the time was formally opened in Walworth, in the shape of a 15-acre exotic zoo. It housed not only elephants, rhinoceroses and leopards but also the first giraffes ever seen in the UK. As well as the zoo, the Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens also hosted spectacular shows that incorporated large scale scenes of historical events, such as the eruption of Vesuvius or the Siege of Sebastopol. These were popular shows of the day using specially constructed sets and special effects such as fireworks, or burning ships which were part of naval battle re-enactments. One recreation of the city of Rome covered 5 acres.
The venue was so popular that it once drew crowds of up to eight thousand visitors a day and over 500,000 people came to see one spectacular during its first 100 days. Its music hall could hold over 12,000 people and put on concerts of up to 1000 performers.
However, by the late 1840s the popularity of the zoo was beginning to fade, and the animals were sold off, the music hall was destroyed by a fire, and the park was finally closed in 1877.