Urban legend of parking attendant at Bristol Zoo 'might be true'

Gorillas in the myth: Urban legend that self-styled parking attendant collected fortune from visitors to Bristol Zoo over 20 years then retired to the sun might be true, researchers say

  • Tale claims man worked as car park attendant without authority for two decades 
  • It has been disputed by both Bristol Zoo and Bristol City Council for many years 
  • However, Downs For People believes it has uncovered historical origins of story

An urban legend that a self-styled parking attendant collected a fortune from visitors to Bristol Zoo over 20 years before retiring abroad could be based on truth, researchers claim.

The story tells of a man who reportedly worked as a car park attendant outside Bristol Zoo, collecting money from visitors for two decades.

When he didn’t show up for work one day, Bristol Zoo contacted Bristol City Council to ask whether they were going to send another employee to work in his place.

However, the tale goes that it later transpired the council believed he worked for the zoo – and neither party had hired the mystery car park attendant.

Instead, he collected the money for himself before vanishing abroad to retire.

The foundation of the urban myth is unknown and the tale has been contested by both Bristol Zoo and Bristol City Council for years.

However, a group campaigning to stop visitors for Bristol Zoo parking on the nearby Downs now claims to have unearthed clues pointing to its potential origins.

The story tells of a man who reportedly worked as a car park attendant outside Bristol Zoo, collecting money from visitors for two decades. Pictured: A genuine car park attendant at Bristol Zoo

The group, Downs For People, insists there is no evidence that people who allegedly unofficially collected parking money did anything illegal or wrong. 

But the group’s spokesperson Susan Carter told Bristol Live there may be some truth behind the bizarre myth.    

She explained that there were historically people who took it upon themselves to collect cash from those pulling up to park at the Downs to visit the zoo.

It was unclear who the money went to, she said.  

Downs for People made the discovery when researching for a court case against the Downs Committee and Bristol City Council following a recent decision by the Committee to lease a large area of land on the Downs to the zoo for 20 years.

The area is used as an overflow car park for the zoo on busy days.

The foundation of the urban myth is unknown and the tale has been contested by both Bristol Zoo and Bristol City Council for years. Pictured: Bristol Zoo

Susan Carter explained that there were historically people who took it upon themselves to collect cash from those pulling up to park at the Downs to visit the zoo. Pictured: The zoo car park

Ms Carter claimed that research from the Bristol Archives found car park attendants were authorised by either the Downs Committee or Bristol Zoo by 1958 and 1983 respectively. 

However, during the same period people took it upon themselves to make their way onto the Downs and collect voluntary donations from motorists parking up.

This resulted in a mix of volunteers – some potentially working independently – asking for a donation to park.    

‘We made a surprise discovery when doing research in the Bristol Archives for our current court case: There is truth behind the myth of Bristol’s phantom zoo parking attendant,’ Ms Carter said. 

Ms Carter claimed that research from the Bristol Archives found car park attendants were authorised by either the Downs Committee or Bristol Zoo by 1958 and 1983 respectively. Pictured: A genuine car park attendant

Downs For People have even found the name of one of the volunteer supervisors – Mr S W Barrett, who supervised parking from 1978

‘The failure to provide properly for zoo visitors arriving by car goes back a century, to the 1920s.

‘For almost thirty years, from 1958 until the mid-1980s, and quite likely for 30 years before that, people were able to make their living as parking attendants, collecting “voluntary” donations from motorists parking on rough ground outside the zoo.’    

It is from here that she believes the confusion may have arisen. 

Downs For People have even found the name of one of these volunteer supervisors – Mr S W Barrett, who supervised parking from 1978.      

Ms Carter stressed that Mr Barrett, and any other attendants, did nothing wrong and they actually want to trace him or his family to find out more about his role.  

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