Chesterfield Menagerie

An exhibition showcasing some of the great objects in the collection showing animals and looking at animals in the town’s past.

At the market

Markets have been held in Chesterfield since at least the 12th century. In 1204 a charter was granted by King John formally establishing Chesterfield as a market town. Markets were held twice a week and there was an annual fair. The sale of livestock was an important feature of the markets.

Cattle were sold on the main Market Place while pigs and sheep were sold to the west of the market. This area was called ‘Swine’s Green’, changing its name to ‘New Square’ after the building of the Market Hall in the 1850s.

 Market Hall

Chesterfield Market Hall

Cattle Plague was a highly contagious and fatal disease for cattle. In 1866 England experienced a severe outbreak through cattle brought from abroad. Attempts were made to control the spread of the disease and, as a result, cattle were banned from Chesterfield’s markets.

Cattle Market Ticket

Chesterfield Cattle Market ticket

In 1900 a dedicated cattle market was built off Wheeldon Lane, purchased from the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway Company. The site was demolished in 1997 to make way for Ravenside Retail Park.

A horse and cart which assisted with the collection of rubbish, was a popular feature of Chesterfield’s market from the early 1980s until 2012.

Horse and Cart

Horse and cart at Chesterfield Market

Races and rides

Chesterfield races are believed to have started in the late 17th century. They were an annual event, held on Whittington Moor. The Duke of Devonshire from Chatsworth acted as patron to the races, providing a ‘maiden plate’ for a race for horses who had not won before. In 1813 it was 60 guineas.

Image of race poster   The races were a great public event with refreshments and entertainment other than the races available. Their popularity, however, began to decline by the late 19th century. By 1920 the site had been earmarked for housing and the last race took place in 1924.

Street names of roads built on the former racecourse act as a reminder of the sport, for example, Racecourse Road and Stand Road.

Chesterfield Council bought six donkeys in 1942 to offer donkey rides in Queen’s Park for 1d each. The donkeys were also used for publicity, in 1943 they promoted the Dig for Victory campaign.


Donkeys in Queen's Park

During the Second World War, holidays at the seaside were not possible due to travel restrictions. The ‘Holidays at Home’ scheme, launched in 1942, offered a wide range of activities from sports, concerts and dances.

Holidays at Home

Holidays at Home scheme

What a show

The excitement of the circus has been part of entertainment in the town for around 150 years with performing animals forming a key part of the show.

Parades were a great way to advertise the show. Wombwell’s Menagerie, which toured the country and was exhibited three times before Queen Victoria, had Bengal tigers, camels and a gorilla. They must have been an impressive sight as they paraded through Chesterfield in May 1869.

Barnum and Bailey’s Circus was performing in Sheffield in December 1899 but gave the people of Chesterfield a flavour of what they could see by parading the animals through the town.

Circus Poster

This is a poster for Harry Cody’s Circus performing at Chesterfield’s Hippodrome Theatre in 1954. £1,000 was offered to anyone who had a monkey as clever as Jocko.

Clothing and soft furnishing shop, Swallows used various gimmicks to attract customers into its store from a flea circus to a model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In July 1942, two lion cubs were on show. They were allowed to roam free in the basement at night!


Swallows of Chesterfield

Chesterfield Agricultural Show was held every July from the 1880s until 1924. As well as competitions for farm animals, pigeons, rabbits and dogs were also shown.

Horse drawn

Before the advent of motorised vehicles, the horse was essential for getting about and transporting goods within the local area.

The first horse-drawn tram service in Chesterfield was launched in 1882 by the Chesterfield and District Tramways Company. The service ran between Brampton and the town centre.

However the Company was not successful and the business was purchased by Chesterfield Corporation in 1897. The tramway was successful but in 1904 electric trams were introduced seeing the end of the horse-drawn tram.

Chesterfield’s first railway opened in 1840. Although the railways enabled easier and quicker transport of goods and people horses were still an important part of the transport network.

The goods yard at Chesterfield’s Central Station often saw a number of horse-drawn vehicles needed to transport goods locally, to places not connected by rail. Carriages were commonplace outside the stations to transport people.

Pit Pony

Pit pony

Ponies were used in mines from the 18th century and were commonly used until the mid-20th century, although the last pit pony retired in 1999. They were used for hauling coal in pit tubs on underground rails.

Last updated on 01/02/2024