2:00pm Tuesday 3rd April 2012
By Damian Fantato
Snakes smuggled from Thailand to the Cotswolds in hand luggage are among the untold tales of a top Oxfordshire attraction.
The history of the Cotswold Wildlife Park has now been unearthed by an author who spent months living at the attraction.
Matthew Jones spent two months on site researching his new book Rhinos on the Lawn, the first to document the park’s 42-year story.
The 23-year-old history graduate admitted: “This is very different from the kind of history I did at university because this is living history.
“One of the best moments that everyone talks about is when John Heyworth, who opened the park, went on a trip to Thailand and bought some snakes.
“But he decided to put them in his hand baggage rather than pay for cargo.
“It wasn’t until the flight attendant asked him what was in it that the box was quarantined.”
Cotswold Wildlife Park, near Burford, was set up in 1970 in the grounds of 19th-century Bradwell Grove manor house.
John Heyworth, who was born in the house, decided to open up to the public and put 230 animals in the grounds.
Now the park boasts more than 2,000 animals of all shapes and sizes.
Mr Jones, originally from Cheshire, was given the task of writing the park’s history while he was in his third year of studying history at Lincoln College.
Over the summer of 2010 he spent two months living in one of the flats in the park’s manor house after John’s son Reggie Heyworth – who now owns the park – decided he wanted to document its history.
Mr Jones, who returned to the park on Saturday to sign copies of the book, said: “It was very unusual being woken up by exotic birds and lions.
“My room looked out onto the African plains and I would see rhinos over my breakfast first thing every morning.
“On a day-to-day basis I would go through the park’s archives, talk to current members of staff and catch up with old ones.”
The book is available from the park’s gift shop, Blackwells in Oxford, Waterstones in Witney and Burford Garden Company.
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