Many Newport schoolchildren in the 1960’s and 1970’s will recall that the city had its own zoo – Whitson Zoo – centred on the magnificent Whitson Court country house. The owner, Mrs O.J Maybury, ran the zoo collection.


According to information published by her family online she was given two Himalayan mountain bear cubs which had been used as an advertising gimmick for the Newport department store Reynolds. At the time, groups of Newport children used the grounds for Sunday school picnics and fetes and Mrs Maybury felt that the bears would be a novelty for them!


The collection continued to grow over the years and included a large range of different animals including a further 2 European sun bears, a lion and 3 lionesses. There was also a large range of exotic birds including flamingos, and a flight of wild macaws, monkeys and animals, an aquarium and reptile house. The zoo became a popular tourist attraction.  


In the early 80s following a change in the licencing and a change in the public perception of zoos a decision was taken to close the zoo to ‘allow the animals to live out their natural lives in peace!’


Whitson Court is a Welsh example of a neo-classically inspired family house. It is claimed that the house was the work of the architect John Nash, but as the house was almost complete in 1795, having been built for Monmouthshire MP William Phillips, this is hard to believe. Monumental inscriptions at Whitson church indicate that the house was called Whitson House from at least 1789 and for most of the 19th century, but was known as Whitson Court by 1903. (William Phillips also built Redbrick House now known as Brick House Farm in nearby Redwick).


In the 1901 Kelly’s Directory of Monmouthshire the resident of the house is St. John Knox Richards Phillips J.P. Following his death from 1903 the house was a convent occupied by an order of nuns, the Sacramentines of Bernay of the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament fled here from religious persecution in France. The lived in the house at the invitation of its owner, Rev. Oliver Rodie Vassall-Phillips. By 1932 it is believed they had left the house for the United States of America.


During the Second World War the building housed more refugees fleeing persecution – this time the Jews escaping Nazi rule of much of Europe. The house was home to many refugees and later on also provided work for German prisoners of war. Incidentally, the building also became a landmark for German bombers on their way in to batter Newport Docks.


Now Whitson Court is a grade II* listed manor house purchased in 2007 by Collingbourne Properties for renovation and conversion to create a family home. Prior to Collingbourne Properties acquiring the property the house remained empty and abandoned for several years and was recorded on Newport City Councils “Buildings at Risk” register. The proposed work include extensive refurbishment and conservation/upgrade throughout, a new indoor swimming pool, creation of small office, 6 car garage, refurbishment of the existing stable block and conversion of the existing staff accommodation to create a granny annexe. The project commenced on site in 2007 and is due to be complete mid 2009.