The Tower's Menagerie
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The Tower's Menagerie

The site of the UK's first ever zoo, starting with a single lion


The map here is centred on the heart of the old Tower of London's menagerie - the Lion House.

For hundreds of years, rulers from all over the world gave English monarchs exotic animals as gifts, so the Tower became home to a huge variety of creatures, from alligators and elephants to kangaroos and zebras, and this menagerie (or zoo) would remain here until the 1830's.

William the conqueror began work on the Tower of London in 1066, and the first recorded animals are lions in 1210 and then in 1235 King Henry II is given 3 lions by his brother-in-law which are duly represented on the king's shield (which are now still icons of English iconography & England football crest).

A polar bear arrives from the King of Norway in 1252 and was kept on a rope long enough that it could go and catch fish in the Thames!

In 1275 Edward I builds the Lion Tower here at the main entrance, next to the lion enclosure which continued for hundreds of years. Other recorded animals included lynx, wolf, eagles, tigers and a porcupine.

In 1622 James I builds a stone platform from which he and his courtiers could watch the lions being made to fight other animals.

The first guidebook for children was published in 1741 featuring illustrations of the animals they could see.

The standard of keeping was basic by todays standards but they did pride themselves that not a single death had occurred from disease, and one only from an accidental cause: the secretary bird, having incautiously introduced its long neck into the den of the hyaena, was deprived of it and of its head at one bite.

The first grizzly bear in England arrives here for his stay at the Tower in 1816, but he ate too much breakfast one morning and died.

Sixteen years later and after several unfortunate attacks on visitors, the royal beasts are sent to London Zoo in Regent's Park.

The other animals continued to be kept here at the Tower for a further 3 years by the menagerie keeper Alfred Cops. Long after the animals had gone he continued to live in the Lion Tower until his death.


Location: Tower of London, EC3N 4AB