Lions at the Tower Circus

Ellen Livesey, a cotton worker in Preston, was looking forward to her husband’s visit on Sunday 13 August. Her husband William Livesey worked as a carter for the Blackpool Tower Company and stayed in Blackpool. But he had Sunday off and planned to come and see Ellen in Preston. William’s return was unlike the return he had planned.

William was a trusted employee of the Blackpool Tower Company. One of his duties involved the animal hospital for the Tower menagerie. The animal hospital was on Lytham Road, almost opposite the Dunes Hotel - the area which is now lawned. Among his duties was helping to look after the animals and lock up the building. The building (I am guessing here) was a large stable with the horses separated from the beasts from the menagerie. The beasts included three partly-grown lions. William was used to feeding these animals.

William was looking forward to seeing his wife and children and had been steadily drinking at the Dunes Hotel. He was with two companions, Edward Eaves and Thomas Melling. At closing time around 11pm he bought a bottle of beer and one for his friend Edward Eaves.

William Livesey lived as a lodger at Stoneycroft. His landlord was William Beck. About 11pm William Beck saw his lodger William Livesey and another man walking towards the enclosure. At 11.30 pm William Beck heard cries of “Oh! Oh! Oh!”

At 8.35am on Sunday William’s body was found. Thomas Bonny (also spelt Bonney in the reports) had locked up the lions with William Livesey on the previous day around 5.45pm. The next morning he came and the lions were in the yard. He bravely drove the lions back to their enclosure and called James Walmsley. James Walmsley was a fascinating character who managed the animals and lived at the Tower. He had previously managed the aquarium and had lived there whilst the Tower was being built around him. He died in unusual circumstances ten years later, drowning in shallow water in the Tower.

Together they ensured that the site was secure and called the Police. They noticed two broken bottles in the yard. Ellen Livesey, who had been waiting for her husband at Preston, was brought to Blackpool to identify the body. The local paper did not skimp on detail:




William Livesey was given a magnificent send-off. Crowds of visitors and Blackpool Tower staff lined the route as he was taken on a last journey to Preston by train and finally to Preston Cemetery.

It is possible that “Albert and the Lion” performed by Stanley Holloway was inspired by this incident. Connoisseurs of strangeness reflect that William Livesey’s funeral cortege would have passed the site of Wetherspoon’s “The Lion and Albert.”

So what happened? It is clear that William, with a day off to look forward to, had drunk freely at the Dunes Hotel. Everybody involved afterwards claimed that none of them were drunk - but, well they would, wouldn’t they?

William decided to show off by showing his friend the lions. Once in the lions’ enclosure he had stumbled and fallen and the lions had attacked him. The lions were only half-grown and would not have attacked him unless they felt threatened. He possibly tripped over one of them. His job included feeding the lions, but as James Walmsley said this made no difference.

It is as clear from the inquest that the police and the Coroner believed that William Livesey had gone to the enclosure with Edward Eaves, aged 28, also a carter. It is also clear that the other witnesses did not want to accuse Eaves and that the Chief Constable was certain that Edward Eaves was with William Livesey when the attack took place. Edward Eaves was bought a bottle of beer by William Livesey, which he took out of the Dunes Hotel. The Chief Constable said that the bottle was not found in Edward Eaves’ home and that a broken bottle, two in fact, were found in the animal enclosure. No doubt Edward had thrown both bottles at the lion hoping to rescue his friend. But he did not raise the alarm and he did not tell the authorities. He was afraid he would get in trouble.

Imagine Edward Eaves’ state of mind as he went home from the enclosure leaving his friend dead. Neither the Coroner, nor the Chief Constable or the jury believed Edward Eaves’ story that he had just gone home. The Coroner came close to calling Edward Eaves a liar. How could William Livesey have suddenly acquired a new friend in the short time after leaving the Dunes Hotel, a friend moreover who happened to have a bottle of beer with him, and William invites his new friend across the road to see the lions. One of the witnesses said he did not know who was with William Livesey, but that he was the same size and build as Edward Eaves.

But it is irrelevant and no crime had been committed. We have all woken up on a Sunday morning with a hangover. Imagine Edward Eaves waking on Sunday and recalling the night before.

William Livesey’s grave is in Preston Cemetery.

Martin O’Callaghan

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