For over 600 years, animals were kept here as symbols of power and for the entertainment and curiosity of the court. Everything from elephants to tigers, kangaroos and ostriches lived in what was known as the Royal Menagerie.
In later years, after the reign of James I, the variety of animals at the Tower increased and the Menagerie became a popular attraction. Here, before zoos and television, visitors could see strange and rare beasts that they would never have seen before.
• 1100-1135 - Henry I gathered the first notable English collection of rare and exotic animals at Woodstock, Oxfordshire
• 1199-1216 - By the reign of King John, royal beasts seem to have arrived at the Tower
• 1235 - Three lions (or leopards) were given to Henry III as a wedding gift by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III
• 14th century - In the reign of Edward I, the Menagerie had established itself at the Western entrance, thereafter known as the Lion Tower.
• 17th century - King James I expanded the Menagerie and installed new viewing platforms
• 1831-1832 - The royal animals began to be transferred to the Zoological Society of London at Regent's Park
• 1835 - The remaining display of the Royal Menagerie was finally closed
Alfred Cops - man of action
Cops was appointed Keeper of the Tower Menagerie in 1822 but the job was not without its dangers, as he discovered in 1826 while feeding a large snake.
The Times reported;
‘the snake darted at the bird, missed it, but seized the keeper by the thumb, and was coiled around his arm and neck in a moment. Mr Cops, who was alone, did not lose his presence of mind, and immediately attempted to relieve himself from the powerful constrictor, by pulling at its head; but it had so knotted itself upon its own head, Mr Cops could not reach it, and had thrown himself upon the floor, in order to grapple with a better chance of success, when two other keepers coming in… broke the teeth of the serpent, and with some difficulty relieved Mr Cops’.
Cops finally closed the exhibition in 1835 although he continued living at the Tower in the Lion House until his death on 21 March 1853.