Built as a barbican by King Edward I around 1275, the Lion Tower took its name from the fact that it was later used to house the Royal Menagerie.
Visitors to the Tower in the late 13th century would have crossed a causeway and drawbridge over the moat to reach the semi-circular Lion Tower before then heading on, via another causeway to the Middle Tower (the place where you now enter).
It would seem that the Royal Menagerie – which included lions, leopards, mastiffs and other assorted animals – was housed here by 1335 (there is a document dated three years later which refers to the ‘Lion Turret’) and it is known for certain that it was housed here from the 16th century until the menagerie was disbanded in the 1830s and the animals removed, some of which were presented to the Zoological Society of London.
The animals were kept in two stories of wooden ‘houses’ set around the inside face of the tower – these were refurbished during the reign of King James I, an exercise yard was added on land reclaimed from the moat and an improved viewing platform from which to watch the lions was added (people were charged a small fee to come and view the animals). Modifications were again carried out in the 1770s.
The Lion Tower and the surrounding complex of buildings were finally demolished in 1852 to make way for a new ticket office. The foundations of the tower can now be seen as you enter the tower.
For more on the Royal Menagerie, see our previous entry here.
PICTURE: A Yeoman Warder with lifesize wire lion sculptures commissioned for the ‘Royal Beasts’ exhibition at the Tower of London. They are located on the site of the Lion Tower. Courtesy Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam