Near midnight a man is killed by a lion. A man who lives in a tower with a menangerie and and an aquarium is called on to recover the body. Ten years later the man in the tower dies a mysterious death. Arabian Nights? Transylvania?
In 1905 soliciting and drunkeness take up a lot of time in Blackpool Courts. Immoral behaviour in back Queen Street. And obstruction… A lad is charged with selling indecent photographs. Another crime is “sleeping out.” This means being homeless. It is a crime to be homeless, a crime to beg and a crime to have no money. Obstructing the pavement, leaving horses unattended, cruelty to animals, being drunk in charge of a horse… but drunkeness and soliciting are the main pastimes in Blackpool judging by the court reports.
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 stays in Blackpool. But he had Sunday off. And he would come to see Ellen in Preston.
William’s return was unlike the return he planned.
William was a trusted employee of the Blackpool Tower Company. One of his duties involved the animal hospital for the Tower menangerie. The animal hospital was in Lytham Road almost opposite the Dunes.
The animal hospital site almost opposite the Dunes. The area which is now lawned.
Animal Hospital ? Well… Although sick animals from the Tower were housed there animals were also slaughtered. Horses who were no longer useful would be slaughtered and the meat used to feed lions and tigers at Blackpool Tower Menangerie. ( I have always wondered what happened to the millions of horses who must have been slaughtered in England at this time. Would an enterprising butcher let meat go to waste? Pies? The recent case of McDonald’s using kangaroos in their burgers reminds us that if there is money to be made… but I digress…).
Among his duties William helped look after the animals and he locked up the building. The building (I am guessing here) was a large stable with the horses separated from the beasts from the menangerie. 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 he had been steadily drinking at the Dunes. He was drinking with two companions Edward Eaves and Thomas Melling at closing time around 11.00 pm 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 11.00 William saw his lodger William Livesey and another man walking towards the enclosure. At 11.30 pm William Beck heard cries: “Oh! Oh! Oh!”
At 8.35am on Sunday William’s body was found. Thomas Bonny (it is also spelt Bonney in the reports) had locked up the lions with Livesey on the previous day around 5.45. 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 … fascinating character… managed the animals and he lived in the Tower. He had previously managed the acquarium and had lived there while 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 details:
“EATEN BY LIONS
MAN’S BODY PARTIALLY
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. Connisseurs of strangeness reflect that William Livesey’s funeral cortege would have passed the site of Witherspoon’s “The Lion and Albert.”
It is clear that William, with a day off to look forward to, had drunk freely at the Dunes. 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. Possibly he tripped over one of them. His job included feeding the lions but as James Walmsley said this made no difference.
It is as clear as can be 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 do not want to accuse Eaves and that the Chief Constable is certain that Edward Eaves was with William Livesey when the attack happened. Edward Eaves was bought a bottle of beer by William Livesey which he took out of the Dunes. The Chief Constable says that the bottle is not found in Edward Eaves’ home and that a broken bottle… two in fact, both William and Edward had a bottle… is 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, nor 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, 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 says he does not know who was with William Livesey but that he was the same size and build as Edward Eaves.
But it is irrelevant. 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…
William Livesey’s grave in Preston Cemetery
Many thanks to indefatigable staff at Blackpool Local and Family History Centre.
There is a fascinating article “The Man Who Lived in the Tower” by Louise Thornton about James Walmesley in Blackpool Heritage News. I wonder what it would be like to live in Blackpool Tower.