The Blackpool Tower lion feeder who met a grisly end after showing off to his drinking pals

A booze-fuelled boast ended with a Blackpool Tower worker from Preston being killed by a lions. Local historian Beverley Adams tells the story.

By Claire Lark
Thursday, 10th February 2022, 3:45 pm

On the evening of Saturday, August 12, 1905 a young man from Preston called William Livesey met a grisly end.

The 32-year-old was employed by the Blackpool Tower Company as a carter and worked and lived throughout the week in the resort returning home on Sundays to see his wife and children.

His duties included, among others, feeding and tending to the animals and locking up the site at the animal hospital on Lytham Road at the end of the day.

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Blackpool Tower Menagerie where the man-eating lions were usually kept

Opposite the hospital was The Dunes Hotel public house and, according to witnesses, on the night tragedy struck William and his friends had been drinking steadily since the early afternoon and into the evening, winding down after a busy week and no doubt looking forward to going home.

At some point during the session the father-of-two offered to take one of his pals over the road to meet the lions. The pair purchased bottles of beer and at around 11pm they set off on their drunken quest.

Livesey had a set of keys so gaining access to the site would not be an issue.

More than a century on, what happened next no one really knows, but whatever it was it resulted in Livesey being mauled to death by the three lions which were in residence at the time.

At approximately 8.35am the following morning his body was discovered by Tower employee Robert Bonny. His clothes had been ripped off and the flesh on the lower half his body eaten off.

Bonny had locked up the previous evening, yet when he arrived on the Sunday he was greeted by two lionesses wandering freely around the courtyard while the male lion remained in his cage.

Fortunately he managed to usher them back into their enclosure using a broom, and raised the alarm.

His first call was to James Walmsley, who was the man in charge of the Aquarium, Aviary and Menagerie up at the Tower.

Once he had arrived, the pair set to securing the rest of the site before calling in the police.

The inquest into William’s death was held the following day, on August 14, and they came to the conclusion that being worse for wear with drink, and in a mood to show off to his friend. Livesey had entered the enclosure and either tripped or stumbled over something which alerted the lions – which were usually kept in the Blackpool Tower Menagerie – and caused them to attack.

The lions were young and it was stated they would not have attacked had they not felt threatened.

The smashed beer bottles were most probably thrown by Livesey’s pal Edward Eaves in an attempt to stun the animals in to backing off his friend, sadly that failed and Livesey was mauled to death.

But what of Livesey’s accomplice Edward Eaves? He clearly didn’t decide to raise the alarm at that point and there was no sign of him the morning after.

Other than the smashed bottles there was no indication that Livesey had anyone with him.

Surely his friend had not run off and left his friend to his grim fate? All the signs suggested he did.

Livesey was probably already dead by the time Eaves fled the scene and he felt there was nothing he could do to help.

He openly admitted that he thought he would get into a lot of trouble if he had contacted the authorities; so instead, he went home, although in what state of mind we can only guess.

Walmsley went on to claim that Livesey had no reason to be entering the enclosure at such a time at night so it was pretty safe to assume he was showing off.

Was this just a case of Livesey bragging to his pals, or was something more sinister at play that night?

Did he hear something as he passed on his way home? Was he lured in there by a third party? We will never know for certain, but the police believed Eaves account and a verdict of accidental death was returned.

William’s wife Ellen, a weaver, travelled from Preston to formally identify her husband’s remains and what a terrible task that must have been, knowing her husband had been partially devoured by three lions.

Livesey made his final journey from Blackpool to Preston via the train with many people lining the route, he was laid to rest in Preston Cemetery.

l Beverley Adams is a local historian and author of The Rebel Suffragette: The Story of Edith Rigby which is published by Pen & Sword priced £19.99.