THE Tower of London is best known for being a prison – but did you know it was also a zoo?

The iconic building was once home to a whole host of weird and wonderful animals that had never before been seen in London – and they were fed bizarre food like port and bread rolls.

The building's Royal Menagerie began in the 1200s, after Henry III was presented with three leopards by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick.

This inspired the king to build a zoo in the tower, and it wasn't long before the leopards were joined by other exotic creatures, including elephants and polar bears.

Over the next 600 years, more than 60 species were gifted to the British royal family by medieval monarchs.

It was the responsibility of the beefeaters who worked in the Tower of London to take care of them all.

Chief Yeoman Warder Pete McGowran, 63, told Sun Online Travel about some of the creatures that used to be residents.

He said: "The building was a zoo, made up of gifts to the kings and queens from heads of states around the world.

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"They gave animals to the royal family, and there were all sorts of creatures that made it into the tower.

"It was packed with polar bears, lions, elephants, baboons and browns bears – they were all over the place.

"Polar bears were even swimming in the moat.

Mr McGowran revealed that, because the animals had been given to the royal family, they were treated as "royal beasts".

He continued: "Because the animals were royal beasts, we would give them royal food.

"Polar bears were being fed port and bread rolls, which probably wasn't very good for them.

"Us Yeoman Warders weren't good at looking after them, so in 1845 London Zoo was formed in The Regent's Park and all the animals went there.

"It was good that someone else had the responsibility – the tower was not the best place for some of the exotic creatures to live."

Mr McGowran has also shared the spine-tingling story of when he was visited by a ghost in the night while sleeping in the Tower of London.

A comedian moved into the Tower of London during the pandemic and revealed what life was like behind the walls of the building.

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