Search begins for burial site of 130-year-old ‘Kingswood Elephant’ in Bristol

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The elephant is legend in local folklore - and its remains are believed to be in the area

She was said to have been laid to rest in Kingswood town centre more than a century ago - and now expert archaeologists are descending on Bristol to find the burial site of the famous Kingswood Elephant.

Thought to have been named Nancy, the elephant was part of the touring Bostok and Wombwell’s Menagerie fairground and circus. Local legend says she was buried in an area around the town’s High Street.

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And so, ahead of pedestrianisation work of the town centre, South Gloucestershire Council has teamed up with Wessex Archaeology to solve the mystery once and for all. This month, archaeologists will start a geophysical survey in a bid to find the burial site.

Although the archaeological group is keeping hush about the locations it will be working on, it is purported that the elephant, thought to have died from yew leaf poisoning, was laid to rest in The Whitfield Tabernacle or Holy Trinity Church areas.

Tom Richardson, Terrestrial Geophysicists at Wessex Archaeology, said: “Searching for Victorian elephant burials isn’t our usual fare but a grave of that size would leave a large hole and would certainly be identifiable with the Ground Penetrating Radar equipment we will be using to survey the site.”

Councillor Chris Willmore, cabinet member with responsibility for planning, regeneration and infrastructure at South Gloucestershire Council, said: “We’re excited to see what archaeologists may uncover and if we can finally solve this local mystery or find some new mysteries to solve.”

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The animal belonged to Bostock and Wombwell’s menagerie as a highlight in its travelling “beast show”. Local newspapers reported that the circus had an elephant, four camels, lions and lionesses, tigers and brown bears.

The elephant from Bostock and Wombwell circus believed to have been buried in Kingswood (Image courtesy of National Fairground & Circus Archive)The elephant from Bostock and Wombwell circus believed to have been buried in Kingswood (Image courtesy of National Fairground & Circus Archive)
The elephant from Bostock and Wombwell circus believed to have been buried in Kingswood (Image courtesy of National Fairground & Circus Archive) | National Fairground & Circus Archive

It is thought to have travelled around the Bristol area.

Alan Bryant, Curator at Kingswood Museum, said: “I first heard about the Kingswood elephant burial in the 1970s when I was doing my rounds as a local milkman. Since then, I have had countless conversations and debates with local people about it.

“I remember a new mains sewer pipe was installed in the 1980s and I made a point of having a look to see if there were any anomalies in the ground. Alas, nothing to report but I for one am delighted at the potential of discovering the legendary Kingswood Elephant burial.”

If the elephant’s bones are found, archaeologists say it will provide clues of where it came from and the impact of its life as an entertainer. They should also be able to work out the age of the animal when it died.

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