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For many years, the story of Nancy, the elephant from the circus, has been passed down through the local community. According to the tale, she passed away from consuming yew leaves on the outskirts of Bristol 130 years ago and was laid to rest near a church.
There is no mention of the death or burial in contemporary newspapers, but this did not prevent the tale from becoming a significant part of Kingswood’s history. The town still celebrates and commemorates elephants through plaques and displays in the local museum.
According to reports, Nancy was a member of Bostock and Wombwell’s Menagerie, a mobile display of foreign creatures from various countries.
However, it appears that the legend may be more of an urban legend, as a recent ground survey conducted by an archaeological group near the town’s main street did not uncover any traces of elephant remains.
“The story was probably put together by people in the pub during Victorian times and it’s stuck,” says Alan Bryant, curator at Kingswood Museum, who first heard about the burial while a milkman in the area in the 1970s.
“I am delighted to have the story included in the history of Kingswood, but I am not surprised by the result as it did not seem logical. Wouldn’t they have divided the animal to feed it to the lions?”
I have attributed it to one of those foolish ideas that people create, and over time it has been discussed and eventually accepted as true.
However, the tale of an elephant being buried in a ceremonious manner is not a recent occurrence in the UK. There are multiple reports of similar burials dating back to the Victorian era, although many have been dismissed as mere urban legends.
According to legend, an elephant from an American circus was laid to rest across from a pub in the village of Aswarby in Lincolnshire. The creature was believed to have been a member of a traveling circus and passed away approximately in 1892.
No evidence has been discovered in the Lincholnshire Archives, despite the animal being showcased in an exhibit commemorating the 250th anniversary of the circus at the National Centre for Craft and Design in the neighboring town of Sleaford five years ago.
In the town of Diss, Norfolk, there is a story about another circus elephant named Madame Abdella. According to the tale, she was buried in an area known as Fair Green in approximately 1867. This 20-year-old elephant from Burma was believed to have been brought to the town as part of a traveling circus, but sadly passed away unexpectedly.
According to legend, she was laid to rest in the region, solidifying her position in the folklore of Diss. This year, community members participated in an artistic endeavor supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to honor the tale.
Five years ago, a statue of an elephant was revealed in Coleshill, Warwickshire. The statue was meant to honor the legend of an elephant that was believed to be buried beneath a Morrisons supermarket in the town in 1911. According to the tale, the elephant died after choking on a root vegetable while being taken for a walk by a traveling circus from a nearby village.
According to reports, the creature fell unconscious in front of a bar and was interred in a nearby vacant area. Construction at the Morrisons store was delayed in order to locate the burial site of the large mammal, but no evidence of its presence was discovered.
There are rumors in Scotland that an elephant was buried beneath a bar in the center of Glasgow. According to the legend, the elephant was walking around the city and fell on Kelvinbridge, dying in the early 20th century.
The animal, too heavy to be moved, was pushed off the bridge and into a grave below. Eventually, a bar and restaurant called The Big Blue was built on top of the grave, giving rise to the legend of The Elephant under The Big Blue. However, the pub is now known as Inn Deep.
Dr. Steve Ward, a circus historian, explains that these tales originated in the Victorian era, a time when large animals were seen as rare and captivating. While we can now easily see these animals on TV or at a zoo, in the past they held an aura of intrigue and thus stories of their burials were created.
Dr. Ward expressed uncertainty about the possibility of discovering Nancy’s body in Kingswood. He searched through newspaper records but found no information about the animal’s death or burial.
Studies revealed that the elephant was a notable attraction at Bostock and Wombwell’s Menagerie, touted as the “most established, biggest, and finest traveling exhibition ever assembled.” Promotional posters also indicate its presence in the Bristol area around 1891, which coincides with the alleged burial of Nancy.
However, the evidence ends there. A radar survey was conducted by Wessex Archaeology on behalf of South Gloucestershire Council for £4,400.
Mr. Bryant, while visiting Kingswood Museum, finds humor in the current situation. The museum boasts eleven elephant displays that they challenge visitors to locate – making it the only place in Kingswood where one is likely to come across an elephant.