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The bear bones of a legend
Bears
Don't mention the bears in Ruardean
Last updated: 01 December 2004 0903 GMT
lineThe story of the bears of Ruardean is one of Gloucestershire's most enduring folk tales. Now a villager believes he may have found the beasts' burial place.
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What's at the bottom of your garden? Perhaps a few rows of sprouts, a water feature or an attractive wooden bench?

Or the ancient remains of two slaughtered bears, whose demise is at the heart of one of the Forest of Dean's most bizarre legends?

The sad story of the bears of Ruardean still arouses strong feelings among some locals, over a century after the events took place.

Now Alan Capps, resident of the village's former police station, believes he may have found the unfortunate ursines' final resting place - beneath his vegetable patch.

The bear facts?

The two Russian bears came to the Forest in 1889 with four Frenchmen.

It is believed that they had been displayed in Cinderford, and that the animals and their keepers were en route to nearby Ruardean and angry mob gave chase.

Popular myth at the time had it that foreign bear-keepers fed their animals on the flesh of children.

Perhaps inspired by this, a rumour had spread that the animals had killed a child and mauled a woman in the village.

Forest of Dean
The Forest: bears beware

The residents launched a vicious attack, slaughtering the innocent animals and brutally beating two of the Frenchmen.

Individuals from Ruardean witnessed the violence, and came to the rescue. They sheltered and nursed the injured itinerants.

The assailants were later fined heavily for their parts in this unfounded attack, but during legal proceedings they were erroneously described as residents of Ruardean.

The mocking refrain, "Who killed the bears?" taunts the people of the village to this day, and visitors are best advised not to mention the sorry episode.

Bear bones

quote...people still get asked 'Who killed the bears?'
quote
Alan Capps

As for the bears, rumour has it that the local constabulary, unsure of what to do with the deceased beasts, buried them in the garden of the police station.

"I've dug around a few places, but it's an area of two acres, so this is an ongoing project," said current owner Alan Capps.

The exact whereabouts of the bears' bones is obscured by a lack of historical records and conflicting word-of-mouth stories.

"Even what's written down, it's not 100% certain.

"The incident happened at the bottom of Drybrook so it's possible that they took the bears to Drybrook police station," said Mr Capps, although he intends to continue excavating his garden.

"I've lived in the Forest 20 years," and people still get asked 'Who killed the bears?', but it's all tongue in cheek. Mind you, I wouldn't want to say it in the pub on a Saturday night."

Bear-ly mentioned

Forest poet Joyce Latham remembers an earlier time, when passions still ran high in the village.

"It got blown out of porportion," she said.

"Of course it's not so bad now, but at one time you daren't mention it, you'd have got your head kicked in."

Let us know

Have you heard a different version of this story, or a similarly odd tale from Gloucestershire? e-Mail us at gloucestershire@bbc.co.uk.

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