Sunday, 29 May 2011

There Are No Longer Bears in the Bear Pit - Phew!

Today I went for a walk to photograph what is known as the Bear Pit on Cardigan Road, Headingley, Leeds. It was part of the Leeds Zoological and Botanical Gardens built in 1840, at the peak of the Victorian curiosity in all things 'other'. Apparently, the zoo didn't do too well and was closed down. The Bear Pit was restored in 1966.

There used to be a plaque on the big boulder in the middle archway, but it seems to be missing.

The Bear Pit itself is actually located behind the fa├žade shown in the above two photos (take a look at the flickr images below under 'links of interest' to see the actual pit). The bears could be viewed from the top of the little circular staircases, which were located in the turrets (you can see the turret and stairs in the following two images). There is a 'rumour' that there is a tunnel that leads from here into the town centre.

Below is some text from the Yorkshire Evening Post, dated October 7th 2010, entitled 'The Seven Lost Wonders of Leeds':

Many people will have passed the castellated frontage on Cardigan Road, Headingley but few perhaps realise that in its heyday it was a zoo, called Leeds Zoological and Botanical Society.
Opened on July 4, 1840, it was home to swans, eagle hawks, owls, monkeys, raccoons and other animals. There were also botanical gardens, a lake and a bear pit, with a bear which was made to climb a pole time and time again, whilst being pelted with buns by the public.
The zoo was not a financial success and courted controversy after keepers regularly put live rooks into the birds of prey cage, only for them to be killed cruelly and torn apart as the public looked on.
The site was bought in 1848 by entrepreneur Thomas Clapham, who made it a success but sold the land for development in 1858.
Leeds Civic Trust bought the sole remaining feature, the Bear Pit in 1966 and part of the wall, which was described by one newspaper as "a whimsical Victorian feature in the style of a castle" and which still stands today.

Links of interest:
The Bear Pit on Leodis (photo archive)
VR Leeds (panorama of Bear Pit)
Flickr (excellent photos of the Bear Pit)


  1. performance idea: dress up as bears and get pelted by buns by the audience

  2. ...or get pelted by bears, even better ; )