Gloucestershire

'Child killing' bear slaughter summons discovered

Performing bear Image copyright John Belcher
Image caption Rumours spread that the performing bears had killed a child

A court summons relating to the killing of two bears which were rumoured to have killed a child has been found.

The performing bears were slaughtered and their keepers attacked by a mob from Cinderford in the Forest of Dean in 1889.

However, in the aftermath villagers from nearby Ruardean were blamed and the notorious taunt 'Who killed the bears? still persists.

The "unique" document was found hidden in a house in the village.

Image caption The court document was discovered in the attic of a house in Ruardean, Gloucestershire

It includes the charge that one of the accused villagers "unlawfully and maliciously did kill certain animals to wit two bears".

David Hawes, from the Dean Heritage Centre, said the summons was "the only one - as far as we know - that has come to light".

'Who killed the bears?'

The two Russian bears were used as performance bears by their French keepers and were travelling around the Forest.

Rumours began to spread in Cinderford that the bear-keepers fed children to the animals and a 200-strong mob chased the troupe as they travelled to the nearby village of Ruardean.

The bears were killed and their keepers badly beaten before they were rescued by the residents of Ruardean.

Police arrested 13 people from Cinderford who were charged with killing the bears and assaulting the Frenchmen.

However, during the court proceedings the residents of Ruardean were wrongly blamed for the attack and resulted in the ongoing taunt "Who killed the bears?"

Mr Hawes said that even though nearly 130 years have passed it is still a controversial topic between the two communities: "You will find that especially the older local people are very reluctant to even discuss it."

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