LEGEND has it that the corpse of a travelling circus elephant is buried somewhere beneath the beer garden of the Talbot Arms in Tregaron, Ceredigion. 

Known locally as Jwmbi, the young elephant was said to have fallen ill after drinking contaminated water in the town in 1848.

Tregaron is located in the upper Teifi Valley alongside the River Brennig in Ceredigion. 

For hundreds of years cattlemen drove their herds through the town, and its twelve pubs and fourteen brothels kept the local clergy very busy in their perpetual war against vice. 

In many respects the town could have been mistaken for the Wild West but to the local inhabitants, of course, nothing much ever happened.

So, when on the evening of the first Friday in July, 1848 the outlying leafy lanes and villages were suddenly filled with the brash glamour of Batty’s Travelling Menagerie, the people streamed from their houses to witness it, and the church officials tightened their belts and braced themselves for trouble.

Accustomed only to cattle, sheep and the odd flock of geese, the local populace watched in glee as the procession of caravans, horses, bears and, most startling of all, elephants, rolled into town.

Many were so caught up in the excitement that they skipped church, preferring to witness instead the ‘wonderful spectacle’ of the travelling show. 

An angry cleric, reporting to the Carmarthen Journal, denounced the troupe as a ‘shocking outrage’ and a ‘desecration of the Lord’s Day.’ A judgement that, for many, possibly served to increase the show’s appeal.

There are several different versions as to what happened next but the following Friday the pages of the Carmarthen Journal carried a more sombre story reporting the death in Tregaron of ‘no less illustrious a personage than one of Batty’s young elephants.’

Some reports state that the elephant drank water contaminated by a lead mine and died shortly afterward. 

The travelling show moved on, leaving either a dying or dead elephant behind. 

To this day the local legend persists that the unfortunate elephant was buried by local people behind what is now the Talbot Hotel and, over a hundred and fifty years later, you will still find the story thriving.

However, an archaeological dig of the area in 2011 found no trace of the fabled animal and some might say it is a convenient ploy to attract curious tourists to the area.

Speaking after the five-day dig at the pub, the archaeologist from the University of Wales Trinity St David, told the BBC Wales News website: “We found no signs of the elephant so the mystery continues. 

“We’ve got lots of information from locals with different versions of the story. 

“The team are also anthropologists, so we asked people to get in touch with what they think happened and there are a number of places where they think the elephant may have been buried.” 

She said the hotel once owned 100 acres, and the remains could be elsewhere. 

“We could go back and do a geophysical survey or some dowsing to try and establish this if that’s what local people want,” she added. 

“We think the elephant was buried around here because it made it into the local newspaper at the time.” 

The team believes it is the first to carry out a dig in a search for a specific animal. 

It is believed to have been part of Batty’s Travelling Menageries, a circus troupe which entertained widely in the area that year.

The menagerie apparently had at least three other elephants but was forced to leave Jwmbi behind. 

Dr Bezant added: “Although we failed to locate the elephant’s grave this time, we are extremely pleased with the support and response of the local community. 

“This has helped to raise the profile of this rural area and strengthened links between the university and the town. We have had e-mails from all across the world.” 

The dig finished ahead of time due to the huge number of volunteers, including pupils from Tregaron Primary School, who turned up to help.

Will the remains of Jwmbi ever be found?

The search continues…