Headingley Bear Pit - A Brief History

Discover the story behind one of Headingley's most intriguing buildings.

Manning Stainton

Many residents and visitors to Headingley, often walk down Cardigan Road and spot an unusual looking building. With two castle-like turrets, it could easily be mistaken for a medieval fairground attraction, and although a well-known landmark for those born and raised in the area, visitors are left wondering what the building was once used for.

It was built in the early 19th century, in a time when the British Empire was expanding rapidly and the general public were developing a curiosity for the creatures of these new colonies.

The reality behind this unusual building, which is a listed building, is closely linked with this Victorian curiosity.

Although long gone, Leeds was once home to its own Zoo, built in Headingley to avoid the industrial pollution which was avid at this time. And the building which remains now is the remnants of what was once the home of a bear.

The two turrets to either side of the pit were viewing platforms, where people climbed up spiral staircases to see the Headingley brown bear.
As well as this infamous bear pit, there was also a monkey enclosure, swans and an eagle within the zoo.

Although the zoo was well received when it opened, its success was short-lived, with opening times and ticket prices being deemed unreasonable, even for middle-class locals. The land which the zoo was found within was sold to a local businessman named Thomas Clapham for building plots and in time the area was developed, leaving the bear pit as its only remnant.