vol II date / index
St. Lawrence, Abp. of Dublin, A. D. 1180. St. Dubricius, A. D. 522.
STAMFORD BULL RUNNING.
This annual custom in the county of Lincoln is fixed for the 13th of November; which, in 1825, being Sunday, it was postponed to the next day, Monday the 14th. A correspondent's communication sets forth ample and curious particulars of the usage.
To the Editor of the Every-Day Book.
As your very respectable and highly entertaining publication, the Every-Day Book, is a receptacle for local usages and customs, doubtless the Stamford bull-running, which takes place annually on the 13th of November, will be acceptable. It is conducted with a most determined spirit, and unlike most other customs, seems to increase in notoriety yearly.
Butcher says, "the bull-running is a sport of no pleasure, except to such as take a pleasure in beastliness and mischief. It is performed just the day six weeks before Christmas. The butchers of the town at their own charge, against the time, purchase a wild bull; this bull over night is had into some stable or barn belonging to the alderman; the next morning proclamation is made by the common bellman of the town, round about the same, that each one shut up his shop-doors and gates, and none, under pain of imprisonment, do any violence to strangers; for the preventing whereof (the town being a great thoroughfare, and then being in term time,) a guard is appointed for the passing of travellers through the same, without hurt. None [to] have any iron upon their bull-clubs, or other staff which they pursue the bull with: which proclamation made, and the gates all shut up, the bull is turned out of the alderman's house, and then, hivie, skivy, tag-rag, men, women, and children, of all sorts and sizes, with all the dogs in the town, promiscuously running after him with their bull-clubs, spattering dirt in each other's faces, that one would think them to be so many furies started out of hell for the punishment of Cerberus, as when Theseus and Perillus conquered the place, as Ovid describes it—
"'A ragged troop of boys and girls,
Do pellow him with stones,
With clubs, with whips, and many nips,
They part his skin from bones.'
"And (which is the greater shame) I have seen both Senatores majorum gentium et matrone de euodem gradu, following this bulling business.
"I can say no more of it, but only to set forth the antiquity thereof, (as the tradition goes,) William, earl of Warren, in the time of king John, standing upon his castle-wall under the same, saw two bulls fighting for one cow. A butcher of the town, the owner of one of the bulls, with a great mastiff dog, accidentally coming by set his dog upon his own bull, who forced the same bull up into the town, which no sooner was come within the same, but all the butcher's dogs, great and small, followed in pursuit of the bull, which by this time made stark mad with the noise of the people, and the fierceness of the dogs, ran over man, woman, and child, that stood in his way. This caused all the butchers and others in the town to rise up as it were in a tumult, making such a hideous noise that the sound thereof came into the castle into the ears of earl Warren, who presently mounted on horseback, and rid into the town to see the business; which then appearing (to his humour) very delightful, he gave all the meadows in which the bulls were at first found fighting, (which we now call the castle meadows,) perpetually as a common to the butchers of the town, to keep their cattle in till the time of slaughter, upon this condition, that upon the day on which this sport first began, the butchers of the town should from time to time yearly for ever, find a mad bull for the continuance of that sport."
Mr. Lowe speaks more favourably of the "bull-running" than Butcher. He calls it "a good old custom," and says, "there is nothing similar to it in his majesty's dominions, nor I believe in the dominions of any other potentate on the globe: no, it stands without a rival." "If," says Lowe, "the doctrine of transmigration be true, nothing can be more certain than that the soul of earl Warren animated the body of Mr. Robert Ridlington, once a tanner, alderman, and mayor, of this corporation, who to perpetuate this gallant diversion as much as in him lay, left half-a-crown to be paid annually to each of the five parishes (of Stamford,) for the trouble of stopping the gates and avenues of the town, which is received on St. Thomas's-day. I therefore hold it incumbent on me to record this spirited bequest, and to let this par nobile fratrum go hand in hand to posterity, for which legacy every bullard in gratitude ought to drink on that day to the joint memory of both. Since this account may chance to fall into the hands of some who are strangers to the town, I would have such know that when this gala-day falls either on a market-day or on a Sunday, that neither the market nor even the sabbath is put off on its account; but, on the contrary, it is itself postponed till the morrow, which must be acknowledged to be an instance of great forbearance!"
So much for the accounts of Butcher and Lowe. I shall now proceed to state the manner in which the sport is conducted in the present day.
The bull being duly procured, is shut up the night previous to the appointed morn, in a place provided for the purpose, and, long ere dawn of day, no peaceable person lying on his bed, can enjoy the pleasing and renovating stupor which, if unmolested by the cry of "bull for ever," the leaden key of Somnus would afford him. At eleven o'clock, Taurus is loosed from his prison-house generally into a street stopped at each end, which he parades in majesty sublime. At this dangerous juncture every post, pump, and the like is in requisition, and those who are fortunate enough to get sheltered behind one sit in conscious security,
"grinning with a ghastly smile"
at those who less fortunate than themselves must, for protection, have recourse to flight. The carts and waggons which form the stoppage at the ends of the street, are crowded with individuals as well as the roofs of houses; in short, every place tenable is occupied. Some years back it was customary to irritate the bull by goading him with pointed sticks, but this is now wholly done away with, it being declared unnecessarily cruel, and different means are resorted to to enrage him. Frequently, a hogshead with both ends knocked out is brought, wherein a man places himself, and by rolling it to the bull, provokes him to toss it. He tosses, but tosses in vain; its inmate is trained too well to the sport to be easily dislodged; so that by this and other means equally harmless and teazing, he is rendered sufficiently infuriated to afford "prime sport." The street is then unstopped, when, all agog, men, boys, and bull, tumble one over the other to get free.
Bridging the bull is next thought of; this, if he be much enraged, is the most dangerous part of the ceremony; it consists in driving him upon the bridge, which is a great height from the water, and crowds of people press to him on three sides.
"Shouts rend the air and onward goes the throng,
Arms locked in arms, and man drives man along,"
Regardless of the danger to which the van is exposed, they press closer and closer; at length, in spite of his amazing powers he yields to the combined strength of his numerous opponents, and is tumbled into the water. On again rising to the surface, his first care generally is to land, which, in most cases, he effects in the meadows; these are very swampy, full of rivers, and spacious. November being a month invariably attended with rain, the stay-laced sportful dandy, alas! too frequently finds that the slippery ground is no respecter of persons, and in spite of all his efforts to maintain his equilibrium, in submissive, prostrate attitude, he embraces his mother earth.
The sport is attended regularly by a patroness,—
"A bold virago stout and tall,
Like Joan of France, or English Mall,"
clad in blue, with a rare display of ribbons, and other insignia of her high office, who by close of day generally imbibes so much of the inspiring spirit of sir John Barleycorn, as to make her fully verify the words of Hamlet, viz.—
"Frailty, thy name is woman."
Thus the amusement continues, until night puts a stop to the proceedings; the baited animal is then slaughtered, and his carcass sold at a reduced price to the lower classes, who to "top the day," regale themselves with a supper of bull beef.
So ends this jovial sport, which, as Mr. Lowe says, "stands without a rival." In conclusion, it only remains for me to state, that I have been more than once present at this "bull-running," and am far from forming the idea that it is so cruel as some represent it to be; fatigue is the greatest pain the bull is subjected to; and, on the other hand, the men who so courageously cope with him are in imminent danger of loss of life, or broken limbs, whilst they possess not the most distant idea of doing any thing more injurious to the animal than irritating him.
I am, Sir, &c.
October 17, 1825.
Portugal Laurel. Cerasus Lusitanica.
Dedicated to St. Lawrence.