Category Archives: Wills

Custom revived: Wath upon Dearne Bun throwing

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Throwing things at the general public appears to be a sub genre of custom. You could spend the large part of the year having anything ranging from pennies to pies, chocolates to cheese! However, the most favoured forms of preferred projectile is bread..one of the least known perhaps purveyors of baked ballistics is that of the Wath upon Dearne.

Wath upon Dearne Bun Throwing 2015 (127)

The current custom is a revival suggested it appears by a local historian cum baker…doesn’t every town have one, called Tim Binns. Eschewing a previous publicity attempt of making a giant pie, which fed 480 people…after all giant pies in Yorkshire aren’t unusual, the team behind the Wath festival in 1980 looked to an old custom for revival. They unearthed the WIll of a Thomas Turk which provided money so that 40 dozen penny loaves should be thrown from the “the leads of the Church” on St Thomas Day … forever”. Of course the shrewd reader will say that St Thomas day is in December…but a sensible change in date doesn’t deter a good revival, after all you wants to be on top of a church tower in such a windy cold and slippery time of the year?

Almighty bun fight

Of course distributions of bread doles are not unusual. Throwing them from church towers is..why? Was it that the poor here were particularly athletic or rather more uncouth and unclean? Perhaps the later and distribution the dole this way would avoid any contact. Let us hope it was not for some perverse pleasure of its instigator who might have liked the idea of his town folk scrambling in the soil for sustenance. Whatever the truth the more virtuous Victorians clearly didn’t like the fighting for food which ensued and in 1870 banned it…although the charity still continued in a more genteel and perhaps less genuflecting fashion.

Wath upon Dearne Bun Throwing 2015 (353)

Our daily bread

The modern custom has all the familiar elements – Morris dancers, procession and associated festivities. I arrived as the Harthill Morris entertained the crowds with some fleet of foot dances. At 11.30 the Vicar arrived dressed in a Georgian attire with bowler. She was accompanied by her ‘lawyer’ similarly attired. She took great pleasure in reading out the Will giving a sideways wry smile and a wink to the line ‘to the Women who takes me to bed’ and one wonders what the story is behind the ‘natural born daughter’.

Wath upon Dearne Bun Throwing 2015 (340)Wath upon Dearne Bun Throwing 2015 (285)

In the church the full benefaction, one of a considerable number for such a parish, can be read:

“1810 July 24th Thomas Tuke Esquire bequeathed the interest of £4 to be distributed in Penny Loaves at this church on Christmas Day by the church wardens. Annually forever.

However, as can be seen no mention of throwing bread, but that was outlined in the Will. At the church the will is read again and the bread basket attached to a rope and pulled up onto the narrow church tower…hopefully to join more above! The Morris dancers filled the void whilst a large crowd fronted by large numbers of chattering children, nervously eager to catch this free lunch. The church struck 12 and all heads looked up. Then the heavens opened and the rather surreal and not a bit too scary sight of flying tea cakes could be seen above us. Kids scrambled feverishly grabbing the buns…In front of me a small boy had one bounce off his head, another landed fair and square in his hood. Despite being so large and so many actually catching them was easier said than done. I managed to grab one, or rather it landed in my hands by accident! Looking around some children were clearly more skilful and agile and had collected 10.

 

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Custom survived: Redcliffe Pipe Walk

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“For the health of the soul of Robert Berkeley, who gave to God and the church of St. Mary Redcliffe and its ministers the Rugewell and conduit. AD 1190 Erected.”

So reads the tap head beside that ‘most beautiful church in England’ (according to Elizabeth I and who’s to argue?) and when Robert Berkeley gave this gift, back in 1190, one wonders if he would have been amazed that some 800 years on, those same church ministers, several generations on of course, would ensure that the supply was still available by this annual custom. I wonder whether he would have been impressed that some 800 years, that his direct descendent would be joining the annual walk to reinforce the ownership of that water, as for the first time possibly ever a member of the Berkley family attended the walk, a Mr. Charles Berkeley from the impressive Berkeley Castle (although it was his father who lived there!). A point I was quickly aware would be a good bargaining point for any naughty children on the walk. Behave! This man has a castle and dungeon he could throw you in. It worked!

Well meaning!

I lived for many years in this crown of the South West, but surprisingly never joined the party which have continued this fine if perhaps defunct tradition. Bristol weather is not always the best and any custom taking place outside at the end of October looks like one which might be prone to the vagaries of the weather! However, I checked the weather it suggested overcast with sunshine, fine by me.

A lot of water under the bridge

The Redcliffe pipe walk is the oldest observed custom of its kind. It survived the Reformation, a time when many church related endowments would be lost or transferred. However, at some point the inspection appears to have fallen into abeyance and was revived in 1928s as a report in a newspaper records as ‘after a lapse of some time’. One assumes it died out at the First World War, a common time for such ceremonies to die out a result of the loss of men in that terrible conflict. A similar custom was established to check the more substantial Temple Conduit which died out in 1835. Why is unclear, but around this time the Corporation would be establishing their water works. If the Redcliffe custom died out then, it seems strange that it would be re-established almost 100 years later, unless there was some need to re-emphasise some other endowment or right associated with the original gift. We really don’t know. Even when a bomb hit through the pipe line, the custom never ceased. Even when the flow became a trickle or ceased filling the tap head the custom never ceased. So it seems likely that a big event, the War being most likely. Since the late 1920s it has continued unbroken and as I have accepted the World Wars as being acceptable gaps in an over 100 year tradition I shall with this one.

The pipe walkers

The pipe walkers are ready!

Well met

I arrived early and headed for St. Barnabus Church, Knowle where the walkers would traditionally in recent times gather for refreshments and soon was made very welcome. As soon as ten o’clock arrived we all congregated in an area behind the church. The group, 24 in, made up the surveyor, the vicar, churchwardens, and large number of curious bystanders. Here the leader of the group, the aforemention church’s surveyor introduced himself and gleefully asked who was new to the walk..I wasn’t the only ones there was quite a few! We would  find out why later. He also introduced the vicar of St. Mary Redcliffe who led us in a prayer for the provision of water and in memory of the vicar of St Barnabus’s church who was presently ill.

Well thought of

From the vantage point we made our way into the allotments where the spring, called the Huge Well, still arises. We were shown the possible actual site of the well and a part of a conduit which had recently collapsed and revealed the channel beneath. As we stood surveying this site: it began to rain!! Very typical Bristol. However, as soon as we walked a few places to the well head chamber: it stopped! This was especially opened by the surveyor and we all peered in to this considerable stone lined chamber. One wonders what went through the mind of Mr. Berkeley’s descendent as he peered 800 years of reflecting on the everflowing gift. It was a good photo opportunity I thought to mark the event.

Mr Charles Berkeley, the descendent f the original benefactor.

Mr Charles Berkeley, the descendent of the original benefactor.

Here though I was asked to say a few words myself. Why? I by virtue of my other main interest (and blog) I was the well expert! I said a few words. I hope they were okay, although I did rather put my foot in it with my discussion of St. Anne’s well nearby…but that’s for another blog.

Inspecting the huge well

Inspecting the huge well

Walking on water

From this well head, a pipe line was laid travelling about two miles to a tap conduit head near the church of St. Mary Redcliffe. And of course we were there to survey it, the check at regular points that the pipe was still there and that access was still present. A two mile walk over the pipe, which was fortunately it was all downhill! For the next few 100 yards we travelled without any indication of a pipe, indeed the talk was more like a mass trespass through gardens and allotments, pass chickens and chard, raspberries and radishes…it wasn’t until we reached a garden on Raymend Walk that we saw our first real pipe laying under a metal manhole cover and flows through a Victorian metal pipe, replacing the lead and probably even wooden one of old. The family who owned the garden were very accommodating and offered the group apples from the tree. I asked them if they knew they’d be a yearly congregation of pipe walkers each year when they bought it! Fortunately they did. From here we had a bit of a detour as the surveyor worried that a wall on the route might be too prone to collapse to allow 20 odd people to pass it…but did this detour invalidate the claim I wondered! We still checked the stone, labelled SMP, which obviously reasserted the claim!

Through the allotments we go!

Through the allotments we go!

A bumping journey

Soon we arrived at Victoria Park, here the water filled a maze based on a labyrinth in St. Marys. It looked fairly clean and small shrimps disported themselves within it…but not sure I would drink it. At this point it was revealed why it was important to know who the newcomers were. At a larger pipe boundary stone the surveyor called forward newcomers to be bumped on the stone. This is probably the most traditionally part of the walk, often done of course at beating of the bounds, when mainly children were done. At first he said there were too many of us and he’d only do the children…however, this caused a bit of a ripple of indignation and so he offered anyone that wanted to be bumped would be done. I of course offered myself up. Followers of this blog will know that I’ve had a vicar on my chest being shoed at Hungerford Hocktide and this was much gentler. So I was lifted one…two…three. The vicar carrying me this time didn’t inflict any bruises. Also bumped was Mr. Berkeley. I am not sure his predecessor would have approved of the commoners manhandling him but of course this Berkeley thoroughly enjoyed it..and no-one would be sent to that castle dungeon.

The pipe inspected.

The pipe inspected.

All ages bumped!

All ages bumped!

The descendent gets bus bumps!

The descendent gets the bumps!

Pipe down we’re nearly there!

after the bumping, we examined another pipe. This one being much deeper, being reached by a ladder, and apparently had a tap where previous surveyors would take a sip. I noticed no-one appeared to volunteer this time. Then we regrouped and went under the railway, in the early 20th century we would go over the railway and the group had the power to stop the trains! Fortunately, we didn’t risk it. We were close to the final tap head and deep into the buzzy thrall of Bristol a big change from these peaceful allotments. Crossing the Avon, and two major roads, one could be forgiven in forgetting we were following a pipe, but soon at the church we saw the tap head.   Charles Berkeley was impressed by this tap head with its fine Lion mouth. Another good photo opportunity, as this descendent peered into the source of water which was of great benefit to the people of Bristol.  Nothing flowed from this tap, but above it the final manhole cover revealed oily irony water. I jokingly offered Mr. Berkeley a sip. He politely refused.  The arrival at the church was very welcome as was the spread of sandwiches, cakes and very refreshing tea topped off by a nice choir, welcoming us in song!

A custom which involves a long walk might not be everyones cup of tea but the Redcliffe Pipe Walk is an enjoyable experience coupled with some friendly folk. And perhaps it’s this sense of camaraderie which despite there being a lack of water and purpose the walk continues.

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– images copyright Pixyled Publications

 
Mr Charles Berkeley inspects the tap.

Custom demised: The Rhyne Toll

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img11 Every three years, the Manor Chetwode, in Buckinghamshire a property of the Chetwode family met at a Court Leet during which the Lord could levy a yearly tax, called the ‘Rhyne Toll,’ upon all cattle found within this liberty, between the 30th of October and the 7th of November. An Elizabethan document records the reading of the order of the day:

“In the beginning of the said Drift of the Common, or Rhyne, first at their going forth, they shall blow a welke shell, or home, immediately after the sunrising at the mansion house of the manor of Chetwode, and then in their going about they shall blow their home the second time in the field between Newton Purcell and Barton Hartshorne, in the said county of Bucks; and also shall blow their home a third time at a place near the town of Finmere, in the county of Oxford; and they shall blow their horn the fourth time at a certain stone in the market of the town of Buckingham, and there to give the poor sixpence; and so, going forward in this manner about the said Drift, shall blow the home at several bridges called Thorn borough Bridge, King’s Bridge, and Bridge Mill. And also they shall blow their horn at the Pound Gate, called the Lord’s Pound, in the parish of Chetwode.. .. And also (the Lord of Chetwode) has always been used by his officers and servants to drive away all foreign cattle that shall be found within the said parishes, fields, &c., to impound the same in any pound of the said towns, and to take for every one of the said foreign beasts two pence for the mouth, and one penny for a foot, for every one of the said beasts.’ All cattle thus impounded at other places were to be removed to the pound at Chetwode; and if not claimed, and the toll paid, within three days, ‘ then the next day following, after the rising of the sun, the bailiff or officers of the lord for the time being, shall blow their home three times at the gate of the said pound, and make proclamation that if any persons lack any cattle that shall be in the same pound, let them come and show the marks of the same cattle so claimed by them, and they shall have them, paying unto the lord his money in the manner and form before mentioned, otherwise the said cattle that shall so remain, shall be the lord’s as strays.’ This toll was formerly so rigidly enforced, that if the owner of cattle so impounded made his claim immediately after the proclamation was over, he was refused them, except by paying their full market price.”

By the 1800s, changes had occurred such that toll begun at the more sociable nine in the morning instead of at sunrise, and the horn is first sounded on the church hill at Buckingham, and gingerbread and beer distributed among the assembled boys, sadly the girls received nothing. This was repeated at another area of the liberty and the toll would collect two shillings a score on all cattle and swine passing on any road. Then on the 7th November, at twelve o’clock at night you could travel free as the toll closed.  The tenants of the land also has to pay one shilling. Before the coming of the railway the toll raised £20, but declined to £1 5s after as a consequence all cattle and sheep went that way.

Origins

The area was covered by an ancient wood called Rookwoode, said to be famed for giant boar and no one was safe who passed through it. Finally, the Lord of Chetwode, decided to remove the boar and entered the forest. A local song records:

“Then he Mowed a blast full north, south, east, and west, Wind well thy horn, good hunter; And the wild boar then heard him full in his den, As he was a jovial hunter. Then he made the best of his speed unto him Wind well thy horn, good hunter; Swift flew the boar, with his tusks smeared with gore, To Sir Ryalas, the jovial hunter. Then the wild boar, being so stout and so strong, Wind well thy horn, good hunter; Thrashed down the trees as he ramped him along, To Sir Ryalas, the jovial hunter. Then they fought four hours in a long summer day, Wind well thy horn, good hunter; Till the wild boar fain would have got him away, From Sir Ryalas, the jovial hunter. Then Sir Ryalas he drawed his broadsword with might, Wind well thy horn, good hunter; And he fairly cut the boar’s head off quite, For he was a jovial hunter.”

News of this deed reached the King, who granted to him, and to his heirs forever the full right and power to levy every year the Rhyne Toll. This it appears to have continued until the 1880s and as far as I am aware anyone can travel this day free of charge through this quiet Buckinghamshire village.

Custom revived: Old Bolingbroke Candle Auction

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Flaming popular

The tools for the auction“It was pleasant to see how backward men are a first to bid; and yet, when the candle was going out, how they brawl.”

So wrote Pepys of an auction in 1662. Auction by candle and pin was very popular in the mid 17th century, often over land for grazing and those given as bequests for charitable purposes. The basic procedure being the inserting of pin into the lit candle and then the bids continuing until the said pin fell.

Waxing and waning

Eleven candle auctions survive in England, some more famed than others. In Old Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire, a piece of land called Poor Folk’s Close a six acre site in the parish was auctioned for providing a money for the poor on the 21st December, St Thomas Day, noted for Thomasing, so no doubt it was established to prevent begging! Henry Brown in the book, Sold Reminiscences of a Lincolnshire Auctioneer noted:

“One can imagine the frantic flurry of bids as he final point approached and the pin perhaps began to sway a little. I imagine there must have been many arguments as to who exactly had the last bid as the pin fell. As always the auctioneer’s decision was final.”

This original auction appears to have died out in 1920s. The present form dates from the 1937, in celebration of the silver jubilee of George V, when a will of the Ramsden, gave land to pay for the upkeep of the village hall was knowingly established to revive and maintain the custom.
The will stipulating:

“Let the grazing of the field annually by the ancient custom and method peculiar to Old Bolingbroke, known as the Candlestick auction. The pin shall be inserted in the side of a lighted candle not more than one inch from the top and the person who is the highest bidder when the pin drops out shall be the purchaser of the grazing for the year.”

The holder had grazing rights for sheep only, although two horses could be grazed there as well but no poultry. The grazing commennced from the 1st April to 31st October, with half the hammer price being paid at the auction and half at the termination in October. The holder is responsible for the upkeep of the fencing and weed removal but the materials would be paid for by the council. Interestingly, a percentage of the profit would go to support any student in the parish who may need monetary help for the studies. The custom was for many years continued at the Ramsden Hall in the village, but seeing the rent contract for a number of years, moved it to Horncastle to join an equally old, or infact older, summer graving auction.

Candle in the wind

The day of the auction was very cold and a harsh wind was blowing on and off fortunately the auction was to be held in the warmer surrounds of the Black Swan, Horncastle, one of many inns in this delightful town, a few minutes before the start. I was met by the rather bucolic and friendly figure of George Bell, the auctioneer. Soon the room began to fill up with the world weary local farming community. A sea of green Barber jackets could be seen nestling in the pub surrounds awaiting the start of the auction. What was clear that this was a community coming together over the auction, Mr. Bell being very familiar with a large number of attendees.

Lighting the candleInserting the pin

At 1.30 sharp the auctioneer banged his gavel, and outlined the procedure. The candle was the light set up in ornate candlestick and diligently, over some discussion over what pin to use, a pin was inserted and the bidding begun…the eyes of he auctioneer flitting across the room as he repeated feverishly the bids, 20, 20, 22…the weather worn focused farmer faces breaking occasionally in the humour of the situation as it appeared the pin was not moving…after 7 minutes or so, it was decided to go to another lot. Asking of anyone else was about to bid – the room was silent at £32. Just as the bidding on this ended and another lot was to be read the pin began to rock and just when no one was looking it fell. The bidder got it for £32 an acre, a bargain as in 2011 it reached £322 and in 2008, the first year the auction moved to Horncastle it raised an enormous £980. Understandably, with the cold harsh wintry weather outside, with snow on the ground, thoughts of summer grazing was perhaps not formost for some. The auction was a window displaying how hard it has been of late for these farmers – wet summers, compounded with snow into spring – have meant it has difficult for many of these communities and not surprisingly perhaps the price of a small field in Bolingbroke was less than it had been.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

Old Bollingbroke Candle Auction (35)Has it gone?..it has!

Custom demised: Forty Shilling Day

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A graveside dole

When William Glanville the Younger, who was William III’s treasury official, died on the 2nd February 1718, he left £40 annually for a rather unusual instructions for a graveside dole. The details of this bequest was to provide £2 to five poor boys of his Wooton, Surrey, parish. However it wasn’t that simply. To qualify for this sum there were very specific requirements and conditions.

A biblical knowledge

They had to place both hands on Glanville’s tomb in the parish churchyard, then recite by heart the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments. That might sound like enough especially in a largely illiterate population but Glanville put even more requirements down. Next they were to take up a bible and read aloud the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle of the Corinthians and write out two verses of this chapter in legible hand.

Despite being a quaint ceremony, perhaps, Glanville had created a time bomb of a custom. Firstly many boys could not read and write, especially the poor. Secondly, the Parish of Wooton is very small and to provide 5 under sixteen year olds each year would surely have been impossible. This second problem he had foreseen and stated that neighbouring and often larger parishes could provide their youths. What he didn’t foresee of course was that his anniversary would fall upon the coldest month in the year….not great for an outside ceremony! Although a tent was usually erected over it to prevent the rigours of the weather.

A dying custom

In correspondence with the vicar in the 1990s I was told that the custom had only recently fallen into abeyance. Despite advertisement locally unsurprisingly perhaps the combination of cold weather, the lack of biblical knowledge and the attraction of £2 in a widely affluent stockbroker-belt area saw it demise. The custom was moved to June in its last few years…but finally petered out. Reading and writing skills have improved but unfortunately the reluctance of boys do this had not. Perhaps in our more custom interested times it could be revived with adults! Any Morris men interested?

Custom survived: Firing the Fenny Poppers

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Firing the Fenny Poppers (2)
© Copyright Cameraman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The days before the web

The firing of the Fenny Poppers was the first ceremonial custom I intentionally visited. True, I had come across such events before, the Lord Mayor’s show, Morris dancers (some of my earliest memories which speaks volumes perhaps) and the odd bit of Maypole dancing. But this was different. I had read about it in an old book on customs and was intrigued to find out more. In those days, there was no internet and the first port of call would be the local Tourist misinformation Centre as I call them. I rang up Milton Keynes and unsurprising, as I wasn’t after accommodation or information on theme parks, they were unable to help me! That’s not strictly true they did suggest I contact the church. So with my copy of Crockfords, I rang up….but didn’t get through. I decided to go anyway….if it wasn’t one there were always other things to do around it.

I turned up in the village, now a suburb of that large Milton Keynes and asked. “It happens at the rec”. At first I was confused by this, until the lady directed me to the recreation ground. Here were the poppers, miniature canons, embedded in the leafy soil of that park.

Pocket canons which pack a punch!

364 days a year, these six strange objects, which resemble small beer tankards, hang in that parish church. Then on the 11th they are brushed down, filled with gunpowder and fired! Called ceremonial cannons, it is thought that the originals dated from 1740, but may have indeed been medieval as their instigator collected such items. They unsurprisingly became cracked and deteriorated such that they were re-cast in 1859. It is still remarkable that they are still being used.

These guns were placed upwards and slightly buried, loaded with charges of around an ounce of black gunpowder. Then with twelve foot metal rod with a red-hot end, made so in the church furnace, they were lit gleefully by the church warden and they certainly made a bang. This ceremony happens at noon, 2pm and then 4pm. Originally, the ceremony was at the church by the collateral damage to both it and the Bull it was moved to more open ground.  When I visited, the custom was bereft of any cones and cordoning, only the bellowing of the church warden to look out! It is noted that by tradition the vicar fired the first, and local notable people would do the others, but I cannot remember others doing it.

A blazing memorial

This is a strange celebration associated with Dr. Browne Willis a rather eccentric historian who paid for the building of St. Martin’s church in 1730. This being intentional named after his grandfather a noted neurologist, Thomas who lived on St. Martin’s Lane, London, prayed at St Martin in the Fields in London and even died on 11th November!

Upon his death, he wanted to make sure Martinmass was truely celebrated and so a sermon was established in his honour of his grandfather, a noted neurologist Thomas Willis, an evening meal at The Bull where turkey would always be served and more excitedly, the firing of the fenny poppers as they became known, on that date. Interestingly its celebration is a rare survival for mention November 11th to many people and Remembrance Day will be their answer and indeed many may confuse the firing with that commemoration but they of course would be wrong.

The Firing of the Fenny Poppers is a quintessential British custom, noisy, smelly, enigmatic and to be honest slightly pointless, and all the better for it.

Customs demised: The Stamford Bull Run

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“Come all you bonny boys,

Who love to bait the bonny bull,

Who take delight in noise,

And you shall have your belly-full,

On Stamford’s Town Bull Running Day,

We’ll show you such right gallant play,

You’ll never saw the like, you’ll say,

As you have seen at Stamford.”

Such goes the folk song ‘The Stamford Bullards’ Often when discussing old lost traditions and customs, one can melancholically look upon their demise and cry for a revival; however the Stamford Bull run is doubtlessly an exception.

Like a bull at the gate the origin of the custom

In 1209, William, Earl of Warren  was standing of the castle wall and saw a local butcher enrage a bull by throwing water of it to stop it fighting another in a meadow over a cow. It turned on the butcher and his poor unfortunate dog and chased them into town.  The Earl followed suit, as did a number of local bystanders, local dogs and all and sundry, as the Bull charged down the Main street and was eventually caught. The story being that the impromptu piece of entertainment so amused the earl that he gave the meadow to the town so long as on the anniversary of the date 13th November and bull would be set free to re-enact the strange event…and so it is said to have arisen. The detailed account is given in Bygone Lincolnshire:

“The origin of bull-running dates back to the days of King John, when Englishmen were noted for their coarseness and brutality, rather than for refinement and culture. But we have made great strides since then, and our national character, though partaking happily of the same robustness and thoroughness as of old, has lost much of its cruelty and roughness. In every period of our history there has been a national game or sport which has had much to do with moulding the character of the people.

The sport of bull-running, which, through many generations, was practised with much spirit by our forefathers on St. Brice’s Day, found its origin in a very simple incident. Two bulls were found by some butchers fighting in a field. They did their best to separate them, but in doing so drove the infuriated animals on to the public highway. The beasts at once set off at a furious rate into the town, to the great alarm of the people. The

Earl of Warren, being on horseback and noticing the danger, rode in pursuit of the animals, which, after a most exciting chase, he succeeded in bringing to bay, and they were secured. The effort to catch the bulls proved good sport to the noble huntsman, and so pleased was he that he determined to perpetuate so prolific a source of amusement. He, for this purpose, offered to the town the gift of the meadow in which the fight took place, on condition that a bull should be provided every year for the purpose of being run to bay on St. Brice’s Day. The town of Stamford still holds, we believe, certain common rights in what is known as the “Bull meadow,” though these and the supposed origin of this old custom rest upon no documentary evidence, so far as we have been able to ascertain. Whilst the sport was in its heyday of popularity, wealthy inhabitants left sums of money from time to time to make the necessary provision for carrying out the custom.

A mayor of the town, in 1756, left a sum of money to encourage the practice, and, as appears by the vestry accounts, the churchwardens annually gave money to aid the bull-running. ”

A cock and bull story?

What about Pamplona? Well yes, although Stamford predates this and other Spanish bull running customs, it is unlikely to be even greater in age and the Earl was simply preserving an old pagan custom. Where at the end of the harvest, beasts would be slaughtered, and the date is significant lying close to the old Celtic date of Samhain or now Hallowe’en, as well as laying in the Saxon ‘blood month’ Blotmonarth. The slaughter is emphasized by the fact that the day, St Brice’s Day, commemorated when Ethelred the Unready slaughtered the Danes and as Stamford that side of the Dane law maybe it commemorated that. It does seem coincidental.

The Bull running day….

Started when St Mary’s church bells rang at 10.45 am, this was to announce the closing and boarding of shops and the barricading of the street with carts and wagons.  By 11 am the bull was released to cheers and cagoules of the surrounding crowds, being enraged by a man who would roll towards it in a barrel? It would then run down the main street down into the Welland River where often it would be caught and butchered. Its meat was often sold to the poor and as such the custom by the 1700s was supported as a charity by donations.

Taking the Bull by the horns

It was clear that not all enjoyed the Bull Run. Butcher’s ” Survey of Stamford,” will give a tolerably correct idea of how the sport was conducted : ” During the seventeenth century, the bull was placed overnight in a stable belonging to the alderman, in readiness for the sport. On the morning of St. Brice’s Day proclamation was made by the town bellman to the following effect :

Each person was to shut up his shop door or gate, and none, under pain of imprisonment, were to do any violence to strangers, for the prevention of which the town being a great thoroughfare a guard was appointed for the passing of travellers through the streets without hurt. None were to have any iron upon their bull clubs or other staves with which they pursued the bull. After this proclamation had been made, the bull-running commenced. All the gates were shut ; the bull was turned out of the alderman’s premises, and away he ran, helter skelter, with the men, women, and children, and dogs of the town after him in hot chase, goading him on. Hotter and faster the running became, until at last the poor beast, entirely exhausted, was brought to bay, and despatched with the bull clubs.”It was a barbarous diversion, and it is astonishing that it should have lasted so long. Doubtless its vitality was due largely to the patronage it received from the well-to-do classes. At one period the barbarities connected with this exhibition were most disgusting. All manner of cruelties were perpetrated on the poor creatures to call forth their rage. What is most surprising is that the people of Stamford considered this annual carnival as one of the chief glories of the town, and any attempt at interference was sharply resented.

An eye-witness describes the scene on the occasion of the running as quite appalling to the sensitive mind. Persons of the baser sort flocked in from all the neighbouring villages. Horse- jobbers, hostlers, cads, butchers, pig-jobbers, and men of this class came together in large numbers, and the town was delivered into their hands for the day. Then riot, yelling, shouting, and uproar of the worst kind held absolute sway. At the tolling of the bell, the animal was let loose from the dark shed in which he had been detained for the night. If his ferocity was not equal to the expectations of the mob, he was goaded to greater madness by all the arts which brutal natures could suggest or devise. Not infrequently the poor beast’s flesh was lacerated and spirits poured in. The first object of the billiards, after causing it to tear at a furious rate through the town, was to drive it to the bridge, where it was immediately surrounded and lifted bodily over the parapet and plunged into the river. If they succeeded in accomplishing this before twelve o’clock, they were entitled to another bull. Even young children were taught to admire this riotous proceeding, and permitted to listen to the awful swearing and unclean language so loudly used during the day.”

Many reporters suggest that it was the RSPCA and similar minded people who put an end to this event, and although doubtlessly they had a role, the authorities were already trying to suppress it in 1788, long before such concerns. The result appears to have been the opposite and it became more popular.  The main concern was the rowdy and bawdy characters the event attracted to the town with associated drinking and fighting. This is emphasized by a report of discussing the run of 1835 mentions the bull only in contrast but describes:

“large assemblage of between 200 and 300 persons of the lowest description….halted in front of various houses, particularly those of the inhabitants who were known to be adverse to such cruelties … where loud yells … were set up by the mob”.

In 1839, the government brought in the 5th Dragoon guards to suppress the event: they were unsuccessful directly but increasing presence of troops at the event was the final nail. Every time they appeared the excessive cost was laid at the feet of the ratepayers…soon a petition was signed by the towns folk that said stop sending in the troops and we’ll stop it. And they did. Interestingly, Sutton ‘s Lincolnshire Calendar (1996) notes that despite it being abandoned so long ago people alive still remembered it. A correspondent called E.J.P stated that:

“I’m 89 this year (1996). My father was born in 1862 and died in 1960 aged 98. His father, my grandfather, was taken as a boy to have a day out at the bull-running: sometime in the mid to late 1830s.They were living not far from Peterborough at the time and it was the custom for everyone to go to Stamford for the occasion. The Bull was run right across the town. It was caught, butchered on the spot and then roasted and dished up to the waiting crowd. Being a cold time of year, folk were ready for something warm to eat. It was an exciting thing for folk to watch and many made a day’s outing for the ‘do’.”

Today, on this day, the streets are relatively quiet and perhaps the vibrant and exciting frisson of the day is something that is missed on a cold and wet November day. Perhaps someone could start a run with a mechanical bull?