Tag Archives: Bull Run

Custom demised: Tutbury Bull Run


image “It may not be so, gentle sir, For I must be at Tutbury feast; And if Robin Hood will go thither with me, I’ll make him the most welcome guest.”

So goes a verse of the popular ballad ‘A New Ballad of bold Robin Hood, shewing his birth, breeding, valour and marriage at Tutbury Bull Running’ where he married not Marian but a Clorinda! Tutbury, a small village with its romantic ruined castle was the scene of the country’s only other Bull run. The origins of this custom derive from the need to control a local festival of musicians (or minstrels) that came from all parts of the country to Tutbury. As with such festivals, which surely involved a fair amount of alcohol, disputes would occur and so to sort this out, the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt established a means to settle arguments between the minstrels; this became the Tutbury Court of King’s Minstrels. It is said that when in 1374, Gaunt married his Spanish Princess, Constance, daughter of Pedro the Cruel of Castille, she suggested establishing a bull running, although what this had to do with minstrels is unclear. Gaunt established a King of the Minstrels whose job would be to apprehend and arrest any law breaking musical miscreants. As in all these cases, a Charter enshrined the custom called Carta le Roy de Minstralx. Plot (1696) in his work on Staffordshire translates it as:

“John by the grace of God King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Lancaster, to all of them who shall see or hear these our Letters greetings. Know ye we have ordained, constituted and assigned to our well-beloved King of the Minstrells in the Honor of Tutbury, who is, or for the time shall be, to apprehend and arrest all the Minstrells in our said Honor and Franchise, that refuse to doe the services and Minstrelsy as appertain to them to doe from ancient times to Tutbury aforesaid, yearly on the days of the Assumption of Our Lady; giving and granting to the said King of the Minstrells for the time being, full power and commandement to make them reasonably to justify, and to constrain them to doe their services, and Minstrelsies, in the manner belongeth to them and as it hath been there, and of ancient times accustomed.”

This developed into a special Court which meet the day following the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the 15th August. All the minstrels in the Honor which were the counties of Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire were obliged to meet at the house of the bailiff of the honor were they met the Steward of the court. All minstrels who failed to attend would have to pay a fine. A procession was formed and headed by the musicians walked in two rows to the parish church with the previous years King of the Minstrels marching behind the musicians with the bailiff and four stewards carrying a white rod each. After the church service, which cost a penny, the group went to the Castle Hall, here the court was called and two juries of twelve Staffordshire men and twelve men from adjoining counties, after the steward reminded the attendees of the importance of the court:

“the jurors proceed to the Election of the said Officers, the King to be chosen out of the 4 stewards of the proceeding year and one year out of Staffordshire, and the other out of Darbyshire interchangeably; and the 4 stewards, two of them out of Staffordshire, and two out of Darbyshire; 3 being chosen by the Jurors, and the 4th by him that keeps the court, and the deputy Steward or Clerk”

The two juries leave this Court to make the decision, with the rest having a banquet. Upon their return, the new officers were appointed and the Old King passes on the white wand and drink toasts. After which, the minstrels would gather for the bull running. Before the Reformation the Minstrels received, after coming to Matins on that feast day, from the Prior of Tutbury:

“a Bull given…if they can take him on this side of the River Dove which is next to Tutbury; or else the Prior shall give them xld for the enjoyment of which custom they shall give to the Lord at the same feast day xxdg.”

This bull was then used for the running, after the Reformation, this bull was provided by the Duke of Devonshire. However, this was at a price, for if the bull ran into Derbyshire, a likely case considering Tutbury’s geographical location, the Duke retained it. The custom involved the minstrels gathering at the barn. The poor bull had: “… his horns are cut off, his ears cropt, his taile cut by the stumple; all his body smeared over with soap, and his nose blown full of beaten pepper.” This was apparently to make it as mad as possible! A solemn proclamation was made by the steward and the bull released:

“The bull being let loose, the steward proclaimed that none were to come nearer than forty feet, nor to hinder the minstrels, but all were to attend to their own safety. The minstrels were to capture the bull before sunset, and on that side of the river, “

To avoid the Duke regaining the bull it was allowed that a tuft of fur could be produced as evidence to the Market place. If the bull was collared and taken to the bull ring in the market it was baited with dogs first ‘alloted for the King, second for the honor of the town and last for the King of the Minstrels’ After which the minstrels could do what they wanted with the beast. Hundred years after Plots account the bull running had fallen into disrepute and had: “ultimately degenerated into a scene of wild debauchery, often resulting in a terrible riot.” Certainly by the late 1700s the writing was on the wall. A petition from the Court of Minstrels to the ducal owner of the manor in 1772 read:

“The Honourable and Antient court of the Minstrels, assembled at Tutbury 17 August 1772, to the Duke of Devonshire May it please Your grace. We the Jury of this court must humbly petition Your grace that the Writings concerned this court may be laid ope n before the King and Stewards of this Court, that we may understand our right. We apprehend we have a right to a piece of land called the Piper’s meadow, formerly ui n the hands of Pratt of Tutbury. now Thomas Tatler of Etwel, who lets kit to Samuel Salt of Rolston. This rent has been publically demanded at the castle but without any redress……Most gracious Duke, we cannot maintain the rights of straining for these misdemeanours of the Minstrels of Staffordshire, Derbyshire., Leicestershire and Warwickshire without the protection of your Grace…..It hath therefore been concluded and believed that Derbyshire stands to the conclusion that without the rent of the said Piper’s meadow to be paid to the King of the Minstrels, the said Jurors do not appear….and in consequence must be in a short time be a want of a Bull Running”

Thus it was clear that without the Duke provided the remedy the custom would decay and indeed it did. For unlike, Stamford’s Bull Run, the abolishing of the custom in 1778 was due more to the rowdy nature of the crowds in this sleepy town than any care for the animal’s welfare. It was finally abolished although the minstrels did meet a few years after this the custom had lost its star attraction and died off. Now Tutbury is quiet on the days around the feast of the Assumption bar some curious tourist visiting its wonderful castle….having thought about a Court which keeps musicians in order…perhaps now this is even more needed to keep our wanton pop stars in order!!

STOP PRESS: Drama re-enactment of the Stamford Bull Run Looks like someone read my notice about acting out the run and this year at the town’s inaugural Georgian festival there is a drama re-enactment of this most famed Bull Run. The date is 28th September 2013 at three. Details from their website.. image


Customs demised: The Stamford Bull Run


“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?