The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4

Allen, Thomas


The Bear Garden, 1660.



In the reign of Henry VIII. the , , afterwards the site of several theatres, particularly of the Globe, where most of Shakespeare's plays were produced, was a thinly-built district, the resort of the idle and the dissipated, who repaired thither to indulge in the amusements of hull-baiting, bear-baiting, and various other sports which were there carried on, particularly in the space between St. Mary Overy's (now and Paris-garden, a hamlet nearly opposite Blackfriar's, whence there was a ferry across the Thames. Skelton, a poet of the time of Henry VIII. has the following curious lines upon these diversions:

What follie is this to keep with danger

A great mastive dog and fowle ouglie bear!

And to this end, to see them two fight,

With terrible tearings, a ful ouglie sight.

And yet, methinkes, those men are most fools of al,

Whose store of money is but very smal,

And yet, every Sunday, they wil surely spend

One penny or two, the bear-ward's living to mend.

At Paris Garden, each Sunday, a man shal not fail

To find two or three hundred for the bear-ward's vail;

One halfpeny apiece they use for to give

When some have no more in their purses, I believe.

Wel, at the last day their conscience will declare

That the poor ought to have all they may have to spare;

If you, therefore, it give to see a bear fight,

Be sure God his curse upon you will.light.

The annexed engraving, representing the scene of these sports, has been copied, with scrupulous accuracy, from an early plan of the manor of Paris-garden, in the possession of W. Bray, esq. F. S. A.


On closely inspecting the engraving, it will be seen that combats are represented as taking place in the interior of the edifice. The bulls and bears are displayed below, ranged opposite to each other in rows. enclosures betwixt them are pools of water, in which the animals were washed; and the oblong slips to the left are old pike ponds: Pye or Pike-gardens still exist.

Whether these

rough games,

as a certain author terms them, were then exhibited in the same or similar amphitheatres, to those afterwards engraved in our old plans, or in the open air, the extract does not inform us; nor does Stow's account afford any better idea. He merely tells us, that there were on the west bank


bear gardens, the old and the new; places wherein were kept beares, bulls, and other beasts to be bayted; as also mastives in several kenels, nourished to hayt them. These beares and other beasts,

he adds,

are there kept in plots of ground scaffolded about for the beholders to stand safe.

In Aggas's plan, taken , and the plan of Braun made about the same time, these plots of ground are engraved, with the addition of for the accommodation of the spectators, bearing the names of the

Bowlle Baytyng and the Beare Baytinge.

In both plans the buildings appear to be completely circular, and were evidently intended as humble imitations of the ancient Roman amphitheatre. They stood in adjoining fields, separated only by a small strip of land; but some differences are observable in the spots on which they are built.

In Aggas's plan, which is the earliest, the disjoining slip of land contains only large pond, common to the places of exhibition; but in Braun this appears divided into ponds, besides a similar conveniency near each theatre. The use of these pieces of water is very well explained in Brown's Travels (), who has given a plate of the

Elector of Saxony his beare garden at Dresden,

in which is a large pond, with several bears amusing themselves in it, his account of which is highly curious:

In the hunting-house in the old town,

says he,



bears, very well provided for and looked unto. They have fountains and ponds to wash themselves in, wherein they much delight: and near to the pond are high ragged posts or trees set up for the bears to climb up, and scaffolds made at the top to sun and dry themselves; where they will also sleep, and come and go as the keeper calls them.

The ponds and dog-kennels for the bears on the are clearly marked in the plans alluded to; and the construction of the


amphitheatres themselves may be tolerably well conceived, notwithstanding the smallness of the scale on which they are drawn. They evidently consisted, withinside, of a lower tier of circular seats for the spectators, at the back of which a sort of screen ran all round, in part open, so as to admit a view from without, evident in Braun's delineation, by the figures who are looking through on the outside. The buildings are unroofed, and in both plans shewn during the time of performance, which in Aggas's view is announced by the display of little flags or streamers on the top. The dogs are tied up in slips near each ready for the sport, and the combatants actually engaged in Braun's plan. little houses for retirement are at the head of each theatre.

The rage for bear-baiting prevailed in the century among all orders of people. It was of the diversions queen Elizabeth partook of during her visit to Kenilworth, in , and the French ambassador was entertained by her with an exhibition of the kind at the Hope, on . An example thus set by royalty, soon spread through every rank, and bear and bull baiting became general amusements in England. Shakespeare has alluded to these sports in many places, and they equally attracted the notice of foreign and domestic historians. Hentzner, a German traveller in England, whose Itinerary was printed in , was a spectator of these exhibitions, which he thus circumstantially describes. Speaking of the theatres, he says:--

There is still another place built in the form of a theatre, which serves for the baiting of bulls and bears; they are fastened behind, and then worried by great English bull-dogs, but not without great risk to the dogs, from the horns of the


and the teeth of the other; and it sometimes happens that they are killed on the spot, but fresh ones are immediately supplied.

He adds an account of a still more inhuman practice, that of whipping a blind bear to death, with which we shall not disgust our readers.

Stow, speaking of these amphitheatres, says, they were appropriated for the keeping of

bears, bulls, and other beasts, to be baited

; and also mastives, in their several kennels, were there nourished to bait them. These beasts were kept in plots of ground, scaffolded about, for the beholders to stand safe. But though such precautions were used, a terrible accident happened here on Sunday, , by the fall of a scaffold, which had been overloaded. The fanatical writers of the time, forgetting the passage of Scripture touching

those on whom the tower in Siloah fell,

represented this disaster as a judgment from heaven, because the exhibition took place on a Sunday, which was a day particularly set apart for the sport. Amongst the rest, Prynne, in his , p. , fol. gives the following account, but his description is probably greatly overcharged:

Upon the

13th January

, anno


, being the Lord's day, an infinite number of people, men, women, and children, resorted

unto Paris-garden to see beare-bayting, playes, and other pastimes; and being altogether mounted aloft upon these scaffolds and galleries, and in the middest of all their jollity and pastime, all the whole building (not


sticke so much as standing) fell down miraculously to the ground, with much horror and confusion. In the fall of it


men and


women were slain outright, and above

one hundred and fifty

persons more sore wounded and bruised, whereof many died shortly after; some of them having their braines dashed out, some their heads all to quasht, some their legges broken, some their armes, some their backes, some


hurt, some another; there being nothing heard there but wofull shreekes and cryes, which did even pierce the skies; children bewailing there the death and hurts of their parents, parents of their children, wives of their husbands; and husbands of their wives; so that every--way, from foure of the clocke in the afternoone till


at night, especially over London-bridge, many were carried in chaires, and led betwixt their friends, and so brought to their houses with sorrowful heavy hearts, like lame cripples. A just, though terrible judgment of God, upon these play-haunters and prophaners of his holy day.

The puritans, as observed above, strenuously maintained that this incident was a visitation of Providence; and the lord mayor for that year (sir Thomas Blanke) wrote to the lord treasurer,

that it gave great reason to acknowledge the hand of God for breach of the Lord's day,

and therefore begged he would exert himself to suppress the diversions. The accident, however, was forgotten, and the sports carried on as usual; for Stow says, that in his time the bear-gardens on , for the baiting of bulls and bears, were still much frequented.

In the reign of James I. the

Bear-garden was under the protection of royalty, and the mastership of it made a patent place. The celebrated actor Alleyn enjoyed this lucrative post, as keeper of the king's wild beasts, or master of the royal bear-garden, situated on the


, in



The profits of this place are said by his biographer to have been immense, sometimes amounting to a year; and well account for the great fortune he raised. A little before his death he sold his share and patent to his wife's father, Mr. Hinchtoe, for

We have a good account of the


in the reign of Charles II. by Mons. Jorevin, a foreigner, whose observations on his country were published in , and who has given us the following curious detail of a visit he paid to it:

We went to see the Bergiardin, by Sodoark,

Bear-garden, Southwark.

which is a great am hitheatre, where combatsare fought between all sorts of animals, and sometimes men, as we once saw. Commonly, when any fencing masters are desirous of showing their courage and their great

skill, they issue mutual challenges; and, before they engage, parade the town with drums and trumpets sounding, to inform the public there is a challenge between


brave masters of the science of defence, and that the battle will be fought on such a day. We went to see this combat, which was performed on a stage in the middle of this amphitheatre, where, on the flourishes of trumpets and the beat of drums, the combatants entered, stripped to their shirts. On a signal from the drum they drew their swords, a immediately began the fight, skirmishing a long time without any wounds. They were both very skilful and courageous. The tallest had the advantage over the least: for, according to the English fashion of fencing, they endeavoured rather to cut than push in the French manner, so that by his height he had the advantage of being able to strike his antagonist on the head, against which the little


was on his guard. He had in his turn an advantage over the great


in being able to give him the Jarnac stroke, by cutting him on his right ham, which he left in a manner quite unguarded: so that, all things considered, they were equally matched. Nevertheless, the tall


struck his antagonist on the wrist, which he almost cut off; but this did not prevent him from continuing the fight, after he had been dressed and taken a glass or


of wine to give him courage, when he took ample vengeance for his wound for, a little afterwards, making a feint at the ham, the tall man, stooping in order to parry it, laid his whole head open, when the little


gave him a stroke, which took off a slice of his head and almost all his ear. For my part, I think there is an inhumanity, a barbarity, and cruelty, in permitting men to kill each other for diversion. The surgeons immediately dressed them and bound up their wounds; which being done they resumed the combat, and both being sensible of their respective disadvantages, they therefore were a long time without giving or receiving a wound, which was the cause that the little


, failing to parry so exactly, being tired with this long battle, received a stroke on his wounded wrist, which dividing the sinews, he remained vanquished, and the tall conqueror received the applause of the spectators. For my part, I should have had more pleasure in seeing the battle of the bears and dogs, which was fought the following day on the same theatre.

It does not appear at what time the bear-baiting was destroyed, but it was probably not long after the above period. Strype, in is edition of Stow, published , speaking of on this spot, says,

Here is a glass-house, and about the midd a new-built court, well inhabited, called Bear-garden-square so called, as being built in the place where the Bear-garden formerly stood, until removed to the other side of the water; which is more convenient for the butchers and such like, who are taken with such rustic sports as the baiting of bears and bulls.

The theatre was evidently destroyed to build this their new court.


[] Re-published in the Antiquarian Reportory, ed. 1806, under the title of A Description of England and Ireland in the 17th century, by Mons. Jorevin, vol. iv. p. 549.

[] Lond. Illutrat,

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 Title Page
CHAPTER I: Site, local divisions, and government of the City of Westminster; history of the Abbey; Coronation Ceremonies; and lists of the Abbots and Deans
CHAPTER II: Westminster Abbey, and Description of the Tombs and Monuments
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of St. Margaret's Parish
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of St. John's Parish, Westminster
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of the parish of St. Martin's in the Fields, Westminster
CHAPTER VI: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. James, Westminster
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Anne, Westminster
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Mary-le-strand
CHAPTER X: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. Clement Danes
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of the parish of st. George, Hanover Square
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of the Precinct of the Savoy
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of the Inns of Court
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of the Precincts of the Charter-house and Ely Place, and the Liberty of the Rolls
 CHAPTER XV: Historical Notices of the Borough of Southwark
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Olave, Southwark
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of the parish of St. John, Southwark
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Thomas, Southwark
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. George's, Southwark
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of St. Saviour's Parish
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of the parist of Christ-church in the County of Surrey
 CHAPTER XXII: A List of the Principal Books, &c that have been published in Illustration of the Antiquities, History, Topography, and other subjects treated of in this Work
 Addenda et Corrigienda