Social Life in Queen Anne's Reign, Volume I.

Ashton, John


CHAPTER XXII: Rough Sports"

CHAPTER XXII: Rough Sports"


BUT all amusements at this time were not so innocent as the foregoing: there were fiercer and more blood-stirring excitements for the men. Take bear and bull baiting. The former was dying out, and was no longer as popular as it was during the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I.

[1]  Why do your dogs bark so ? be there bears i' the town ? I think there are, Sir; I have heard them talked of. I love the sport well; but I shall as soon quarrel at it as any man in England. You are afraid, if you see the bear loose, are you not? Ay, indeed, Sir. That's meat and drink to me now : I have seen Sakerson [2]  loose twenty times, and have taken him by the chain; but, I warrant you, the women have so cried and shriek'd at it, that it pass'd; but women, indeed, cannot abide 'em; they are very ill-favoured rough things.

We learn something of a bear-baiting from Hudibras.

And round about the pole does make A circle, like a bear at stake, That at the chain's end wheels about, And overturns the rabble rout. For after solemn proclamation In the bear's name, as is the fashion, According to the law of arms, To keep men from inglorious harms, That none presume to come so near As forty feet of stake of bear;

If any yet be so fool hardy, T' expose themselves to vain jeopardy, If they come wounded off, and lame, No honour's got by such a maim.

Indeed, in , Christopher Preston, of Hockley-in-the- Hole, was attacked and partially devoured by one of his own bears. His funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. Pead, then incumbent of , Clerkenwell.

The animals destined for combat were paraded through the streets, as we learn from ( 'Trivia,' Book 2).

Experienc'd Men, inur'd to City Ways, Need not the Calendar to count their Days. When through the Town, with slow and solemn Air, Led by the Nostril walks the muzzled Bear; Behind him moves majestically dull, The Pride of Hockley Hole, the surly Bull; Learn hence the Periods of the Week to name. Mondays and Thursdays are the Days of Game.

That these places of so-called sport were disorderly need not be said; indeed, to 'make a place a bear-garden' is proverbial. The rough element wanted some safe outlet for its energy, and found it in such exhibitions. Nor must we be too hasty to decry them when we recollect that it was only in that it absolutely became illegal to keep any house, pit, or other place for baiting or fighting any bull, bear, dog, or other animal. We have our dog-fights now-- prize-fighting is not yet extinct, many a quiet main of cocks is fought, many a rat-pit exists, and badger-drawing is not altogether an unknown thing.

There were three bear-gardens-at Hockley-in-the-Hole (Clerkenwell), at Marrybone Fields (at the back of Soho Square), and at Tuttle (Tothill) Fields, , and at all these baiting was carried on. Of the latter we find an advertisement promising plenty of sport: [3] 

' At William Wells's Bear Garden, in Tuttle Fields, , this present Monday the 10th of April, will be a Green Bull Baited; and 20 Doggs fights for a Coller, and that Dogg that runs farthest and fairest wins the Coller; with other Diversion of Bull Baiting and Bear Baiting.'

'Here follows the Manner of those Bull Baitings which are so much talk'd of: They tie a Rope to the Root of the Horns of the Ox or Bull, and fasten the other End of the Cord to an Iron Ring fix'd to a Stake driven into the Ground; so that this Cord being about 15 Foot long, the Bull is confin'd to a Sphere of about 30 Foot Diameter. Several Butchers, or other Gentlemen, that are desirous to exercise their Dogs,[4]  stand round about, each holding his own by the Ears; and when the Sport begins, they let loose one of the Dogs: The Dog runs at the Bull: the Bull immovable, looks down upon the Dog with an Eye of Scorn, and only turns a Horn to him to hinder him from coming near: The Dog is not daunted at this, he runs round him, and tries to get beneath his Belly, in order to seize him by the Muzzle, or the Dewlap, or the pendant Glands: The Bull then puts himself into a Posture of Defence; he beats the Ground with his Feet, which he joins together as close as possible, and his chief Aim is not to gore the Dog with the Point of his Horn,[5]  but to slide one of them under the Dog's Belly (who creeps close to the Ground to hinder it) and to throw him so high in the Air that he may break his Neck in the Fall. This often happens: When the Dog thinks he is sure of fixing his Teeth, a Turn of the Horn, which seems to be done with all the Negligence in the World, gives him a Sprawl thirty Foot high, and puts him in danger of a damnable Squelch when he comes down. This Danger would be unavoidable, if the Dog's Friends were not ready beneath him, some with their Backs to give him a soft Reception, and others with long Poles which they offer him slant ways, to the Intent that, sliding down them, it may break the Force of his Fall. Notwithstanding all this care, a Toss generally makes him sing to a very scurvy Tune, and draw his Phiz into a pitiful Grimace: But, unless he is totally stunn'd with the Fall, he is sure to crawl again towards the Bull, with his old Antipathy, come on't what will. Sometimes a second Frisk into the Air disables him for ever from playing his old Tricks; But, sometimes, too, he fastens upon


his Enemy, and when once he has seiz'd him with his Eye teeth, he sticks to him like a Leech, and would sooner die than leave his Hold. Then the Bull bellows, and bounds, and Kicks about to shake off the Dog; by his Leaping the Dog seems to be no Manner of Weight to him, tho' in all Appearance he puts him to great Pain. In the End, either the Dog tears out the Piece he has laid Hold on, and falls, or else remains fix'd to him, with an Obstinacy that would never end, if they did not pull him off. To call him away would be in vain; to give him a hundred blows would be as much so; you might cut him to Pieces Joint by Joint before he would let him loose. What is to be done then ? While some hold the Bull, others thrust Staves into the Dog's Mouth, and open it by main Force. This is the only Way to part them.' [6] 

This, however, was not always the case. Look at the other side :-

Curs'd dog, the bull reply'd, no more I wonder at thy thirst of gore; For thou (beneath a butcher train'd, Whose hands with cruelty are stain'd, His daily murders in thy view) Must, like thy tutor, blood pursue. Take then thy fate. With goring wound At once he lifts him from the ground: Aloft the sprawling hero flies, Mangled he falls, he howls, and dies.

Here is a refinement of cruelty: 'At the Bear Garden in Hockley in the Hole, 171O. This is to give notice to all Gentlemen, Gamsters, and Others, That on this present Monday is a Match to be fought by two Dogs, one from Newgate Market, against one of Honey Lane Market, at a Bull, for a Guinea to be spent. Five Let goes out off Hand, which goes fairest and farthest in Wins all; like wise a Green Bull to be baited, which was never baited before, and a Bull to be turned lose with Fire works all over him; also a Mad Ass to be baited; With variety of Bull baiting and Bear baiting; and a Dog to be drawn up with Fire works.' [8]  These novelties took, for a subsequent


advertisement tells us that 'The Famous Bull of Fire works pleased the Gentry to Admiration.' Indeed, it must have been popular, for in an advertisement of the , Jan. 3/5, (), we find: 'This Day is published The Bull Baiting, or Sach---ll [9]  dressed up in Fire works; lately brought over from the Bear Garden in Southwark, and exposed for the Diversion of the Citizens of London: at 6d. a piece.' This book, however, is very dreary fun.

But bears and bulls, though baited, were never allowed to be killed by their adversaries, which, however, was not the case with cock-fighting, a pastime passionately indulged in in this reign. There were many cock-pits-one historical one, the Council Chamber at , where in Guiscard stabbed Harley with his penknife, and which went by the name of the Cockpit certainly till . There was 'The Royal Cock Pit on the South Side of St. James Park,' where mains used to be fought for such prizes as '4 Guineas a Battel and 40 the odd Battel.' And there was a famous one near Gray's Inn Walks, or Gardens, where dear Sir Roger walked with the , and which describes as 'The Lawyer's Garden of Contemplation, where I found (it being early in the Morning) none but a parcel of Superannuated Debauchees, huddled up in Cloaks, Frize Coats and Wadded Gowns, to preserve their old Carcases from the searching sharpness of Hampstead Hair.' There had been one there previous to , when we find 'At the New Cock pit at the Bowling Green, behind Grays Inn Walks, this present Tuesday being the 28th of March, will begin a great Match of Cock fighting, for Ten Guineas a Battle, and Two Hundred Guineas the odd Battle, between the Gentlemen of and Cambridgeshire, against the Gentlemen of London and Surry.' In it was to let, and in it was burnt down under sad circumstances. 'There had been a great Match fought on Saturday, and the Weather being hard, two of the Feeders, Crompton and Day, would stay all Night with their Cocks; when by Negligence their Candle fell among the Straw, which took Fire. In the Morning one Mr. Newberry, a great Cocker, sent his two Sons to see his


Cocks fed, who wonder'd they saw no Snow upon the Cock pit; when coming thither they saw a great Smoak, and before they cou'd make any Body hear, the place was all on Fire. One of the feeders was found burnt, only some part of his Body remaining, and the other is missing.' [10]  It was repaired and re-opened , but was again to be re-let in . There were many others, even extending to the suburbs, such as .

's description of them is amusing, but it would hardly appear from it that he ever witnessed a fight. ' Cock fighting is one of the great English Diversions; they build Amphitheatres for this Purpose, and Persons of Quality sometimes appear at them. Great Wagers are laid; but I'm told, that a Man may be damnably bubbled, if he is not very sharp.'

County matches used to be arranged; but for a spice of arrogance little can beat this: 'At the New Cock Pit by the Bowling Green behind Gray's Inn Walks, next Tuesday, will begin a great Match of Cock Fighting which will continue all the Week; the Gentlemen of against all the rest of Great Britain, for 10 Guineas a Battle and 500 Guineas the Odd Battle.' These were the highest stakes ever publicly advertised in Queen Anne's reign, whatever might have been done at private matches-as, for instance, in the Tatler's Club (, 132), Sir Jeoffrey Notch, their chairman, would talk about his favourite old game-cock Gauntlett, 'upon whose head, the Knight, in his youth, had won five hundred pounds, and lost two Thousand.'

The cocks sometimes fought in silver spurs, but generally with steel ones, and of these there were several kinds. 'Note that on Wednesday there will be a single battle fought with Sickles, after the East India manner. And on Thursday there will be a Battle Royal, one Cock with a Sickle, and 4 Cocks with fair Spurs. On Friday there will be a pair of Shake bags fight for 5£. And on Saturday there will be a Battle Royal, between a Shakebag with fair Spurs, and 4 Matchable Cocks which are to fight with Sickles, Launcet Spurs, and Penknife Spurs, the like never yet seen. For the Entertainment of the foreign Ambassadors and Gentlemen.'

Cock-fighting even had a literature of its own. In was published ' The Royal Pastime of Cock fighting &c. by R. H. a Lover of the Sport' ; and in the same year was printed another edition of 'The Compleat Gamesters, by C. Cotton,' in which are full directions as to the breeding, feeding, and fighting of cocks. As so little is now known of this cruel sport, a few short extracts from this latter work will make us more thoroughly comprehend it as it was then practised.

In shape, the cock must be neither too large nor too small; with a small head and strong legs; his spurs, though long and sharp, turning slightly inwards. He should walk very upright and stately; and if he crows frequently in his pen it is a sign of courage. The combs or wattles are to be cut as soon as they appear; and the cock chickens are to be separated as soon as they begin to peck each other. Fighting cocks should not begin their career as such until they are two years old; and before a battle they should be dieted-i.e. for four days they should be fed with stale bread three times a day; after which they may have a spar, or sham fight, with another cock, their spurs being carefully guarded with leather balls. They must then be stoved, which meant putting them in deep baskets filled with straw, covering them with straw and shutting down the lids; but before undergoing this ' sudatorium' they were to be fed with sugar candy, chopped rosemary, and butter. In the evening the cock was released, and fed with wheat meal and oatmeal, ale, white of eggs, and butter. 'The second day after his sparring, take your Cock into a fair green Close, and having a Dunghill Cock in your arms, show it him, and then run from him, that thereby you may entice him to follow, you permitting him to have now and then a blow; when he begins to pant, being well heated, take him up and carry him home.' He was then to have a dose of pounded leaves of herb of grace, hyssop, and rosemary, mixed with butter, and then stoved till the evening. Next day he was to rest, and the day after to be sparred, which treatment was to be continued for a fortnight; but for the next month, by which time he was to be fit for fighting, he was merely to be fed and stoved. He was not to be fed before fighting.


[1] Merry Wives of Windsor, Act I. sc. I.

[2] This bear belonged to Henslow and Alleyn, proprietors of Paris Garden, near the Globe Theatre, Bankside.

[3] Harl. MSS. 5931, 282.

[4] These dogs were only a moderate size.

[5] If too sharp, the bull's horns were covered with wooden sheaths.

[6] Misson.

[8] Harl. MSS. 5931, 46.

[9] Sacheverell.

[10] A Looking-glass for Swearers, etc., 1708.