Sunday, 1 May 2016

"I had been bull ward in the bull ring, and once kept one of the gamest bulls in the country,” bull baiting on Chorlton Green

Now every so often you come across accounts of the bull baiting that went on in the township.  

The Bowling Green late 19th century
The stories usually appear on a slow week in one of the local newspapers and are nothing more than a reworking of one of the articles by the historian Thomas Ellwood.

Mr Ellwood wrote twenty-six articles during 1885 and 1886 and these were printed in the South Manchester Gazette.

Part of the value of them is that they drew on the memories of people who had grown up at the beginning of the 19th century and who could recall conversations from the generations before who had lived here during the late 18th century.

So building on Mr Ellwood and avoiding the easy route of plagiarism I dug deep into newspaper reports, census returns and the directories which provided confirmation of what went on in the township on the green over 200 years ago.

"Bull baiting was where bull was pitted against dog in a ring hemmed in by spectators. Our bull ring was situated in the centre of the village green.   The bull was fastened to a chain, about twenty yards long, which allowed him enough space to fight.

The dog’s tactic was to try and seize the bull by its nose but if the bull was well practised at the business, he would endeavour to get the dog on his horns, throw him high into the air and the fall would break his neck or back, but to avoid this, the dogs friends were ready to catch him, so as to break the force of his fall.  Eye witnesses often recalled seeing dead dogs which had been killed during the contest left in the ditches and hedge-rows.

The Horse & Jockey early 20th century
If the bull was slow or just not that good, the dog would not only seize him by the nose, but would hold on till the bull stood still, which was termed “Pinning the Bull”. I suppose to give the bull a chance only one dog was allowed in the ring at a time.

Contests were usually staged during the village wakes, and also at Easter and Whit Week.  Naturally the main sponsors for such events were the landlords of the Bowling Green and Horse and Jockey who had the most to gain from a gang of excited spectators outside their pubs.  

Not that they were alone in profiteering from the event.  The owner of the dog which successfully “Pinned the Bull” was awarded a prize and no doubt some went away the richer having bet on the winner.

There were those in the 1840s who could still remember the notable contests and spoke of the victorious bulls like “Young Fury”, son of “Old Fury” who was regularly brought and baited and the “bull men” like Edward Simmer, commonly known as “Ned” who afterwards was converted to a religious life, and finally became a Methodist local preacher.  

The Bowling Green late 19th century
Or John Cookson who at the inquest of Francis Deakin in 1847 had boasted that he “had been bull ward in the bull ring, and once kept one of the gamest bulls in the country.”  

But its popularity was on the wane and for some years it had all but died out before being revived by a butcher called James Moores, from Deansgate in Manchester.  Not that its revival was greeted by everyone.

There were those who had good reason to regret the appearance of James Moores and his bulls because as he travelled south from the city he brought hundreds “of men of the very lowest character to witness the proceedings.  

The sport, if that is what we can call it suffered another blow when Samuel Wilton enclosed the green in 1818 turning it into his garden."*


Pictures; The Bowling Green seen from the east from the collection of Tony Walker and the southern side of the Hotel from Alan Brown's collection, both from the late 19th century and the Horse & Jockey from the Lloyd collection early 20th century

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