British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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Nov. 13.]                     ST. brick's DAY.                                 421
Nov. 13.]                  ST. BRICE'S DAY.
TJte Stamford Bull Running.From time immemorial down to a late period this day was annually celebrated at the town of Stamford, in Lincolnshire, by a rough sport called bull-running. Butcher, in his Survey of Stamford (1717, pp. 76, 77), alluding to this custom, says:—" The butchers of the town at their own charge provide the bull, and place him over­night in a stable or barn belonging to the alderman. The next morning proclamation is made by the common bell-man of the town that each one shut up his shop-door and gate, and that none, upon pain of imprisonment, do any violence to strangers, for the preventing whereof (the town being a thoroughfare and then being in Term time) a guard is appointed for the passing of travellers through the same without hurt. That none have any iron upon their bull-clubs or other staff which they pursue the bull with. Which proclamation made, and all the gates shut up, the bull is turned out of the alderman's house, and the men, women, and children, with all the dogs in the town, run after him, &c."
According to tradition the origin of the custom dates from the time of King John, when, one day, William, Earl of Warren, standing on the battlements of the castle, saw two bulls fighting in the meadow beneath. Some butchers, coming to part the combatants, one of the bulls ran into the town, causing a great uproar. The earl, mounting his horse, rode after the animal, and enjoyed the sport so much that he gave the meadow in which the fight began to the butchers of Stamford, on condition that they should provide a bull, to be run in the town annually, on the 13th of November, for ever after.
There is no documentary evidence on the subject, but the town of Stamford undoubtedly holds certain common rights in the meadow specified, which is still termed the bull-meadow.—See Book of Days, vol. ii. p. 574.
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