British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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440
ST. THOMAS' DAY.
[Dec. 21.
Wokingham so lately as 1821. In 1822, upon the passing of the Act against cruelty to animals, the corporation resolved on abolishing the custom. The alderman (as the chief magistrate is called there) went with his officers in pro­cession, and solemnly pulled up the bull-ring, which had from time immemorial been fixed in the market-place. The bull-baiting at Wokingham was regarded with no ordinary attachment by the inhabitants; for, besides the love of sport, it was here connected with something more solid, viz., the Christmas dinner. In 1661, George Staverton gave by will, out of his Staines house, after the death of his wife, 4Z. to buy a bull for the use of the poor of Wokingham parish, to be increased to Gl. after the death of his wife and her daughter, the bull to be baited, and then cut up, " one poor's piece not exceeding another's in bigness." Great was the wrath of the populace in 1822 at the loss, not of the beef—for the corporation duly distributed the meat—but of ihe baiting. They vented their rage for successive years in occasional breaches of the peace. They found out, often informed by the sympathising farmer or butcher, where the devoted animal was domiciled; proceeded at night to liberate him from stall or meadow, and to chase him across the country with all the noisy accompaniments imaginable. So long was this feeling kept alive that, thirteen years afterwards, viz., in 1835, the mob broke into the place where one of the two animals to be divided was abiding and baited him, in defiance of the authorities, in the market-place; one en­thusiastic individual, tradition relates, actually lying on the ground and seizing the miserable brute by the nostril with his own teeth. This was not to be endured, and a sentence of imprisonment in Reading Gaol cooled the ardour of the ringleaders, and gave the coup de grace to the sport. The bequest of Staverton now yields an income of 20?., and has for several years been appropriated to the purchase of two bulls. The flesh is divided and distributed annually on St. Thomas's Day by the alderman, churchwardens, and overseers, to nearly every poor family (between 200 and 300), without regard to their receiving parochial relief. The produce of the offal and hide is laid out in the purchase of shoes and stockings for the poor women and children.
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