Thame Local History
Bull Baiting and Cock Fighting in Thame
Bull baiting and cock fighting were popular sports in rural England before the Victorian age.
We may view them as barbaric pastimes today, but our forefathers clearly didn’t.
There is evidence furthermore that bull baiting in seventeenth century Thame was not seen as simply a sport but considered a necessary part of the butchering trade.
The View of Frankpledge, a seventeenth century local court record, features many instances of Thame traders being fined for such offences as ‘killing a bull unbaited’.
In 1656 the local court ordered that Thame’s market cross should be properly equipped with the following :
a pillory (for human punishment):
a tumbrill (a two wheeled cart);
a bushel (an eight gallon container used as a standard measure of volume for corn and other commodities):
a collar and rope for bull baiting;
The perceived purpose of bull baiting seems to have been to tenderise the meat. It is curious that it was a compulsory part of bull butchery, indicating that meat from ‘unbaited’ bulls was considered suspect.
The bull would be tied with the collar and rope and tormented with ferocious dogs, which alas is the original reason for breeding bulldogs. The baiting itself was a public spectacle and in those less gentile times considered good sport.
Once dead, the animal would be removed to the nearby Shambles (alongside the Birdcage) for butchery.
There is reference in ‘Popular Recreations in English Society 1700-1850’ (CUP, 1973) by Robert W Malcolmson to the demise of bull baiting in Thame. He notes that the practice continued into the 1820’s, but as a sport and not as a part of butchery.
The last recorded incident of bull baiting in Thame is in 1826, when the perpetrators were fined, since it was banned locally. Bull baiting in public was finally outlawed by the Humane Act of 1835, at which point the breeding of bulldogs became the more noble pastime it is today.
Malcolmson goes on to quote from Jacksons Oxford Journal for 21st October 1837 which states that Thame was no longer ‘the scene of that brutality that once cast a blemish over its inhabitants’ and curiously that the town had instead ‘a really good and efficient band of music parading the town’.
Within a stone’s throw of the ancient market cross, scene of such brutality and now gone, stood the Fighting Cocks public house, now part of Woolworths. The metal bracket that held the sign is still there above the entrance to Woolworths.
The Fighting Cocks was open from 1749 until 1962. Cock fighting was prohibited in 1849, but it is likely that it took place on or near the premises of the Fighting Cocks at the end of the eighteenth century and the start of the nineteenth.
If anyone has any more information on the practice of bull baiting, and why it was a part of bull butchery, or on the practice of cock fighting in Thame, please contact us at feedack@Thamehistory.net.
BBC Education factsheet on bull baiting
Andrew Wagner notes on bull baiting (references to Thame)
More information on bull baiting
Thame Inns Discovered (for Fighting Cocks)