The most celebrated British bullring was Paris Garden in Southwark, located in proximity to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. Two baiting rings were erected behind it to accommodate 1,000 paying spectators. This was first-class entertainment of the Tudor era with shows every Thursday and Sunday. In 1591, stage plays were banned on Thursdays in Southwark, as well as in the rest of London, because they clashed with baiting at Paris Garden. In spite of its notoriety, many Londoners were offended by this form of entertainment, and considered it divine justice when eight spectators were killed after the stands collapsed during a Sunday performance in the late 16th century.
2.2.1. Not for the faint heart
This subchapter deals with the details of the bull baiting show. The main goal of the competition was gripping the tender part of a bull’s face, throwing the or using takedowns. James Watson mentioned that the bravest dogs were the small ones which would often accomplish pinning a bull by the nose. In venues, regardless of their size, a bull was tethered to a stake by a rope 15 yards long attached to his horns. Each dog’s owner paid six pence to five shillings for a run at the bull. Bullots, dog owners and spectators betted on preferred dogs or bulls. When a dog was released, it often aimed for the bull’s head, which ended in a disaster. An inexperienced bull lowered their head, intending to impale the dog, but instead the move provided the best opportunity for the dog to attack and win.
A skilled bull preferred using defensive moves. At the opportune moment, the bull lowered his head, kept his legs close together to prevent the dog from moving hastily between them, and charged. Rather than trying to gore the dog , the bull would slip a horn underneath the dog and toss it. In order to save their dogs, owners tried to catch the animal that was thrown by the bull or break their fall. This provided almost as much entertainment as the main event, as revealed in art and literature of the era, such as an untitled 1830 poem authored by British poet and humorist Thomas Hood.
Uninjured dogs were expected to try again. Also, even the tossed dogs willingly returned to the fight. If the bull surrendered while it was pinned, the dog’s jaws were pried apart, and at best, both combatants were relatively intact. The frantic bull would snap his rope and rush towards the audience. This unexpected surprise also contributed to the entertainment effect of the show. Diarist John Evelyn (1620 to 1706) of Surrey, England, memorialized his visit to Paris Garden in 1670. He states that he witnessed a dog tossed to a considerable height into a lady’s lap. He characterized bull baiting as a dirty, barbaric pastime.
By the 17th century, in order to provide public safety, bull baiting shows took place in suburbs rather than town centres. Written sources point to the decrease in popularity of this form on entertainment due to the difficulty of procuring bulls for baiting, and merchants’ reluctance to promote these shows. However, legal effort to subdue the activity did not begin until the 19th century. Moreover, the sport was in need of funding and private sources may have refused to do so. As a result, the accessibility as a public event diminished and ironically, bull-baiting fans may have influenced its demise.
The prohibition of the sport can be linked to the article published in the Courier which described a bull baiting at Bonsall Wakes in 1834 and stirred up many negative perspectives. In the article, it is mentioned that a clergyman purchased the animal’s release at the price of a guinea. During the event, windows and furniture were destroyed and around 5 fights took place simultaneously. The article also teases the lower class because bull baiting was their favourite form of entertainment. Social disapproval restricted bull baiting to some point, but bills to prohibit it were defeated in 1800 and 1802. Croxton Smith writes that one of the reasons it resisted in the House of Commons is because the sport encourages manly, courageous attitudes to the masses.
2.2.3. Bulldogs after the end of bull baiting
Although the Bulldog had a utilitarian design, by the 19th century, breeding had evolved into an art and the concept of ideal type became an equally imperative goal. After the enforced demise of bull baiting in 1835, the pure bred became more and more rare. The cessation of bull baiting, besides defending animals’ rights, also meant the creation of the modern dog show. Bulldog breeders began holding informal meetings and contests in the back rooms of pubs; they were the precursors of modern dog shows. Although the Bulldog was created for an obsolete pastime, their unceasing popularity surpassed their gruesome role. Nowadays, they are the true definition of beloved pets.