Bull Brow Blue Plaque
Bull Brow pre-1851
It’s believed that the name of this passage comes from cattle brought to the nearby slaughterhouses. This pathway led to the River Roch where bull-baiting was a regular attraction until the fatal event of November 8 1820, which marked the end of this savage pastime in Rochdale.
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makes me ask the question, what was the fatal event of November 8th 1820??
Part of the river bank collapsed and people died from memory. If my memory is correct!
Thank God this cruel and abhorrent sport no longer occurs in Rochdale.
The last bull bait is said to have taken place on 8th November 1820. In some Reminiscences which the late Alderman Edward Taylor wrote occurs the following:-
“My chief playroom was Mr. Joseph Heape’s warehouse (the site of the present London city and midland Bank), and it was from one of the windows there I saw the last bull bait. I saw the bull tied, and the dogs held out to attack it, when the immense pressure of the crowd pushed the wall down and ten persons were killed. This was the last bull bait in Rochdale. At that time the streets were level with the river.”
Baines in his history of Lancashire gives the date as 1819, and the killed as seven.
Hall Bank, 9th October 1907
Bull baiting was a very popular sport in Rochdale before the fatal accident of 1829, when the parapet of the bridge fell and many people were killed. Accounts of this bull bait disagree on the point of date. I would take as correct James Butterworth’s account in his Rochdale history (1823):-
“On the 8th November, 1920, the battlement of the Old Bridge was partially thrown down, by a great concourse of people who pressed to witness the old English amusement, Bull bait, which took place in the bed of the river, by which fatal accident eleven persons lost their lives.” A very similar record is given by Baines in 1836.”
The following contemporary account is quoted from the “Sporting Magazine,” into which it was copied from a provincial newspaper:-
Bull Baiting in Rochdale – on the termination of the fair annually held at Rochdale, a bull was baited for the amusement of a great number of persons whose tastes are as savage as their amusements are cruel. Accordingly, the animal was staked down about one o’clock, at the edge of the river, near the bridge. The radius of cord was about six yards, and the bull, in making the circle, was frequently three feet in water. The numbers collected on this occasion exceed credibility and the crowd in and near the bridge rendered it difficult to pass. The sides of the river also were thickly lined with spectators of every age, sex, and description, and many were seen near the bull up to their middle in water, leaping with ecstasy at the sport. At every revolution, which the bull made to disengage himself from the dogs, were seen people tumbling over each other in mud and water, up the knees; and the shouts of joy occasionally bursting forth could only be compared to the yells of savages. This sport continued about three hours, when, shocking to relate, a considerable portion of the parapet wall leading to the bridge gave way from the extreme pressure of the crowd, and five persons were killed on the spot, and four dying shortly afterwards made the number of those who lost their lives nine, besides a far greater number severely wounded. Many of the stones composing the parapet which gave way were a yard in length, and thick in proportion; they consequently fell with an overwhelming force, carrying the people with them on the crowd assembled below. One woman had both her thighs broken, a young man had his arm completely severed from his body, and numbers were wounded in a manner too shocking for description.
Another record of the event written thirty years ago or more, says:-
“I well remember the bull baiting at the time of the Rochdale Rushbearing, 1820. I was at Mr. Littlewoods’s school, and, though not present at the barbarous sport, yet the news of the catastrophe spread like wildfire, and thousands ran to the spot, myself among the number. One of the men who were killed was laid out to await the inquest at a small public-house, exactly opposite the Butts where the affair occurred. The public house still exists. I paid some small coin and went upstairs to see the body. My impression is that since that time no bull bait has been allowed at Rochdale. Allow me to say that I do not know any town where the improvement of men and manners since then is more striking than the good town of Rochdale.”
Mrs. Gaskell in her Life of Charlotte Bronte, speaking of the sports of the people in the West Riding, relates several particulars of the bull baits at Rochdale given her by a gentleman who remembered them. “The bull was fastened by a chain or rope to a post in the river. To increase the amount of water, as well as to give their workpeople the opportunity of savage delight, the masters were accustomed to stop their mills on the day when the sport took place. The butt would sometimes wheel suddenly round, so that the rope by which he was fastened swept those who had been careless enough to come within its range down into the water, and the good people of Rochdale had the excitement of seeing one or two of their neighbours drowned as well as of witnessing the bull baited, and the dogs torn and tossed.” W.
“Bull Brow” will find a description of the occurrence in an article of mine, “Vanishing New Wall,” which appeared in the “Observer” in August, 1906.
A Rochdale Bull Bait
Report in an old London newspaper
The last bull-bait in Rochdale on November 8th, 1820, when part of the river wall fell, in on record, but the following is interesting because it is a contemporary account and gives the scene in more detailed form. It is quoted from a copy of the “Morning Chronicle” of the time, a four page sheet page costing seven pence and published in the Strand, London, and kindly lent to us by the mayor.
Dreadful Accident in Rochdale
“On the termination of a fair, annually held here, it is determined to bait a bull for the amusement of a great number of persons and accordingly the animal was tied about one o’clock to a stake at the edge of a river near the bridge. The radius of the cord was about six yards and the animal in making the circle was frequently three feet deep in water. The crowd collected to witness the sight exceeded credibility and the number of people on and near the bridge made it difficult to pass. The sides of the river were also covered with spectators of every age and sex and many wee seen near the bull up to their middle in water, jumping with ecstasy at the sport. At every revolution the animal made to disengage himself from the dogs were seen people tumbling over themselves in mud and water up to their knees and the shouts of joy occasionally expressed could only have been equalled by the tells of savages. This sport continued for about three hours, when shocking to relate a considerable portion of the parapet wall leading to the bridge gave way from the extreme pressure of the crowd and five persons were killed on the spot.
The stones composing this parapet are large (many a yard in length and proportionally thick) consequently they fell with an overwhelming force. The pressure of the crowd near the bull was so great as to force numbers of the spectators with the stones onto the unconscious people below. One woman had her thighs broken and a young man had his arm completely cut from his body; beside numbers who were wounded in a manner too shocking to relate. Source:- Link 4 Life
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