top of page

Bull-running, Pistol-whipping and a Neighbour from Hell

the down-side of 19th century Waterfurlong life

Although generally a tranquil backwater in the 19th century, from time to time the gardens saw their share of drama. Proximity to the Mill Stream brought with it at least two suicides, as well as the heroic rescue of a drowning, epileptic girl. In 1877 William Sykes died suddenly in Broad Street after a morning’s gardening on his plot, whilst in 1895 ‘well-known poacher’ James Richardson Belshaw collapsed and died of bladder disease on Waterfurlong after checking his snares near the Meadows.


Doughty PC (later Sergeant and finally retired Sergeant) John Harrison received a mention in half the incidents, whether cuffing naughty schoolboys round the ear, taking a thorough beating himself, investigating the stench from Austin Barnett’s unburied calf or, in 1875, charging one William Jourden with animal cruelty for ill-treating a horse struggling to bring a load of manure to the gardens. Animal cruelty also lay at the centre of the most notorious episode in the gardens’ Victorian history – the 1839 bull running riot.


Theft of produce and tools was an ongoing battle and an 1861 case highlighted yet another problem for the Waterfurlong gardeners – the hazardous accumulation of stones and rubbish in the road through fly-tipping. 

Bull Running Riot

By the 19th century bull running was a highly controversial local tradition, dividing opinion in the town. It dated back to 1209 when William de Warenne, Lord of Stamford, stood on the battlements of his castle (where the bus station now stands), watching a local butcher enrage a bull by throwing water over it to stop it fighting another over a cow. The bull turned on the butcher and his dog, chasing them into town. Warenne mounted his horse and followed suit, enjoying the sport so much he gave the meadow below the battlements to the butchers’ guild on condition they provide a bull to be run in the town on St Brice's Day, 13 November, in perpetuity. In 1756 the mayor bequeathed money to encourage the practice, which was also supported financially by the local churchwardens.



bull running painting
Artist unknown. C 1800


'Come all you bonny boys,

Who love to bait the bonny bull,

Who take delight in noise,

And you shall have your belly-full,

On Stamford’s Town Bull Running Day,

We’ll show you such right gallant play,

You’ll never saw the like, you’ll say,

As you have seen at Stamford.'

Every year the event was officially opened by the ringing of St Mary's bells at 10.45 am. Shops were closed and barricaded and huge crowds gathered to watch the bull being released, tormented and chased through the town before it was driven exhausted down Waterfurlong and slaughtered on what had become known as Bull Meadow. ‘Its flesh [was] sold at a low rate to the people, who finished the day’s amusement with a supper of bull-beef.(1)

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals managed to push through legislation banning bull running early in 1839, but when November arrived many of the Stamford townspeople were determined to ignore it, defending their custom as ‘a traditional, manly, English, sport; inspiring courage, agility and presence of mind under danger.’(1)


On 16 November that year the Mercury ran the headline BULL RUNNING RIOT:

'About noon on Saturday last, a troop of men of the 14th Light Dragoons, under the command of Capt Harvey, from Northampton barracks, reached Stamford; and in the evening a dozen metropolitan police-officers, of the A division, under Inspector Russell and Assistant Otway, also arrived, both being sent by order of Lord John Russell, to assist the Magistrates in preventing the breaking of the law by a bull-running, which has for ages been practised in Stamford on 13th of November, to the scandalous interruption of all business, and the violation of the public peace and safety.


The Magistrates, although the interference of the Secretary of State had not been sought by them, were inclined on this occasion fully to perform their duty, and to work out as far as possible the purpose to which their attention had been specially called by the highest authority. From the strange infatuation with which a large part even of the (so called) respectable part of the population of the town was possessed, the Magistrates knew that very little reliance was to be placed upon native special constables: last year, when they had sworn in 240, they were greatly more harmed than served by them. They therefore resolved this year to select a few only, in addition to the usual number of 40 constables sworn under the Municipal Act for annual service on emergencies. The fine body of London policemen were lodged at Standwell's Hotel [later the Stamford Hotel], and about 20 respectable tradesmen were also added to the Municipal constables. With this available civil strength, and the soldiers who were quartered in St Martin's to be called into the other parishes of the town if necessary, the Magistrates awaited the eventful day of the 13th.


Various were the rumours of the disposition with which the lovers of the "sport" viewed the preparations for interrupting it: by some it was said that no attempt would be made to run bull on Tuesday; others, that one had certainly been bought with a sum subscribed for the purpose. ln the course of Monday night, the police, pursuant to arrangements made with Mr Roberts, of the Horns Inn, and Mr John Smith, of Scotgate, the owners of two bulls kept for hire, transferred those from the premises of their owners, to safe quarters provided for them in the yard of the Hotel. This seemed a death-blow to the hopes of the "bullards" for on the police going to the premises of Mr Roberts, it was found that, contrary to that person's expectation, the locks of several doors of approach were all unfastened, and it had clearly been intended that his bull should be taken from his premises early in the morning, to be hidden in some stable, for letting out into the town at the usual time (eleven o'clock).


By half past eight the Magistrates assembled at the Town-hall, and assigned stations and duties to the different descriptions of police. The town was from ten o'clock unusually filled with people, but the day passed on without any signs of a bull in the streets, until nearly one o'clock: at that time a man whose name was ascertained to be Benjamin Brown, drove nine choice cows into the town from the North, and a cart, in which was a bull calf, between six and seven months old. Brown is a servant of E J Barnard, Esq, MP, of Gosfield Hall, in Essex, and had been sent to the farm of Mr Allison, near Blyth, Notts, to fetch the cows and the calf, they having been bought for Mr Barnard at late sale of Earl Spencer's stock at Wiseton, near Doncaster. The whole quietly passed the Townhall in Stamford, under the observation of the Magistrates and several officers there, and proceeded over the bridge into St Martin's. Opposite the house for which Mr Ryde, the steward of the Marquis of Exeter, is assessed, a number of fellows set upon the cart, pulled out the young bull, and drove him back into the town, followed by an immense concourse of yelling persons. 

The poor animal waa driven through St Mary's street, Maiden-lane and down High-street, over Red Lion square to Peter-hill and the Roman bank, and thence Water-furlong over the Welland to a close of Mr Whincup's on the south side the river, near the Nunnery. Soon the bull and the mob passed the George inn in St Martin's, Capt Harvey with his Dragoons hastened to the Town-hall, and there received the Magistrates' directions to support the London policemen in re-taking the bull. In a few minutes a very sharp collision with the mob arose, in the lane leading at the back of the George Inn, from the river to the Sun public-house. The little bull, grievously distressed by the annoyance it had endured, was speedily captured there; but the police and the military were violently pelted with stones by the mob, and it was necessary to use considerable force driving them off: a man named Nathaniel Pollard, brewer, who had seized the bridle of one of the Dragoons' horses, was severely cut on the head and neck with a sword; and John Kisboe, turner, was captured there as well as William Pollard, a youth about 15 years of age, son of Mr Jeremiah Pollard, butcher, of St Paul's street, who was seized in the act of throwing stones at the soldiers, and is now in gaol charged with the offence by the Serjeant Major of the troop.



The bull was immediately conveyed by the police to the yard of Standwell's Hotel, where it was lodged with the others; and on Wednesday afternoon Benjamin Brown again took it, with the others (which in the interim had been grazed in Burghley Park), on the route for Essex. Brown's going off was considered to have been clandestine; he had been required to attend at the Town-hall in the evening, to give evidence against some persons charged with taking the little bull from the cart on Tuesday: it is supposed that he was induced so to depart, by those interested in preventing his testimony: his return to Stamford will be procured through legal process. The town continued in an excited state after the burst with the bull-calf on Tuesday, but no further riot occurred; and yesterday morning Capt Harvey with his Dragoons set off for Kettering, on their return to Northampton. The London police will continue in Stamford for a few days, to assist their depositions in some prosecutions which are likely to arise from the riot.

A serious expense on the inhabitants has been occasioned by the obstinate persistence of this unlawful and barbarous practice; and we are happy to say that with the disgust for the practice which is in the town, it is no longer to be doubted that it can and will be put down: the Executive Government will not be baffled in making the law of the land stand at Stamford as it is observed in the rest of the kingdom and in rendering the streets of the town and the North Road safe for the passage of persons and property.


A few vain and rash individuals who will not acknowledge the proper influence of law and order, must attribute the many expenses which will be brought on the inhabitants by the proceedings of the 13th November; and which charges must annually arise, so long as the obstinacy makes it necessary to take


precautions for the protection of the town and the upholding of the law.'(1)

We learn more about the local characters involved in the bull-running from a retrospective article in 'The Era' published on 17 November 1850.


'At about ten a cheer is heard, "Here's Frank Simpson!" (son of Alderman Simpson, attired in a short slop frock with a low-crowned hat, and a good shillelagh) accompanied by several hearty bullards. Every window is now filled with females, the tops of the houses covered where practicable, and as there is no space left in the waggons, some hundred little urchins are underneath peeping through the wheels. It is now eleven o'clock, St Mary's bell tolls, the crowd has collected round the stable door; for a moment an awful silence prevails, the next instant the people rush from the door shouting "Now he comes!" Then is seen the bull galloping down the street, with his tail in the air, a noble sight. Having got to the waggons he turns round and defies his enemies - now Lumby tries to take him by the horns, a bolt is made, but Lumby jumps on one side - now Blades, the pieman, is tossed in the air, distributing his pies in all directions - now the roof of the old blacksmith's shop has fallen in from its weight of human beings - now Sergeant Harper is galloping down the street on the bull's back. Jim Mewes, the crier, has just got his wooden leg broke - Clem Adams has just taken the attention of the bull and saved Tom King.


This sport was continued until one o'clock, when the animal was permitted to enter the stable, where a good feed was prepared for him. Between this and two o'clock ample justice is done to him, rounds of beef, and pork pies, and the "old October," for which Stamford is so famed. Now he is let out again, one of the waggons is removed, and away he goes through the town, followed by thousands. He is now in the bull-meadow opposite Castle-hill; here Speed lets loose one of his true bull dogs, which is soon tossed into the air and lamed. Yates lets another loose, which is tossed also - now Jones, the sweep, is thrown over the bull's head - "here's a fight" - old Clarke attracts the attention of the bull, who, in running after him, parts the combatants - now the bull is in the river, there's two bullards gone in after him - now he is out and galloping towards Easton - now he is pinned, and ropes being thrown around him, he is gently brought home amid the cheers of the spectators. It should be remarked that if any one unfairly beat the bull he was well chastised by the populace. At five o'clock he is killed, and his flesh served up for supper in nearly all the public-houses (aye, and gentlemen's houses too), and everybody spent the evening in a joyous manner.' 

Attempts had been made to stop the bull run as early as 1788. 'It is a barbarous diversion, and it is astonishing that it should have lasted so long. Doubtless its vitality is due largely to the patronage it receives from the well-to-do classes.'(1)

One of these well-to-do individuals was William Haycock, Alderman, Great North Road surveyor and tenant of a walled Waterfurlong garden, which doubtless gave him an excellent vantage point from which to watch the poor bull being chased over the Mill Stream bridge into the meadows for slaughter. 

William was charged with conspiring to organise the 1837 and 1838 Bull Runs, and was alleged to have officiated at the Bull-running dinner at the Boat Inn the evening before the spectacle. 

It seems that in the event the Lincoln Assizes looked after their own and let the organisers off on the proviso no further runs be held. 

Shameful Treatment of Entrepreneurial Rubbish Clearer 

'A suit was tried in the Stamford County Court on Monday last, the costs of defending which, it is thought, will not obtain the approval of the rate-payers of the parish of All Saints. The evidence of the aged plaintiff excited the sympathy of the hearers.


Being out of employment he applied to the assistant overseer of the parish for work, stating that if he could not obtain any he should be compelled to go to the Board of Guardians. He was told that one man was already employed on the roads in the parish, and that there were not available funds to employ more labour. The applicant then said the accumulations of rubbish brought out of the town and adjacent fields from time to time and placed on the side of the Waterfurlong road needed removing, and if he might be allowed to apply his pickaxe to it and assort it for his own benefit he would not require any payment for his labour. This offer being considered advantageous to the parish it was at once accepted by the assistant overseer, the removal of the rubbish being desirable to prevent the passage of water in wet seasons down the centre of the road. Amongst the accumulations upwards of 20 loads of small stones were found, which the assistant overseer agreed to purchase for the use of the parish at the rate of 1s per load.


The overseers of the highways went out of office, and their successors (Messrs Loweth and Louth) did not appoint an assistant, saving the expense by doing the job themselves. They used the stones they found upon the road and refused to remunerate the old man for them! Mr Laxton, who appeared for the old man, said he himself was an occupier of a garden in Water-furlong, and could speak of the great improvement that had been effected by the removal of the rubbish and by the repair of the road with the stones found by the plaintiff amongst it. It is believed the parishoners will not allow this case to be brought in the court again, and that the value of the stones will be handed to the poor fellow.' Stamford Mercury 1 March 1861(1)

Thomas Laxton
Thomas Laxton in the 1860s

The Mr Laxton appearing for the defendant, William Rose, was Thomas Laxton, local solicitor and gifted amateur (at that point) breeder of apples, strawberries and peas. Laxton's Fortune and Laxton's Superb apple varieties still thrive in the gardens.


'William Cox, who has been twice sentenced to penal servitude, was charged with assaulting and beating police-sergeant Harrison on the 17th inst and appeared before Stamford Petty Sessions on 21st inst. Mr Atter prosecuted, and Mr Law defended the prisoner. Sergt Harrison was called, and he deposed that on the previous Sunday morning he was on duty near the Corporation gardens on the "Water-furlong," when he saw the prisoner opposite Mr Johnson's garden.


Harrison concealed himself for a time, and the prisoner approached the bridge where he caught a view of the officer, and took to his heels jumping over a wall into the fields. Harrison pursued, and when within ten yards of Cox cried out, "You need not run. I shall have you;" and on proceeding a few yards further the prisoner, who exclaimed,"You b......, I will knock your brains out sooner than I will be taken by you," drew a gun from his pocket, and with the barrel struck Harrison on the head, cutting his hat and knocking him a little sideways. He was again struck about the head, the force of the blow being such to cause blood to flow from one of his ears. A third blow was aimed at him, but the witness managed to grasp the barrel, and a struggle ensued for its possession, the prisoner, who was uppermost pressing his knees violently on the officer, and exclaiming "You, if you don't leave go, I'll murder you." He again struck Harrison, but this time with his fist; and after the latter had shouted "Murder," the prisoner got up and ran away towards Water-furlong.


The officer, who was under the treatment of Mr Heward, had not been able to perform his duties since. Mr J M Heward, surgeon, stated that Harrison went to him the same morning, and he found a bloody bruise on his right cheek and right ear; the bat of the left thumb was bruised and swollen; the skin of the right wrist was grazed; and there was bruise and great tenderness over the short ribs on the left side. He had passed blood by the bowels.


Mr Law addressed the Bench on behalf of the prisoner, who, he said, had tried to avoid coming into collision with the officer, and submitted that Harrison had brought it upon himself by over-officiousness and zeal in his office. After the Bench had consulted, the Mayor announced that the case was too serious a one for the Magistrates to deal with summarily, and therefore they had determined to commit the prisoner for trial at the sessions.'

On 22 July Cox pleaded guilty to the assault and was sentenced to six months' hard labour. Stamford Mercury 28 February 1884(1)

Sergt Harrison Battered With Gun-barrel

Gardening Neighbour from Hell


'Stamford Petty Sessions, Feb 2, before the Mayor (H T Betts, Esq). Austin Barnett was charged with permitting a nuisance to exist in a garden in Waterfurlong, occupied by him, on the 25th January, by allowing the carcass of a dead calf to remain unburied. Charles Evans, greengrocer, said he occupied a garden next to the defendant and there was such a stench from it that he could not work in his garden. Finding it came from the putrid carcass of a calf, he informed the defendant of it and requested him to take steps to remove the nuisance. The defendant replied that he "should not bury the carcass for a devil like him". Mr Evans then called ex-sergeant Harrison’s attention to it, and as it was still unburied he laid an information against the defendant.


Ex-sergeant Harrison said he went to the defendant’s garden on the 15th and 16th Jan and saw the carcass of a calf. The stench from it was very bad. It had been removed to within seven or eight feet of the footpath leading to Tinwell, and was still unburied, being simply covered with a piece of straw. Mr H Wright said the carcass was still unburied. Defendant said he had the carcass of the calf buried directly after Evans complained about it; and if there was the carcass of a calf in the garden now it had been put there unknown to him. Mr Atter appeared to support the information and asked the Bench not only to make an order for the defendant to remove the nuisance, but to inflict a fine, in order to teach the defendant that he could not with impunity make use of his premises in a way that would be a nuisance to his neighbours. Defendant was ordered to abate the nuisance at once and ordered to pay 10s fine and £1 3s 6d costs.' Stamford Mercury 29 April 1864(1)

Austin Barnett was quite a character, who flitted between Stamford and Leeds and

rented one of the Gardens on a periodic basis. We can imagine the sinking feeling

every time he returned ... 


facing the Water Furlong were auctioned by Messrs Richardson at the Crown Hotel on Weds 7th August. The biddings only reached £560, the reserve being £630.' Stamford Mercury 9 August 1878(1)

'FIRST-RATE GARDEN to LET, with immediate possession, in Water Furlong. Out-offices, Tool-house, double swing; Peas and Potatoes quite ready; good crop of Apples, Plums, &c. Suitable for large family.—D W, Baths, Stamford.'Stamford Mercury 10 July 1891(1)

Heroic Rescue of Drowning Girl

'A rescue from drowning was effected on the 23rd by Mr Aitken, of Meadow-cottage, Stamford. It appears that Annie Ringham, aged about 18, the daughter of Mr William Ringham, of St George's Street, has been in a delicate state of health for some time. She had been in the service of Mrs Fouke, St Martin's, for a few days, and on the 23rd she told the cook that she wanted to go home and see her mother. On going home, however, she wandered the Meadows for some time and late at night she fell into the mill-stream near the Water-furlong bridge. Miss Aitken heard some moaning and a scream, followed by a splash, and called her father, who at once rescued the girl from her perilous position. The girl then apparently had a fit. The police were communicated with, and PS Dain sent for the doctor, who ordered the removal of the girl to her home. On recovering consciousness,

Stamford Millstream by Julia Clemency Baker

the girl said she did not remember anything after leaving St Martin's for the purpose of going home. The doctor states that he considers she was in an epileptic state, and would not know what she was about.' Stamford Mercury 31 March 1893(1)

'Indecent Ill-treatment'

Sometimes the incident reminds us that our perception children were safer from ill-intentioned strangers in the past is rosy. Given the punishments meted out to youngsters for scrumping, the sentence in this case from 1895 seems sickeningly lenient:


'A SERIOUS Charge. Thomas Henry Reddish, a pensioned soldier, was charged on remand with Indecently Ill-treating Annie Friend, aged 11, residing with her parents in Cornstall-buildings, on the llth inst... Mr Harry Pond, solicitor's clerk, living on Tinwell-road said that about 4.30 pm on the previous Sunday he observed the prisoner at the bottom of Roman Bank, and from his behaviour there, and his previous character, determined to watch him. Reddish went along towards the bridge. Mr T Blades, clerk, and Mr T C Burcombe, reporter, who were employed at the Mercury office, were passing at the time, and he informed them of the prisoner's conduct and asked them to go with him and watch his movements. Prisoner was then standing in the road leading through the gardens, and was beckoning to some children who were playing near. Two of them went towards him, and witness and his companions hastened to the gardens at a turn higher up, making their way down a footpath to apprehend the prisoner from the other side. They were concealed behind a hedge when they saw the prisoner pulling one of the girls by the wrist towards the osiers. They walked towards him, and the girls ran away. Mr Pond told the others to look after the prisoner, and he followed the girls. He caught Annie, and she told him that the man had interfered with her clothes. — P S Skipworth spoke to arresting the prisoner, who said, " What is that you say, ill treating? I did not ill treat her, but that will have to be proved."(1) He was committed for trial at the quarter session.

The trial reveals Reddish to be a serial offender:

'Thomas Henry Reddish, 60, Army pensioner, described as a labourer, and formerly publican of Stamford, was indicted for indecently assaulting Annie Friend, at Stamford, on Aug 11th. Mr Atter prosecuted, and prisoner pleaded not guilty. Evidence was given to the effect that Annie Friend, who was 10 years of age and lived with her parents in Cornstall-buildings, went with another girl, Ethel Reed, to some gardens in Waterfurlong. Prisoner, who was on the path leading to the gardens, called the children and detained one of them, Annie Friend, who described the assault in detail. Corroborative evidence was given, and prisoner was found guilty. He acknowledged that he had been convicted of indecently assaulting a girl aged five last year, and of indecent exposure in Stamford. — The Recorder characterised the offence as a disgraceful and disgusting one, and prisoner was sentenced to six months' hard labour.' Stamford Mercury 23 August 1895(1)


(1) The British Newspaper Archive © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018

bottom of page