From J A Wilson lecture:
If the habits of the people were different from those of the present day, their tastes and amusements were also dissimilar. One of the favourite, but most disgusting, sports to which people of Alnwick were formerly addicted was that of bull-baiting, which was practised in the Market Place where is still seen a stone, and originally an iron ring, to which was attached one end of a rope, the other being tied round the horns of the bull, when one dog after another, trained for the purpose, was let loose upon the wretched animal. Many individuals in Alnwick kept bulldogs, but perhaps the most noted was Mr Thew, the landlord of the Dragon, who kept several dogs exclusively for the purpose.
Somewhat more than half a century ago, the barbarous sport of bull baiting was enjoyed with much zest by the women, as well as by the men of Alnwick and the neighbourhood. It had the countenance and support of the corporation from an early period; in 1664, 1s. 4d was paid “for setting the Bull Stob;” in 1680, 3s for a bull rope; in 1695 "paid to John Nesbit and John Gair for bringing the stone for the Bull ring 1s; for Iron and Lead to it 7s .11d;" in 1750, William Young was paid 10d. “for going to Alemouth for a rope to bait a Bull," Alnmouth being then in advance of Alnwick in having a ropery.
This stone is still in the centre of the Market Place; but the large iron ring to which the rope was fastened was removed many years ago. As branks, thumbscrews, and boots, instruments of torture, are preserved in museums, so may this stone remain in the market as a historic memorial.
When a bull was baited, the Market Place was crowded with spectators - thousands were sometimes there; and such exhibitions were not unfrequent; towards the close of last century as many as seven bulls were baited in the course of one winter. Indeed, the lovers of this sport, in the eighteenth century, seem to have considered they had a vested interest in bull baiting. One butcher setting public opinion at defiance, whether from humanity or selfishness does not appear, killed his bull in 1709 without baiting him; and accordingly the defiant butcher was dragged before the Court Leet for his offence. “We,” say the jurors, “present Henry Herrison, Butcher, for killing a Bull and not Baiting him contrary” but Henry Herrison escaped punishment, for the verdict was “noe proofe.”
The rope by which the bull was fastened to the ring, was tied around the root of the horns and was about fifteen feet long, and dog after dog was let loose on him and endeavoured to tear his flesh, till maddened with rage he sought to gore his aggressor or toss him into the air. Sporting men then kept and trained bull-dogs and gloried in their achievements, just as sporting men now keep, and train, and glory in their fox-hounds, and racing horses, and the masters were careful and watchful of them, while engaged in the fight; and if any was likely to fall exhausted before the power of the bull, the master would rush forward, and drag the dog away all foaming at the mouth, and covered with sweat and blood, and plunge him into the cool water of St. Michael's trough; and then, refreshed it may be with the bath, back he would be brought to try again his prowess with the bull . Sport, this may have been to vitiated tastes; but cruel sport it was - to the bull, and to many of the dogs it was death. On October 25th, 1773, a bull was baited in Alnwick and treated with such brutal wantoness, that he lay down and expired. On November 11th, 1783, another was so baited, that enraged he threw down two tradesmen, one of whom had his leg broken, and the other received a severe wound in the head. One bull broke loose and galloped wildly through the streets, tossing dogs lifeless into the air and trampling down those blocking his way. What a scamper there was among the crowd to escape injury! He was pursued, however, by men and dogs, and at length caught in Denwick Lane and brought back in a wretched triumphal display with an Alnwick Freeman, who was notable in his day, riding on his back! And yet the accomplished Windham defended these brutal practices! I recollect the two last bull-baitings in Alnwick. Though a miserable, it was still an exciting scene; the market was crowded with women as well as men; they were clustered in the windows, on the cross on the Town Hall stairs, and on the Shambles. I still seem to hear the loud bellowings of the bull, the deep barkings of the dogs, the shouting of men, mingled with the shrieking of women, as the crowd swayed to and fro with the changing fortunes of the fight. Percival Stockdale, the eccentric but able vicar of Lesbury, raised his voice against this barbarity, in 1804 ; and delighted was the vain old man when “the saintly John Marshall,” Burgherminister of Alnwick, also preached against it, and commended his pamphlet. From such influences, public opinion progressed in Alnwick and put down this cruel sport, long before it was forbidden by act of Parliament, in 1835.