INVITATION TO A FUNERAL
a tale of Restoration intrigue by
The Bear Garden
Pepys's Diary 14 August 1666:
After dinner with my wife and Mercer to the Beare
Garden... and saw some good sport of the bull's tossing of the
dogs - one into the very boxes. But it is a very rude and nasty
pleasure. We had a great many hectors in the box with us (and
one, very fine, went into the pit and played his dog for a wager,
which was a strange sport for a gentleman)
Travels in England by Thomas Plater, 1599:
Every Sunday and Wednesday in London there are bear-baitings...
The theatre is circular, with galleries round the top for the
spectators, the ground space down below, beneath the clear sky,
is unoccupied. In the middle of this place a large bear on a long
rope was bound to a stake, then a number of great English
mastiffs were brought in and shown first to the bear, which they
afterwards baited one after another; now the excellence and fine
temper of such mastiffs was evinced, for although they were much
struck and mauled by the bear, they did not give in, but had to
be pulled off by sheer force, and their muzzles forced open with
long sticks to which a broad ironpiece was attached at the top.
The bear's teeth were not sharp so they could not injure the
dogs; they have them broken short. When the first mastiffs tired,
fresh ones were brought in to bait the bear.
When the first bear was weary, another one was supplied and fresh
dogs to bait him, first one at a time, then more and more as it
lasted, till they had overpowered the bear, then only did they
come to its aid. This second bear was very big and old, and kept
the dogs at bay so artfully with his paws that they could not
score a point off him until there were more of them. When this
bear was tired, a large white powerful bull was brought in, and
likewise bound in the centre of the theatre, and one dog only was
set on him at a time, which he speared with his horns and tossed
in such masterly fashion, that they could not get the better of
him, and as the dogs fell to the floor again, several men held
the sticks under them to break their fall, so that they would not
be killed. Afterwards more dogs were set on him and could not
down him. Then another powerful bear was fetched and baited by
six or seven dogs at a time, which attacked him bravely on all
sides, but could not get the better of him because of his thick
Lastly they brought in an old blind bear which the boys hit with
canes and sticks; but he knew how to untie his leash and he ran
back to his stall.
A protest of 1649:
...that nurse of barbaism and beastliness, the
Bear-Garden, where upon their usual days those demi-monsters are
baited by bandogs; the gentlemen of stave and tail, namely
boisterous butchers, cutting cobblers, hard-handed masons and the
like rioting companions, resorting thither... making with their
sweating and crowding a far worse stink than the ill-formed
beasts they persecute with their dogs and whips; pick-pockets...
repairing thither, and other disturbers of the public peace...
Pepys's Diary 27 May 1667:
...Abroad, and stopped at the Bear-garden stairs,
there to see a prize fought. But the house so full there was no
getting in there, so forced to go through an alehouse into the
pit, where the bears are baited; and upon a stool did see them
fight, which they did very furiously, a butcher and a waterman.
The former had the better all along, till by and by the latter
dropped his sword out of his hand, and the butcher, whether not
seeing his sword dropped I know not, but did give him a cut over
the wrist, so as he was disabled to fight any longer. But Lord!
to see how in a minute the whole stage was full of watermen to
revenge the foul play, and the butchers to defend their fellow,
though most blamed him; and there they all fell to it to knocking
down and cutting many on each side. It was pleasant to see, but
that I stood in the pit, and feared that in the tumult I might
get some hurt.
(c) 1996 Molly Brown