Stamford Bull Run
According to local tradition, the origin of the custom dated from the time of King John (1199 - 1216) when, William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey, standing on the battlements of the castle, saw two bulls fighting in the meadow beneath. Some butchers came to part the combatants and one of the bulls ran into the town, causing a great uproar. The earl, mounting his horse, rode after the animal, and enjoyed the sport so much, that he gave the meadow in which the fight began to the butchers of Stamford on condition that they should provide a bull, to be run in the town every 13 November, for ever after.
The town of Stamford acquired common rights in the grassy flood plain next to the Welland, which until the last century was known as Bull-meadow, and today just as The Meadows.
Seventeenth-century historians described how the bull was chased and tormented for the day before being driven to the Bull-meadow and slaughtered. "Its flesh [was] sold at a low rate to the people, who finished the day's amusement with a supper of bull-beef."
The custom was abandoned in the 19th century after a campaign by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the intervention of military and police. Stamford residents defended their ancient custom as a "traditional, manly, English sport; inspiring courage, agility and presence of mind under danger." Its defenders argued that it was less cruel and dangerous than fox hunting, and one local newspaper asked "Who or what is this London Society that, usurping the place of constituted authorities, presumes to interfere with our ancient amusement?"
The last bull run was in 1839.
The last known witness of the bull running was James Fuller Scholes who spoke of it in a newspaper interview in 1928 before his 94th birthday; "I am the only Stamford man living who can remember the bull-running in the streets of the town. I can remember my mother showing me the bull and the horses and men and dogs who chased it. She kept the St Peter's Street - the building that was formerly the Chequers Inn at that time and she showed me the bull-running sport from a bedroom window. I was only four years old then, but I can clearly remember it all. The end of St Peter's Street (where it was joined by Rutland Terrace) was blocked by two farm wagons, and I saw the bull come to the end of the street and return again. My mother told me not to put my head out of the window - apparently because she was afraid I should drop into the street.
Stamford in brief
The Romans built Ermine Street across what is now Burghley Park and through the middle of the town, where it forded the Welland, eventually reaching Lincoln; they built a town to the north at Great Casterton on the River Gwash. In AD 61 Boudica followed the Roman 9th Legion (Legio IX Hispana) across the river. The Anglo-Saxons later chose Stamford as their main town, being on a more important river than the Gwash.
In 972 King Edgar made Stamford a borough. The Anglo-Saxons and Danes faced each other across the river. The town originally grew as a Danish settlement at the lowest point that the Welland could be crossed by ford or bridge. Stamford was the only one of the Danelaw Five Burghs ("boroughs") not to become a county town.
Initially a pottery centre, producing Stamford Ware, by the Middle Ages it had become famous for its production of wool and the woollen cloth known as Stamford cloth - which "In Henry III's reign ... was well known in Venice". Stamford was a walled town but only a very small portion of the walls now remain. Stamford became an inland port on the Great North Road that superseded the Roman road Ermine Street, which passes near the town, where it forded the River Welland.
The recorded history of Stamford goes back well over 1,000 years. It first came to prominence in the 9th and 10th centuries when it became one of the 5 controlling boroughs of Danelaw. It was one of the first towns to produce glazed wheel-thrown pottery after the departure of the Romans. Stamford prospered under the Normans with an economy based mainly on wool; it was particularly famous for its woven cloth called haberget. The town's excellent communication routes via the Great North Road and via the River Welland to the North Sea ensured the success of its trade. By the 13th century Stamford was one of the 10 largest towns in England. It had a castle, 14 churches, 2 monastic institutions, and 4 friaries; parliaments met here and there was a tradition of academic learning which finally led to the establishment of a short-lived breakaway university in the mid 14th century.
A Norman castle was built about 1075 and apparently demolished in 1484. The site stood derelict until the late twentieth century when it was built over and now includes a bus station and a modern housing development.
A small part of the curtain wall survives at the junction of Castle Dyke and Bath Row. From the doorway within it hustings were held until around 1971, the candidates speaking from a position above the crowd.
Stamford has been hosting an annual fair since the Middle Ages. Stamford fair is mentioned in Shakespeare's Henry IV part 2 The mid-Lent fair is the largest street fair in Lincolnshire and one of the largest in the country. On 7 March 1190, crusaders at the fair led a pogrom; many Jews in the town were massacred.
Many buildings survive from this period including the early 12th-century St Leonard's Priory; the magnificent early 13th-century tower of St Mary's Church; the rich 13th-century arcades in All Saints' Church; fine 13th-century stone-built hall houses and undercrofts, and the 14th-century gateway to the Grey Friary.
The removal of the main wool trade to East Anglia in the 15th century forced the town into decline, and the trade that remained was concentrated in the hands of rich merchants like the Browne family. These merchants helped rebuilt many of the churches in the mid-late 15th century including St John's; St Martin's and All Saints' which are fine examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture. William Browne also founded an almshouse which remains one of the best surviving medieval almshouses in England, complete with exemplary stained glass.
While the overall decline continued into the 16th century, Stamford was linked to national affairs by the fact that a local man, William Cecil, became secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth I. He built a palatial mansion just outside Stamford for his mother and Burghley House survives as one of the crowning glories of the Tudor age. The great tombs of Cecil and his descendants lie in St Martin's Church.
The town escaped the civil war relatively unscathed despite Oliver Cromwell's siege of Burghley House and the visit of the fugitive King Charles in May 1646. After the Restoration of 1660, the town recovered as improvements to the Great North Road encouraged road trade and the river was made navigable again by a canal. Everyone who travelled north passed through Stamford and the coaching trade elevated old medieval inns like the George into major nationally renowned hostelries. Prosperous professional men and merchants were attracted to the town and they built their fine vernacular and later Classical or Georgian houses which today provide the backbone of the town's fabric. It is the consistency and quality of these houses and the exceptional streetscapes they create, which encouraged the BBC to film 'Middlemarch' in the town.
The arrival of the railway in the 1830s signalled a death blow to the coaching trade and so to Stamford's fortunes. The main line to the north bypassed the town and so stunted industrial development. However, like many eastern shire towns, Stamford produced skilled agricultural engineers such as Blackstone's. The lack of industrialisation together with the traditional, almost feudal, relationship between town and house (the Cecils of Burghley were Stamford's landlords) preserved and pickled the town so that today the historic urban fabric survives almost unscathed. Stamford is a unique treasure trove of provincial English architecture built in the finest stone that this country has to offer. Today Stamford prospers as a small market town of around 18,000 inhabitants with a mixed economy based on industry, services, agriculture, and tourism.