One of the well-known popular blood sports of the past, although it apparently took place in only a few locations, and is often confused with bull-baiting which was much more widespread. Bull-running involved letting a bull loose in the streets of a town, if necessary goading him with dogs and sharp sticks to encourage him to rampage through the streets just for the fun of the chase for all concerned. The best-known example was at Stamford (Lincolnshire), which obtained its celebrity by inspiring one of the first successful campaigns by the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1835. The local people had been fighting hard to keep their custom since at least 1788, when the first attempt to ban it had taken place, but the bull-running was finally suppressed in 1839.
The other known example of bull-running was at Tutbury (Staffordshire), where the custom was bound up with a curious organization called the Court of Minstrels, apparently founded in the 14th century. The minstrels had the privilege of one bull a year from the local Priory (and after dissolution from the Duke of Devonshire), which was ‘run’ in the town and which they could keep if they could catch it before sunset. Originally, it was only the minstrels involved, but later the local people were permitted to join in and it developed into a contest between Staffordshire and Derbyshire men, as the town is on the border between the two counties. The bull-running lapsed in 1774. An origin story states that John of Gaunt, who rebuilt Tutbury castle, married a Spanish princess in 1374, and he started the bull-running to make her feel at home.
The description of bull-running in Birmingham, published in the Victoria County History: Warwickshire, ii (1908, 416–17) appears to be based on one from Stamford and is not evidence for the custom in Birmingham (see N&Q 185 (1943), 82).
Malcolmson, 1973;Hone, 1827: i. 741–3;Brand, 1849: ii. 63–5, Chambers, 1878: ii. 225–6, 574–6;Edward G. Fair-holme and Wellesley Pain, A Century of Work for Animals:The History of the RSPCA 1824–1924 (1924), 75–9;F. W. Hackwood, Staffordshire Curiosities and Antiquities (1905), 110–17.