1712 A London Bear Garden Fight

The following text is a 1:1 copy of the article posted in the 21th July 1712 issue of THE SPECTATOR, a London newspaper magazine of the 18th century. It is interesting in comparison to my other blog post: 1711 A bloody London Bear Garden fight. In the newspapers of the 17th and 18th century there are multiple advertisements found, but reports on the fight are rare.

Richard Steele wrote at length in the Spectator (No. 436) of a trial of skill in the noble art of self-defence at Hockley-in-the-Hole. The result of these fights was, it appears, often arranged beforehand, and the losing man often undertook to receive the cuts, provided they were not too many or too deep.

I was the other Day at the Bear-Garden, in hopes to have seen your short Face; but not being so fortunate, I must tell you by way of Letter, That there is a Mystery among the Gladiators which has escaped your Spectatorial Penetration. For being in a Box at an Ale-house, near that renowned Seat of Honour above-mentioned, I over-heard two Masters of the Science agreeing to quarrel on the next Opportunity. This was to happen in the Company of a Set of the Fraternity of Basket-Hilts, who were to meet that Evening. When this was settled, one asked the other, Will you give Cuts or receive? the other answered, Receive. It was replied, Are you a passionate Man? No, provided you cut no more nor no deeper than we agree. I thought it my Duty to acquaint you with this, that the People may not pay their Money for Fighting, and be cheated.

Your Humble Servant,
Scabbard Rusty.

Letter to the Editor of The Spectator, published in No. 449, 5 August 1712

There were seats, at half a crown and upwards, for the quality; the neighbourhood of the Bear Garden was infested by thieves.

Great Preparations at the Bear Garden all Morning for the noble Tryal of Skill, that is to be play’d in the Afternoon. Seats filld and crowded by Two Drums beat, Dogs yelp, Butchers and Foot soldiers clatter their Sticks. At last the two heroes in their fine borrow’d Holland Shirts mount the Stage about Three; Cut large Collops out of one another to divert the Mob and Make Work for the Surgeons; Smoking, Swearing, Drinking, Thrusting, Justling, Elbowing, Sweating, Kicking, Cuffing, all the while the Company stays.

Comical View of London and Westminster, Edward Ward, 1705

The following are specimens of the advertisements common at the Bear-garden, in Hockley in the Hole:

This present Tuesday, being the 26th of September, will be perform’d (at His majesty’s Bear Garden in Hockley in the Hole) a trial of skill, between John Anderson the Famous highlander, and John Terrewest of Oundle in North Hamptonshire, at all the usual weapons.

Post Boy, 23 September 1699

At his Majesty’s Bear Garden, in Hockley-in-the-Hole, a trial of skill is to be performed to-morrow, being the 9th instant (without beat of drum), between these following masters:

I, John Terrewest, of Oundle, in Northamptonshire, master of the noble science of defence, do invite you, William King, who lately fought Mr. Joseph Thomas, once more to meet me and exercise at the usual weapons.—I, William King, will not fail to meet this fair inviter, desiring a clear stage, and, from him, no favour. Note. There is lately built a pleasant cool gallery for gentlemen.

Post Boy, 8 July 1701

At the Bear Garden at Hockley in the Hole, near Clerkenwell Green, a trial of skill shall be performed at the noble science of self-defence, on Wednesday next, at two of the clock precisely.

I, George Grey, born in the city of Norwich, who have fought in most part of the West Indies—viz., Jamaica and Barbadoes, and several other parts of the world—in all twenty-five times, and upon the stage, and never yet was worsted, and being now lately come to London, do invite James Harris, to meet and exercise at these following weapons, viz., backsword, sword and dagger, sword and buckler, single falchion and case of falchions.

I, James Harris, master of the noble science of self-defence, and formerly rid in the Horse Guards, and have fought an hundred and ten prizes, and never left the stage to any man, will not fail, God willing, to meet this brave and bold inviter at the time and place appointed, desiring sharp swords and from him no favour.

No person to be upon the stage but the second. Vivat Regina.

British Library Harley MS 5931 (50), 3 July, 1709

A Tryal of Skill to be Performed between these two following Masters of the Noble Science of Defence, on Wednesday, the Fifth of April, 1710, at Three of the Clock precisely.

I, John Parkes, from Coventry, Master of the Noble Science of Defence, do Invite you, Thomas Hesgate, to meet me, and Exercise at these following weapons, viz. Back Sword, Sword and Dagger, Sword and Buckler, Single Falchon, Case of Falchons, And Quarterstaff.

I, Thomas Hesgate, a Barkshire Man, Masters of the said Sience, will not fail (God Willing) to meet this brave and bold Inviter, at the Time and Place appointed; desiring Sharp Swords, and from him no Favour.
Note. No person to be upon the Stage but the Seconds. Vivat Regina.

British Library Harley MS 5931 (217), 5 April 1710

In 1710, a delegation of four Native American leaders, three Mohawk from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) alliance and one Mohican from the Algonquin nations, travelled to the Court of Queen Anne in London. They came to Hockley-in-the-Hole, to see the rough playing at backsword, dagger, single falchion, and quarter-staff. In 1712 Steele described a combat here, in the Spectator. In 1715 was a great backsword player here, who boasted he had cut down all the swordsmen of the West, and was ready to fight the best in London. 1725 witnessed an international fight between an Italian, the ‘Venetian Gondolier’, and an Englishman, Whitacre. In 1735 there is a swordsman having nine bouts with single sword, with the left hands being tied down.

I did not correct the spelling or grammar of the article but put the quotes into images to make them more visible as such, as well as transporting the “feeling” of being a piece of history.

The Spectator, 21th July 1712

Being a Person of insatiable Curiosity, I could not forbear going on Wednesday last to a Place of no small Renown for the Gallantry of the lower Order of Britons, namely, to the Bear-Garden at Hockley in the Hole; where (as a whitish brown Paper, put into my Hands in the Street, informed me) there was to be a Tryal of Skill to be exhibited between two Masters of the Noble Science of Defence, at two of the Clock precisely. I was not a little charm’d with the Solemnity of the Challenge, which ran thus:

If the generous Ardour in James Miller to dispute the Reputation of Timothy Buck, had something resembling the old Heroes of Romance, Timothy Buck return’d Answer in the same Paper with the like Spirit, adding a little Indignation at being challenged, and seeming to condescend to fight James Miller, not in regard to Miller himself, but in that, as the Fame went out, he had fought Parkes of Coventry. The Acceptance of the Combat ran in these Words:

I shall not here look back on the Spectacles of the Greeks and Romans of this kind, but must believe this Custom took its rise from the Ages of Knight-Errantry; from those who lov’d one Woman so well, that they hated all Men and Women else; from those who would fight you, whether you were or were not of their Mind; from those who demanded the Combat of their Contemporaries, both for admiring their Mistress or discommending her. I cannot therefore but lament, that the terrible Part of the ancient Fight is preserved, when the amorous Side of it is forgotten. We have retained the Barbarity, but lost the Gallantry of the old Combatants. I could wish, methinks, these Gentlemen had consulted me in the Promulgation of the Conflict. I was obliged by a fair young Maid whom I understood to be called Elizabeth Preston, Daughter of the Keeper of the Garden, with a Glass of Water; whom I imagined might have been, for Form’s sake, the general Representative of the Lady sought for, and from her Beauty the proper Amarillis on these Occasions. It would have ran better in the Challenge, 

This would give the Battel quite another Turn; and a proper Station for the Ladies, whose Complexion was disputed by the Sword, would animate the Disputants with a more gallant Incentive than the Expectation of Money from the Spectators; tho’ I would not have that neglected, but thrown to that Fair One, whose Lover was approved by the Donor.

Yet, considering the Thing wants such Amendments, it was carried with great Order. James Miller came on first, preceded by two disabled Drummers, to shew, I suppose, that the Prospect of maimed Bodies did not in the least deter him. There ascended with the daring Miller a Gentleman, whose Name I could not learn, with a dogged Air, as unsatisfied that he was not Principal. This Son of Anger lowred at the whole Assembly, and weighing himself as he march’d around from Side to Side, with a stiff Knee and Shoulder, he gave Intimations of the Purpose he smothered till he saw the Issue of this Encounter. Miller had a blue Ribband tied round the Sword Arm; which Ornament I conceive to be the Remain of that Custom of wearing a Mistress’s Favour on such Occasions of old.

Miller is a Man of six Foot eight Inches Height, of a kind but bold Aspect, well-fashioned, and ready of his Limbs: and such Readiness as spoke his Ease in them, was obtained from a Habit of Motion in Military Exercise.

The Expectation of the Spectators was now almost at its Height, and the Crowd pressing in, several active Persons thought they were placed rather according to their Fortune than their Merit, and took it in their Heads to prefer themselves from the open Area, or Pitt, to the Galleries. This Dispute between Desert and Property brought many to the Ground, and raised others in proportion to the highest Seats by Turns for the Space of ten Minutes, till Timothy Buck came on, and the whole Assembly giving up their Disputes, turned their Eyes upon the Champions. Then it was that every Man’s Affection turned to one or the other irresistibly. A judicious Gentleman near me said, I could methinks be Miller’s Second, but I had rather have Buck for mineMiller had an Audacious Look, that took the Eye; Buck a perfect Composure, that engaged the Judgment. Buck came on in a plain Coat, and kept all his Air till the Instant of Engaging; at which time he undress’d to his Shirt, his Arm adorned with a Bandage of red Ribband. No one can describe the sudden Concern in the whole Assembly; the most tumultuous Crowd in Nature was as still and as much engaged, as if all their Lives depended on the first Blow. The Combatants met in the Middle of the Stage, and shaking Hands as removing all Malice, they retired with much Grace to the Extremities of it; from whence they immediately faced about, and approached each other, Miller with an Heart full of Resolution, Buck with a watchful untroubled Countenance; Buck regarding principally his own Defence, Miller chiefly thoughtful of annoying his Opponent. It is not easie to describe the many Escapes and imperceptible Defences between two Men of quick Eyes and ready Limbs, but Miller’s Heat laid him open to the Rebuke of the calm Buck, by a large Cut on the Forehead. Much Effusion of Blood covered his Eyes in a Moment, and the Huzzas of the Crowd undoubtedly quickened the Anguish. The Assembly was divided into Parties upon their different ways of Fighting; while a poor Nymph in one of the Galleries apparently suffered for Miller, and burst into a Flood of Tears. As soon as his Wound was wrapped up, he came on again with a little Rage, which still disabled him further. But what brave Man can be wounded into more Patience and Caution? The next was a warm eager Onset, which ended in a decisive Stroke on the Left Leg of Miller. The Lady in the Gallery, during this second Strife, covered her Face; and for my Part, I could not keep my Thoughts from being mostly employed on the Consideration of her unhappy Circumstance that Moment, hearing the Clash of Swords, and apprehending Life or Victory concerned her Lover in every Blow, but not daring to satisfie her self on whom they fell. The Wound was exposed to the View of all who could delight in it, and sowed up on the Stage. The surly Second of Miller declared at this Time, that he would that Day Fortnight fight Mr. Buck at the same Weapons, declaring himself the Master of the renowned Gorman; but Buck denied him the Honour of that couragious Disciple, and asserting that he himself had taught that Champion, accepted the Challenge.

There is something in Nature very unaccountable on such Occasions, when we see the People take a certain painful Gratification in beholding these Encounters. Is it Cruelty that administers this Sort of Delight? Or is it a Pleasure which is taken in the Exercise of Pity? It was methought pretty remarkable, that the Business of the Day being a Tryal of Skill, the Popularity did not run so high as one would have expected on the Side of Buck. Is it that People’s Passions have their Rise in Self-Love, and thought themselves (in spite of all the Courage they had) liable to the Fate of Miller, but could not so easily think themselves qualified like Buck?

Tully speaks of this Custom with less Horrour than one would expect, though he confesses it was much abused in his Time, and seems directly to approve of it under its first Regulations, when Criminals only fought before the People. 

Crudele Gladiatorum spectaculum et inhumanum nonnullis videri solet; et haud scio annon ita sit ut nunc fit; cum vero sontes ferro depugnabant, auribus fortasse multa, oculis quidem nulla, poterat esse fortior contra dolorem et mortem disciplina.

The Shows of Gladiators may be thought barbarous and inhumane, and I know not but it is so as it is now practised; but in those Times when only Criminals were Combatants, the Ear perhaps might receive many better Instructions, but it is impossible that any thing which affects our Eyes, should fortifie us so well against Pain and Death.


John Sparkes of Coventry has this piece of biography upon his tombstone:

‘To the memory of Mr. John Sparkes, a native of this city; he was a man of a mild disposition, a gladiator by profession, who, after having fought 350 battles in the principal parts of Europe with honour and applause, at length quitted the stage, sheathed his sword, and, with Christian resignation, submitted to the grand victor in the 52nd year of his age.
Anno salutis humanæ, 1733.’

Serjeant James Miller afterwards became a captain, and fought in Scotland, under the Duke of Cumberland in 1745.

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