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bear-baiting

bear-baiting. Reputedly introduced from Italy in the 12th cent., the spectator sport of setting dogs onto a bear chained to a stake occurred usually in an arena known as a bear garden, such as that at Bankside, south of the Thames, attended by Henry VIII and Elizabeth. Many Tudor nobles kept bear ‘sleuths’ (packs), generally well looked after, but they were not a purely aristocratic indulgence: town councils had official bears, and baits were held at markets and fairs. In Paris Garden, another regular venue in Southwark, a grandstand collapsed in 1583, killing or injuring many of the spectators. Despite Macaulay's remark that the puritans hated bear-baiting for the pleasure afforded the spectators rather than concern for the bear, there were stirrings of disapproval, but the sport remained popular and declined only slowly, not legally banned until 1835. Street-names such as Bear Lane, near Blackfriars Bridge, attest to its place in social life.

A. S. Hargreaves

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