London Puzzles 1: Bear-Faced London


My local area of King’s Cross was traditionally connected to hunting deer, and the psychogeographic connection remains when you walk around the neighbourhood and spot the number of either accidental or deliberate references to deer and stag horns – they adorn buildings and pubs, often tucked into decorative motifs.

Having just read Dr Matthew Green’s delightfully atmospheric ‘London: A Travel Guide Through Time’, which steps into the city’s history at various key points, looking at them in detail, we went looking for bears. In his chapter on London in 1603, Dr Green describes a visit to a bull and bear-baiting pit in Southwark. The contests were not for the faint-hearted; three English mastiffs at a time hurled themselves at a chained bull, which tossed them many feet into the air so that they often landed in the stands. The dogs attacked the bulls’ lips, eyebrows and ears without having their guts stamped out, but the betting crowd was most excited when a dog got the bull by the nose and tenaciously bit down while being swung about.

The bear VS dog battles were even more horrific; the bears’ teeth were broken to make the fights last longer. Strong young bears were replaced by old blind ones to give the dogs more of a chance. Nobody found it cruel; in 1583 the Privy Council called it ‘a sweet and comfortable recreation fitted for the solace and comfort of a peaceable people.’ I find myself thinking compared to what? Counted as a legitimate national sport beloved by royalty, there were two baiting arenas in Bankside. Elizabeth I visited them while never managing to get to the Globe.

Walking around the area now, it’s hard to believe how fast everything is changing, and although little is left of such distant past times (or pastimes) there are odd glimpses of the way life was lived. Visiting Maltby Street Market yesterday, which its narrow alley of smoking sweetmeats, you do get a distinctly timeless feeling, secondhand stalls crowding the road from Vinegar Yard down to the river. During the weekdays this area is a timber yard and the home of another branch of architectural antique store Lassco.

Rounding the end of a backstreet you come to The Horseshoe Inn, Southwark, an old-school local boozer pretty typical of this area – but no-one seems able to explain the sign that stands outside. Was this on the site of one of the arenas? I’m pretty sure one of you will know the answer.

12 comments on “London Puzzles 1: Bear-Faced London”

  1. snowy says:

    You could shun the razor for a week and chance your luck?

    [I suspect the real answer is they have some vintage taxidermy knocking about. They also mention having a Squirrel.]

    A little very light looking up reveals only that it was used as a location in the last Ep. of ‘Ashes to Ashes’.

  2. Roger says:

    ” ‘a sweet and comfortable recreation fitted for the solace and comfort of a peaceable people.’ I find myself thinking compared to what? ”
    Hangings, drawings and quarterings, gibbettings, beheadings, wives who tried to kill their husbands burned alive for petty treason, ears cropped, brandings on the cheek…

    They were a tough lot, the Elizabethans – the writers as well: in 1579 John Stubbs published “The Discovery of a Gaping Gulf whereunto England is like to be swallowed by another French Marriage, if the Lord forbid not the banns, by letting her Majesty see the sin and punishment thereof”, which sums it up.
    According to Wikipedia “Stubbs, his printer, and publisher were tried at Westminster, found guilty of “seditious writing”, and sentenced to have their right hands cut off by means of a cleaver driven through the wrist by a mallet. Initially Queen Elizabeth had favoured the death penalty but was persuaded by adviser John Jovey to opt for the lesser sentence. …Stubbs’ right hand was cut off on 3 November 1579. At the time Stubbs protested his loyalty to the Crown, and immediately before the public dismemberment delivered a shocking pun: “Pray for me now my calamity is at hand.” His right hand having been cut off, he removed his hat with his left hand and cried “God Save the Queen!” before fainting.[“

  3. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    I can’t help with the bears – but I just heard on the radio that the road is closed outside Mornington Crescent station to investigate a fire…another of Arthur’s experiments?

  4. davem says:

    Maltby Street Market – which I have never visited nor actually heard of (which is very strange) – looks very like Shad Thames just down the road.

  5. admin says:

    It’s nearby, and will probably end up joining Vinegar Yard to what’s left of Bermondsey Market.

  6. Jo W says:

    When Snowy cleverly made those Christmas Card copies of the artwork of your book, England’s Finest, I asked ‘imself to enlarge a copy so that I could frame it. Now that I have finally got around to doing that, I have had a good laugh.
    Instead of the underground roundel to the left of Arthur, a large clock has replaced it, with the name of D.Terrell !
    Am I the last of the commenters to spot this,Christopher and Snowy?
    Beware, not only might we appear in a book but on a cover. Hmm, eyes peeled in future, I think.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I’ve put a lens over it and it could be Dan’s name, but I want a larger version before committing. In the meantime, I’m going with a yes and cheering.

  8. admin says:

    That was a little joke we had over the fact that we couldn’t have the TfL logo…

  9. snowy says:

    For the reason revealed above the logos had to go, cropping it would have meant we lost ‘Poor Dead Doris’ and I was rather keen to keep her. So the crayons came out and after much head scratching an idea formed. But I needed something ‘extra’ to ‘balance out’ the clock hands…. 💡 I could solve the problem and sneak in a little tribute on the sly.

    [It received authorial approval, but he made me take the joke off the back… ]

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Ha! I had noticed the car in the upper corner and wondered but I ignored the clock entirely. Nice one. I will tell Heika Terrell. She was always moved at the memories held here.

  11. Jo W says:

    # Snowy
    Nice touch, but now I wonder what that joke was. 😉

  12. Helen Martin says:

    I passed the story on to Heike Terrell and here is her reply:

    It’s so kind of you to let me know. It’s wonderful that people are keeping his memory alive. He is my mind all the time and I miss him dearly. Even though there is a new person in my life, terry’s memory will accompany me for the rest of my life and that is very comforting.
    Have a good new year and a save one!
    Regards, H

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