Ringing the bull

Photo:The ring

The ring

A curious pub game in Nottinghamshire

By R B Parish

The Trip to Jerusalem is well known in the county and beyond for its picturesque qualities and great age, what is probably less well known is what is found in one of the cave alcoves; a traditional pub game called Ringing the Bull. This is found in widespread across the country being found in the King Head Lewes, East Sussex, Royal Oak Coal Aston, Derbyshire and Blue Ball Grantchester, Cambridgeshire  where in April 2012 the World Championships were held.  Beyond the country, it is popular in the Caribbean, where it is often called ring the fish and its origin is variously put down to Pirates or even Ernest Hemingway.  Legend tells, possibly because of its association with the Trip that the game was brought back by the Crusaders, but this may be a back story developed from its use at the Trip.  Certainly the earliest reference is in Jerold’s Men of Character in 1838, which reads:

“After that, he must visit the gypsies; then he must ring-the-bull,”

and a later reference notes:

“There is first the lucky-bag–then the sticks–then the ringing-the-bull–then the round-about.”

The game is quite simple consisting of a metal hook set into the wall with a metal ring attached to a rope opposite. That of the Trips is more appropriately a real piece of horn. The aim of the game is to place the ring over the hook or horn as it may have been originally. In some places it has been a stag or pig. Often the person will attempt a number of attempts throwing it in a clockwise direction straight onto the ring, or sometimes anticlockwise which is harder. Sometimes it is reported that the throw circles the room three times before it lands...showing how skill can be involved in such a simple game.

A Pathe news item from 1949 notes its rising popularity...but as yet it has not displaced darts as the most popular of pub games, but it remains popular in this delightful pub.

The author is researching folklore and customs of the county, any correspondence is welcome. Rossparish@hotmail.com


This page was added by R B Parish on 28/03/2013.

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