"Bull Shaving" by Reg Dixon

I was told recently about an old Fenland custom which was completely unknown to me. "Bull Shaving" was very popular in the Parish of Little Downham in the late nineteenth century.

Legend has it that the pastime began after the traditional Plough Monday festival had turned into nothing more than an excuse for drunken local youths to demand money from villagers.

"Bull Shaving" was nomally held at Whitsun and involved picking the most hirsute bull in the village & six of strongest lads to perform the task. The bull was dressed in ribbons and finery and led through the village by the Rector; youths running ahead, door to door, collecting money for the poor of the parish.

Once the party had reached the green opposite The Plough, the bull would be tethered to four stakes with leather straps without causing undue discomfort to the animal. The half dozen young men would then gently divest the bull of it's outer coat, using cut throat razors; a skill learned from Mr. Louis Hopkin of Main street. Once the bull was clean shaven, it would be covered up in the colourful "Bull Monday" waistcoat which was knitted by the W.I in Pymoor.

Sadly, "Bull Shaving" became unpopular when modern thinking prevailed and it was thought to be demeaning to the animals. However, supporters of the custom pointed out that it was never done in winter, as that would be cruel.

email Reg reg@ely.org.uk