A Pastime Consigned to History: Bear Baiting in 16th and 17th Century London

Bear maxillaAgas mapDuring 2012 and 2015, AOC carried out excavations at the site of Empire Warehouse on Bear Gardens, Southwark on behalf of RPS Consulting Services and Macro Investments Ltd. These investigations revealed faunal assemblages relating to bear-baiting, which was a popular form of entertainment in the area during the 16th and 17th centuries. Cartographic evidence from the Agas Map (above), a 16th century map of London, suggests that the site lay within an area of yards, kennels and ponds associated with the Bankside bear-baiting arena. Amongst the animal bones excavated from Empire Warehouse were those of bears and large mastiff-type dogs, bearing injuries sustained through fighting. The remains of old or ‘knackered’ horses used to feed these animals were also recovered. Shown above to the right is a bear maxilla.

The results of archaeological excavations at Empire Warehouse have added to our understanding of the wider Bankside area during the medieval and post-medieval periods, particular its rich history as a centre for entertainment and leisure activities during the early post-medieval period, including the baiting of animals.