Think You’re Hard, Then?

William Badger Pope c.1930.
William ‘Badger’ Pope c.1930.

William ‘Badger’ Pope, born in around 1878, was a psycho who caused trouble in the West Country city of Bath in the years before World War I. Local papers from around the turn of the century are full of stories about his ‘foul mouth’, and of him stealing, sleeping in dustbins, assaulting people (both men and women), and, in particular, chucking them in the river.

He was, of course, perpetually drunk, and most often found in the pub. It was there that, in his most benign moods, he entertained people with fairground side-show tricks — biting the heads off live rats he kept stuffed in his shirt, or stealing ladies’ hatpins and driving them through both of his cheeks. When he was feeling punchy (which seems to have been most of the time) he would find a bloke he didn’t like the look of, snatch his beer glass and empty it on to the pub floor, before taking a seat to wait for the fight to begin.

He was almost as good at evading the police as he was at drinking and fighting. He might, for example, climb up the maypole outside the Waterman’s Arms like King Kong and wait them out, or, even more effective, dive into the river and swim to the other side.

With characters like Badger about, landlords had to be hard, too, and even Badger is said to have respected (feared) Septimus Smith, who ran the The Shamrock. He was famous for wrestling customers, with a free pint on offer to anyone who could get their hands around both of his wrists at the same time. He could also carry three sacks of cement at once.

Yikes. If you need us, we’ll be in the lounge at the hotel, in our Sunday best, sipping sherry.

We read about Badger in Kegs & Ale: Bath and the public house, published by Bath Industrial Heritage Centre and Millstream Books in 1991. It’s out of print but our secondhand copy cost 1p.

9 thoughts on “Think You’re Hard, Then?”

  1. Bring it back, the adventure and excitement of pub going, not knowing whether you’ll end up in A&E and pubs will thrive. The gentrification has done nothing but seen pubs diminish in numbers, stature & relevance. Be the change you wish to see in the world. If you care about pubs go out, get pissed and have a fight today.

    1. But isn’t it the other way round — it’s not that gentrifying killed pubs but that working men (or non-working men, in the case of Badger…) abandoned pubs, at which point the ‘gentry’ moved in?

      1. Why did us rough sorts abandon pubs? it was those middle class types with their sharp elbows making our pubs all posh like.

    1. Ah, the darts craze. Have you written anything about that? We keep finding bits and pieces as we go and are saving them up for a possible post.

  2. I thought pubs were a democracy where duke and dustman sat together in perfect sozzled harmony…my mate saw a fight in a pub in Colwyn Bay towards the end of the 1970s and a guy got glass in his jugular and died in front of everyone, I tell you it all went sour after the wars

  3. Is it “hands up who’s been minding their own business in a pub when a serious, no-holds-barred fight has broken out” or “hands up who’s never been minding their own business in a pub when a serious, no-holds-barred fight has broken out”?

    (Me: twice.)

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