The grand consumption of rats… is in Bunhill-row, at a public-house kept by a pugilist. A rat-seller told me that from 200 to 500 rats were killed there weekly, the weekly average being, however, only the former number; while at Easter and other holidays, it is not uncommon to see bills posted announcing the destruction of 500 rats on the same day and in a given time, admittance 6d. Dogs are matched at these and similar places, as to which kills the greatest number of these animals in the shortest time.
Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 1851.
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I now propose laying down a few abstract questions for the due consideration of our worthy magistracy, as to the propriety of their interference in rat-matching, &c. The first point I would wish to draw their attention to, is the case of the rat-catcher of Witnesham in Suffolk, who brought, in twenty-one weeks, to one public-house in Ipswich, no less a number than 11,465 rats, which he sold at two shillings and sixpence per dozen. This man, in this short space of time, took from the public-house the sum of £254; and all these were genuine barn-rats, which were brought for the purpose of training dogs, matches, &c…
I shall now lay before you the complaint of a landlord of a tavern. His house was situated about a stone’s throw from the police-station. Here he was landlord for seven years and, though considered something of a sporting house, still, during that period, he declared that not one case of disturbance ever went from his tavern to the station… Yet because this man had rat-matches in his establishment, and trained dogs in the art of rat-killing, he was persecuted… till he was compelled to leave his house.
James Rodwell, The Rat: its history & destructive character, 1858.
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In 1812, a RAT of astonishing Size, was killed at a Public-house, in East Clandon, near GUILDFORD; it measured from the tip of the Nose, to the end of the Tail, two Feet three inches, and was of proportionate Bulk. It is supposed, he had infested the Cellar, where caught, for Years, and the Landlord calculates, he had drank at least a Barrel of Beer, out of the Tap-tub, and eat upwards of a Bushel of Bread, besides a Quantity of Other Provisions.
William Barker Daniel, Supplement to the Rural Sports, 1813
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With apologies to the squeamish, this post was inspired by reading E.S. Turner in Angus McGill’s anthology Pub (1969), and Kellow Chesney’s The Victorian Underworld (1970). Now let us never speak of rats again.