The tale of the Bradford Boar

| January 1, 2014 | 0 Comments

The boar has long been associated with the city of Bradford since medieval times. The crest of the City of Bradford depicts it.Boar's Head

But why has it been? It all begins with a story from the 1300’s relating to a menacing boar and a heroic huntsman who saved the city from it.

Here is an adapted version by James Slater of the original tale by E H Hopkinson. The tale goes…

In the medieval ages, there was a fearsome boar terrorising the people of Bradford. The animal, which was from Cliffe Woods just outside the manor of Bradford, was a source of great mischief to the Bradfordians. It brought terror to the peaceful flocks and ravaged the nearby countryside. But its worst attribute was that it went to the well in the middle of the woods and drunk the water from it, meaning that the ordinary Bradford people refused to go anywhere near the well for fear of the boar harming it.

Everyday this situation got worse and worse as rumours and gossip circulated around the town detailing the boar’s latest atrocities. These rumours eventually reached the ears of the Lord of the Manor who considered the threat of the animal and proposed a solution. He said that he wanted the boar to be killed and, whoever was able to kill the beast and return its head as proof, would be rewarded with a significant amount of land and fame throughout the district.

Map from 1920's showing Cliffe Woods

Map from 1920’s showing Cliffe Woods

The people of Bradford rejoiced at this but one rather big question still remained: who would be brave enough to kill the boar? A lot of people felt tempted by the handsome reward on offer, but the sheer thought of taking on a beast with such deadly tusks and ferocious temper soon dampened their ambitions.

However, there was one huntsman, a bold and cunning man, who was determined to claim the prize despite the reputation the boar had. He went in to the wood with his best bow and arrow and his spear and waited by the well for the boar to appear.

As planned, at around noon, the beast came grunting out of the trees to drink from the well. The huntsman leaped up from his hiding place and shot the boar twice through the heart with his fine arrows, thrusting in his good spear also to ensure the death of the menacing boar.

The Boar's Well, now just a trickle Phil Robinson 2010

The Boar’s Well, now just a trickle
Phil Robinson 2010

Then, with his huntsman’s knife, he cut off the boar’s head so that he could claim his reward. But then there was a problem. The huntsman was a very strong man but the boar was a huge beast and its head was too heavy to carry all the way back to the Manor House. However, as quick-witted as ever, the huntsman decided to open the boar’s mouth and cut out its tongue, taking that as proof instead so he set out for the Manor House as quickly as he could.

A few minutes later, as the huntsman left on his way to the manor, a second huntsman walked near the well and found the slain carcass of the boar and its severed head adjacent to it. He rejoiced in his good fortune, as the famous boar lay dead before his feet. He thought its killer had gone to find help unwisely leaving the head behind. This man was stronger than the first and knew of a shortcut to the town’s Manor so was able to pick up the boar’s head and carry it through the wood towards the prize that awaited him should he arrive first.

The Lord of the Manor was sat in the main hall when the second huntsman burst through the doors. He announced, “The woes of Bradford are ended! With my own hand, I have slain the boar!” And, with that, he dropped the boar’s enormous head at the feet of his lord.

“Then you shall be rewarded, even as I promised,” said the Lord of the Manor, “never have I seen a boar’s head of such gigantic proportions or such grisly aspect.” He began to investigate the head, as did all the rest of the people in the manor.

But soon, he let out a cry. “What is this? A boar with no tongue!” He looked at the huntsman, shrewdly. “How comes this creature to have no tongue?”

A mural in the civic entrance of Bradford City Hall Phil Robinson 2013

A mural in the civic entrance of Bradford City Hall
Phil Robinson 2013

“I cannot say, my Lord,” replied the huntsman, feeling just a little uncomfortable. At this moment, the first huntsman burst through the door.

“The woes of Bradford are ended,” he cried, “with my own hand I have slain the boar.” All eyes now turned to the man who stood at the doorway.

“The reward is already given,” said the Lord, “this man here has brought to me the boar’s head.”

“Then, where is its tongue?” the first huntsman replied. And, so saying, he drew out the boar’s tongue from his hunting pouch and related how he had ambushed the creature in the wood and cut out its tongue as proof of his victory.

The plaque of Hunt Yard

The plaque of Hunt Yard – Copyright: Gareth Nolan

Listening to the tale, the Lord of the Manor instantly perceived the truth. He proclaimed the first huntsman the true victor and the second a mere fraud and impostor, sentencing him to be punished for his deceit.

The huntsman who had truly slain the boar received as his reward a piece of land just outside the town, known thereafter as Hunt Yard.

His fame was indeed assured, but it was nothing like so lasting as that of the fearsome Bradford Boar!

The main man thought to be the first huntsman is John Northrop, the imposter is Roger de Manningham and the Lord of the Manor would be Prince John of Gaunt. These are also the names agreed in the “History and Topography of Bradford.” The story is said to originate from around 1342.

John Northrop

John Northrop

However, there are disputes that the first hunter was Roger de Manningham or another man called John Manningham.

Also, in the mid-1300’s, the Lord of the Manor was John or Robert Bolling. In Bolling Hall, text accompanying the boar’s head wrongly states that a man named John

Rushworth of Horton killed the boar as documentation shows that it was John Northrop of Manningham. In fact, it is shown that Rushworth was a descendant of Northrop and did own the land in Horton.

A later version of the story says that Northrop was being watched whilst he killed the boar by Roger de Manningham’s men. One of his men saw Northrop cut out the tongue and he raced back to tell Manningham. When Manningham found out, he slammed the table and told two of his men to “go and sort out Northrop.” When Manningham got to the well, he saw the dead boar and jumped down from his horse and came across the same problem as Northrop had done – that the head was too heavy. Eventually one of his men put it into a sack.

Roger de Manningham

Roger de Manningham

Meanwhile, the two men who Manningham had sent, ambushed Northrop in the woods on his journey to the castle. He soon fought them off and carried on his journey. As he arrived at the Manor, more of Manningham’s men tried to stop him getting in

Though the Lord of the Manor was displeased that Manningham had tried to fraudulently claim he had done it so he threw both Northrop and Manningham in the dungeons of the infamous Black Castle whilst he made up his mind. Some time later, the men were brought up before him where he decided they would both have horn blowing duty and that Manningham would have to give up some of his land in the Horton Manor to Northrop. This land was just beyond the Bradford Beck and was named “Hunter’s Yard” or “Hunt Yard.”


The original horn, now in safekeeping at Bradford City Hall

The original horn, now in safekeeping at Bradford City Hall Copyright: Gareth Nolan

This tradition goes back to Medieval times when Bradford belonged to the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt.

The legend has it that Northrop was told by John of Gaunt that on receiving Hunt Yard, him and his heirs for future generations should attend Bradford Marketplace in winter with a hunting dog and a lance and give three blasts of the horn. Over 600 years later, the tradition was still carried out by Northrop’s heirs. The day was set to St Martin’s Day on 11th November – St Martin’s Day being a religious observance mainly celebrated in Germany.

A man would turn up dressed in medieval clothes and blow three blasts on his horn and shout out, “Heirs of Rushworth, come hold me my hounds, while I blow three blasts on my horn, to pay the rent due to my Sovereign, the king.” Its true meaning was perhaps lost in time.

A plaque in Ripon detailing who will be on horn blowing duty

A plaque in Ripon detailing who will be on horn blowing duty

Northrop married Mary Rushworth and as they had no surviving children, the duty was passed on to the Rushworth family to attend to the King and carry on the tradition. Eventually, there was no need for the horn blower as a guide that the times had got safer and it just became a festive occasion. Yet some Yorkshire towns still have horn blowers, such as the North Yorkshire town of Ripon.

After being passed down for many generations, the actual horn is now on show in Bradford City Hall for safekeeping.

But, most of the story is now mixed up in history. And that is even if the story is true and not just a legend. However one thing cannot be disputed – the hold that the story of the boar has had on the history of Bradford and how it has been depicted on many civic emblems.



The Local Leader History in partnership with All About Bradford – the Facebook page with over 15,000 likes dedicated to promoting the history of our city!AAB

Written by James Slater with photos and history from Phil Robinson. If you have any questions or comments, please comment on this page to help. We are also looking for photographs for our website.

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