For centuries bull baiting was common throughout England, not only as entertainment but because it was thought to tenderise the animal's meat. For this reason the bye-laws of some towns, including Chesterfield, instructed local butchers to bait bulls before they were slaughtered. Chained by the leg or neck, the bull was tormented by dogs specially trained to pin it by the nose - the one area which really was tender. Every market town and many villages had a bull ring but very few survive in and around the Peak District.
Bull baiting was often a highlight of market days, annual wakes and fairs, and special occasions such as a wedding. At a Darley Wedding in 1798 about 370 guests were entertained at the end of the day by a ball and two bull-baitings.
A chain and swivel secured in an iron ring tethered the bull which was frequently already enraged by having had pepper blown into his nostrils before the dogs were set on to him. The rope was about 15 feet long, so that the bull was confined to a space of 30 feet diameter.
The dogs were trained to pin the bull by its sensitive nose, an agony often prolonged by allowing the beast to hide its snout from time to time in a purpose-made hole in the ground. The Old English Bulldog was bred especially for this sport. Dogs were at little risk as the bull's horns were tipped with rounded knobs.
The bull ring at Snitterton is at road level near Yew Tree Cottage at the junction to Snitterton Hall. It was preserved by Derbyshire Archaeological Society in 1906. An old villager recalled being told by his father how in the evenings men from Winster, Wensley and other villages would often bring their bulldogs to be tried against the bull at Snitterton. The Snitterton bull ring was so worn that a new one was laid, its staple set into a stone 2' wide and 7' deep - which it took four horses to pull - which was sunk 2' into the ground.
A Bill for the suppression of the practise was introduced into the House of Commons in 1802, but was defeated by 13 votes, and it was not untill 1835 that it was finally put down by Act of Parliament, called the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, which forbade the keeping of any house, pit, or other place for baiting or fighting any bull, bear, dog, or other animal.