The Bull

The Bull

We have three public houses in Sturminster Newton (at one time there were 11 in our small market town!) and The Bull Tavern is one of the oldest. The building consists mainly of a 3 roomed 17th Century cottage with an attic room, built of old timber infilled with wattle and daub. Some additions were made in the 18th Century. Records show that the cottage was definitely an alehouse by the late 1700s. Apparently there was a slaughter house at the rear and a Pound where straying animals were kept until collected – upon payment of a fee of 1 shilling (which must have been a fortune when you consider that a married man’s weekly wages at the Town’s Workhouse were all of 9 shillings and a single man’s only 6). Part of the C18th additions was a stable block (which eventually became a skittle alley and later part of the restaurant of the pub). It is rumoured that the horses stabled there were used to help get carriages and carts up the adjoining steep hill leading to Sturminster Common and the small community of Broad Oak.

The building, known to Thomas Hardy (one of our famous inhabitants) as The Old Bull Inn,  is shown on the earliest known map of the area dated 1783, as being part of the Pitt-Rivers Estate.  You can learn more about the Pitt-Rivers family here:

About 18 months ago, after our then favourite landlords moved from the White Horse Inn in Hinton St Mary, the pub was closed for refurbishment. Hinton is a village about 1.25 miles away, where the Pitt-Rivers manor house is situated.  We used to walk there 3 times a week – our exercise with benefits – but since the benefits had disappeared we decided to patronise The Bull – for our exercise of course.  The only trouble with that was that it’s uphill on the way home whereas it was down hill from the White Horse.

During that time we had come to enjoy the chats with Marianne and Lance, the Bull’s managers.  Lance being the very good chef, and Marianne “Front of House”.  Early in January 2021, they announced that on Christmas Day they had got engaged.

One of my felt paintings – commissioned by a mutual friend –  had been given to the White Horse landlords as a wedding present a few years ago, and Graham, my husband, suggested that I do something similar as a wedding present for Lance and Marianne.

Felt picture of sepia tint image of old public house
My interpretation of an early image of The White Horse, Hinton St Mary

Although The Bull itself is a very interesting building, I wondered if I should do a picture of an actual bull for them. No date had been set for the wedding at that time, but I thought I should at least start collecting reference pictures, both of the pub itself, including some of their Pub sign and of some animals. I thought about breeds that might have been around in the 16th Century – White Park Cattle and black Gloucesters; and also looked at Herefords since that was the breed on the Pub sign.

image of Bull Tavern sign with hereford bull above image of the public house
The Bull Tavern and it’s sign
image of black bull with winners rosettes and image of large white bull
Gloucester and Park White Bulls
image of hereford bull head, image of bull grazing, image of bull in field
3 Hereford Bulls. I eventually picked the one at top left.

In the end I decided on a Hereford bull. After a lot of thought and manipulation of pictures, and also starting on a background field for the bull to stand in, I still could not come up with a layout that I was happy with. One idea was to surround the image of the bull with cameo pictures of nearby local landmarks – the water mill and the mediaeval bridge – with perhaps an image of the pub itself as well.

Then, just after Christmas 2022, Marianne said that they had set the date for the wedding – 10th June 2023.  Now I had to get my ideas together and get on with it.  The picture would need to be simplified if I was going to get it done and framed in time.

It was about then that my picture of the horse on the hillside in Devon was finished and it occurred to me that I could use a similar method of producing a figure with more depth.

image of felted horse on background of trees and stream
Detail from my Glorious Devon picture showing the horse added to the finished landscape.

  I finally decided upon a cameo type picture of the bull’s head and shoulders and I would use the background which I had made back at the beginning of this saga.  I would paint (with wool) the shoulders and neck and outline of the head on to a piece of flat wet felted core fibres.  With a separate face and ears, and a further separate set of horns and the nose on another piece.  I would cut all of the pieces from the backing when these were substantially finished.  I would fix the torso and neck onto the original background and layer on the face and ears, horns and nose, then I would do the final titivating and framing.  I made a start and here are the initial progress pictures:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I said earlier, it was intended that this picture would be a wedding present for Lance and Marianne, but at the beginning of April this year, they told us that, because of various unforeseen difficulties arising out of successive pandemic lockdowns (which included them catching Covid between lockdowns so having to shut the pub again)  they had decided to give up the tenancy of the pub.  They had obtained a job, with accommodation, managing a Touring Caravan Park in Cornwall.  Marianne was leaving almost immediately and Lance would stay on for a couple of weeks, with his last trading day on the 19th April.  So the picture was going to have to be a leaving present.

That caused a bit of a panic at home as you can imagine, so I had to get my head down and finish it NOW!  These were the final steps;

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I managed to finish the picture and, with Graham’s help, I mounted it in a deep box frame in time to hand it over to Lance on the 19th, when we went in for a final lunchtime meal.

So here’s the completed and framed picture – my entry for the 2023 Third Quarter Challenge – Something Special About Our Town.

image of felted bull head and torso on a field and sky landscape in wooden box frame
Finished and framed.

22 thoughts on “The Bull

  1. What an interesting story, it’s so nice to read about Englands history written by local people about local people and what a stunning piece of art you have made towards the telling of it .The bulls face is beautiful and so lifelike I love it.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. We do have a lot of history around here – but then I suppose it’s everywhere isn’t it? Very little has just “appeared” – “it just growed” like Topsy!

  2. “The Bull” is an amazing piece! The detail and the contrast in textures draw you into the meadow so you feel like you’re right there. What a wonderful gift for friends leaving the area.

    TO ALL the blog contributors – I am new to felting and truly appreciate the time and effort you put into sharing your work. It’s hard enough to find time for felting and your thoughtful posts take away from your “play time”. I can’t draw and have difficulty creating a design. It’s incredibly helpful to read how you come up with ideas and translate them into felt art.

    Thank you

    1. Thank you for your lovely comments.
      I can’t draw either and I certainly can’t paint, except with felt. I don’t know why. Do have a look at our Forum – you’ll find a link somewhere on this page – you will find all sorts of help and information there, as well as on our Online Classes page here. There’s always someone to help and advise.

  3. Wow Ann, this piece is spectacular. I dreamt about cows last night and woke up to your blog! I love the historical context you included, it really brings so much more meaning to the journey. I’m sure Lance and Marianne were totally blown away with your gift. Absolutely wonderful, Lisa

    1. Thank you Lisa, glad you enjoyed it. I love all (well most) animals, especially cattle. When I was small I used to “help” at our local dairy farm and quite often got a ride on my favourite roan cow. That was many years ago, when the poor old bull was permanently locked away in a small indoor stall – I suppose they had to let him out on some days when he did his “job” though.

  4. The bull is fantastic – thank you for showing us how you achieved the picture – very interesting!

    Loved reading about your local history too and isn’t it a shame that pubs like ‘The Bull’ are struggling now.

    Great entry for the challenge 🙂

    1. Thank you both. Yes a great shame that so many pubs & restaurants/cafés are in difficulty. We have quite a few of the latter in the town too, though probably too many for the area, so they are all competing with each other.

  5. Wow, what a great result Ann. Especially since you were pressured for time to get it finished. I love your bull and I’m sure he will be treasured for years to come. Thanks also for the history of your area and I agree with Lyn that it is sad that small businesses are suffering.

    I also smiled when you talked about the skittles alley. I used to sell wooden skittle games made in Berea, KY at my store here in Montana. It was a hit with visitors who would play skittles while shopping 🙂

    1. Thanks Ruth. Skittles was, in fact still is in parts, a sort of “national sport” in the west country, usually taken very seriously. I’ve played several times at the Bull in the past (I think I might do myself a nasty if I tried it these days) when we were anything but serious, especially towards the end of the evenings when the beer was well taken!

  6. There is nothing quite so lovely in the UK as an old market town with a pub that has enough character to sell itself and the town. I love these old buildings, and the stories they could tell are endless while enjoying a cider or a G&T. I love that you chose a Hereford Bull for your picture, they are lovely unique and handsome animals, but all your examples are worthy of being immortalised in felt. Thank you for such a lovely read.

    1. Thanks Marie.
      Yes Herefords are lovely and so gentle (for a bull). At the dairy farm where I used to “help” as a child, after the old bull died, they got themselves a Hereford. He was very handsome and loved to have the curls on his forehead scratched. He’d lower his head for me so that I could reach. I was very upset not so much later when I’d heard that he’d died (“on the job” I’m afraid to say).

  7. What a beautiful rendering of a lovely animal. Our family has ties to ranchers and the Hereford cross is a staple at the ranch. Lovely to see such a great image of one. The story is so sad in a way, but I’m glad the previous pub managers were able to land on their feet.

    1. Thank you Bernadette. When I was searching for reference photos I spotted several from North America – magnificent beasts. I do love cattle – so gentle – that is unless they are cows with calves at foot and you’ve got a dog with you! An of course the dairy bulls, which tend to be more touchy than the Herefords, as well as quicker on their feet.

  8. What a great story and a great picture. I am sure they will treasure it. You’re so lucky to have so much history all around you. It is sad the way so many businesses are have a hard time staying afloat. I hope the new owners are a nice as the last ones.

    1. Thanks Ann.
      We’re not sure what will happen to The Bull at the moment. The brewery that owned it have sold it, but whether to someone who wants to run it as a pub/restaurant or convert it to living accommodation we don’t know yet. Whoever has bought it will have to contend with the fact that it is close to the river Stour and is in danger of flooding whenever rainfall raises the river level – as of course is likely to happen more frequently as the climate changes. The brewery had already installed a pump after the last flood episode so at least the buyer should have been aware of the potential problem. We shall see what happens.

  9. I love your story. Brian and I enjoy watching Midsummer Murders on our PBS channel here in the states. We love the quaint little hamlets, and imagine what it would be like to walk to the local pub, and walk (or stagger) home! Your pictures, and article, shows you actually get to do it! I’m so jealous.

    Your cow is a perfect specimen, and it’s interesting how you’re able to layer your pieces, to get the look. Well done, Ann. I’m sure the couple will cherish it always. How sad they must leave your local area…but then again, Cornwall is the area we know, from Doc Martin!! 💞Swoon 💞
    I really must get over to the UK and see these places. For the moment, Covid has reared its ugly head, in our area. On Friday, my mother’s Memory Care facility had 3 cases, of 28 patients. Yesterday, 3 more tested positive. Here we go again!!


    1. Hi Capi, I’ve never actually seen either of those programmes – we don’t have a TV (now there’s a conversation stopper!) we couldn’t afford one when we first got married and have done without one ever since. Mind you, the internet is beginning to take on the role now – such a time waster (F&FS excepted of course).
      I do hope your mother hasn’t caught the lurgy, or you and Brian if it comes to that. Do take care.

  10. I love your post Ann, it captures rural life to a ‘T’. That said it is very sad that the ending of your pub story is being repeated many times over around the U.K.

    Your picture is as handsome as your subject. I love the texture you’ve achieved for the Herefordshire bull….just perfect. Well done you for completing it in the shortened time frame. I hope the recipients were delighted with their gift.

    1. Thank you Antje.
      Having lots of tight curly locks helped with the bull’s forehead – such lovely animals. We’re going down to see Lance and Marianne at the end of this month, on our first proper holiday since before the lockdowns. Only a few days but it will get us out of our home rut I hope.

  11. One thing I loved about my time living in the UK was the character of these small villages and your story has brought back so many great memories Ann. It is such a pity that so many of these beautiful old pubs are closing. I hope that it will undergo a suitable reinvention – I am imagining that it is a listed building?

    You are a real story teller. What a beautiful and original gift you created for this couple – I suspect that they will be missed within the community, but you have given them a stunning memento of their time with you.
    Helene x

    1. Thank you Helene. I don’t know if the pub is listed, it certainly should be, but the sale particulars didn’t mention it. If the person who has bought it is who I think it is, I’m sure it will not be spoilt, but whether it will re-open as a pub or become a dwelling I don’t know yet. The (I hope) purchaser has done so much for our town, donating buildings for community use etc., that I’m sure it will remain an asset to us.

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: