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Legend & Lore

March 2011

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Things You Didn’t Know You Wanted to Know Anything About

The Original Jack Black Ratcatcher by Appointment to the Queen & First Breeder of Pet Rats


The Sport of Rat-Baiting in Victorian England & America

History & Evolution of the Pet Rat


SHOP LEGEND & LORE’S Online Bookstore of the Strange, Unusual, and Little Known More than 200 books about things you never knew you wanted to know anything about until you knew you could! Here are just a few. For more, go to Buried Treasures of California: Legends from California's Mountains, Deserts, Beaches, and Cities. by W. C. Jameson. This volume, the seventh in W.C. Jameson's buried treasures series, contains thirty such tales of forgotten riches. It was these tales and others like them that drove westward expansion, and though many of the legendary California treasures have been unearthed, many still remain. It Looked Good on Paper: Bizarre Inventions, Design Disasters, and Engineering Follies. by Bill Fawcett. A remarkable compendium of wild schemes, mad plans, crazy inventions, and truly glorious disasters Every phenomenally bad idea seemed like a good idea to someone. How else can you explain the Ford Edsel or the sword pistol—absolutely absurd creations that should have never made it off the drawing board? It Looked Good on Paper gathers together the most flawed plans, half-baked ideas, and downright ridiculous machines throughout history that some second-rate Einstein decided to foist on an unsuspecting populace with the best and most optimistic intentions. Some failed spectacularly. Others fizzled after great expense. One even crashed on Mars. But every one of them at one time must have looked good on paper. The Best Book of Useless Information Ever: A Few Thousand Other Things You Probably Don't Need to Know (But Might As Well Find Out). by Noel Botham. If you find yourself transfixed by the most trivial of trivia, or mesmerized by the most minor of minutiae, The Useless Information Society's latest findings can satisfy your every need. This wide-ranging collection will fill every nook and cranny of your brain with information you'll surely never need, but will enjoy learning anyway! Did you know that penguins can jump six feet out of the water? - that everyone is color-blind at birth? Would you care to know what the first meal eaten on the moon was? What country drinks the most Coca-Cola? (It's not the United States.) In 1995, a secret society was formed comprising Britain's foremost thinkers, writers, and artists to trade and share in useless information (or, as founding member Keith Waterhouse, playwright and journalist, would have it,

Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments. by Alex Boese. When Tusko the Elephant woke in his pen at the Lincoln Park Zoo on the morning of August 3, 1962, little did he know that he was about to become the test subject in an experiment to determine what happens to an elephant given a massive dose of LSD. In Elephants on Acid, Alex Boese reveals to readers the results of not only this scientific trial but of scores of other outrageous, amusing, and provocative experiments found in the files of modern science. Secret Lives of the U. S. Presidents: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the Men of the White House. by Cormac O'Brien. Your high-school history teachers never gave you a book like this one! Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents features outrageous and uncensored profiles of the men in the White House, complete with hundreds of little-known, politically incorrect, and downright wacko facts.

Book of the Bizarre: Freaky Facts and Strange Stories. by Varla Ventura. Did you know duck dander is hallucinogenic? Or that Katherine Hepburn had a phobia of dirty hair? Have you ever wondered about the Magickal Skull of Doom or contemplated the mysterious Transylvanian Tablets? The Book of the Bizarre is a veritable treasure trove of startling and stranger-than-fiction trivia that spans history, continents, even worlds. Never before have so many truly frightful facts been gathered together in one place. 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History. by Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan, Jeremy Salter. From Santa Claus to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from Uncle Sam to Uncle Tom, here is a compelling, eye-opening, and endlessly entertaining compendium of fictional trendsetters and world-shakers who have helped shape our culture and our lives.

The Beauty of the Beasts: Tales of Hollywood's Wild Animal Stars. by Ralph Helfer. The Beauty of the Beasts is a chronicle of many years Ralph Helfer spent as a Hollywood animal behaviorist, and is full of behind–the–scenes accounts of the many television programs and films in which Helfer's animals appeared, including Charlie's Angels and The Ten Commandments, and the stars he and his animals worked with such as Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood, and Marilyn Monroe. But this is more than a story of the famous, both four and two–legged –– it's also about the important roles animals play in our lives, and how much less human we would be without them. Death by Stupidity: The 1,001 Most Ridiculous, Bizarre and Astonishingly Idiotic Ways People Have Kicked the Bucket. by David Southwell. If the stories were not true, no one would believe that these 1,001 people managed to die in such utterly stupid yet highly amusing ways, but they did. Death by Stupidity presents hundreds of newly collected accounts of what might kindly be described as actions lacking foresight or less-kindly described as really idiotic ways to meet one's maker. The Good, the Bad, and the Mad: Some Weird People in American History. by E. Randall Floyd. The quiet spinster who erupted one day in a blinding flash of violence, the brilliant scientist who was terrified of women wearing pearl earrings, the inexperienced pilot who took off from New York bound for Los Angeles and landed 27 hours later in Dublin! These are just a few of the many saints, sinners, hucksters, and oddballs you'll meet in The Good, The Bad & The Mad. Take a Walk on the Dark Side: Rock and Roll Myths, Legends, and Curses. by R. Gary Patterson. Take a Walk on the Dark Side is the ultimate book for today's rock and roll fan: a fascinating compendium of facts, fictions, prophecies, premonitions, coincidences, hoaxes, doomsday scenarios, and other urban legends about some of the world's most beloved and mysterious pop icons.

The Original Jack Black Ratcatcher by Appointment to the Queen & First Breeder of Pet Rats A flamboyant self-promoter, Jack Black caught rats and fish with his bare hands; sang birds down from the trees; bred ferrets, terriers, and monkeys; and gave pet rats to Queen Victoria and the ladies of her court. Not more than four miles from Buckingham Palace in London, England, is the community of Battersea, best known today for being home of the United Kingdom's largest animal shelter and the location of the Battersea Power Plant. This last is a wonder of Art Deco architecture designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (who also designed Britain's famous red telephone booth), and is said to be the tallest brick building in Europe. From Roman times through the early nineteenth century, Battersea was an agricultural community surrounded by farms. By the mid-1800s, however, the area had become an industrial center criss-crossed by six different railway lines as they wended into London. And, as such areas tend to do, it evolved into an area of slums housing the poor, the working poor, and the lumpenproletariat. Among the residents of Battersea (outside the town "in the country"), but not poor, was Jack Black, Queen Victoria's ratcatcher. Were you to walk the area's streets at the time, you might come across him on his bright red wagon pulled by a small horse. The sides and tail of the wagon were decorated with white silhouettes of rats, and carried a stage and several large cages of rats. From the stage, Black demonstrated the efficacy of his own rat-poison concoction by feeding it to rats taken from one of the cages. At the same time, by letting some rats climb on him, he promoted himself as a man unafraid of rats and a perfect ratcatcherfor-hire. Black, himself, made quite a picture in his trademark uniform: top hat, bright red waistcoat, and a leather sash featuring two cast-iron rats he had made from plaster casts of dead rats March 2011

(getting the eyes right was the hardest part, he said). Also on the sash were a capital “V” and “R” separated by a crown, signifying a special appointment to Victoria Regina, Queen Victoria. According to Black, his wagon and costume were great attention getters and yielded fantastic dividends: “When I was out with selling my composition, which my man Joe used to offer about; and whenever a packet was sold, I always tested its virtues by killing a rat with it afore the people's own eyes.... My usual method was this. I used to put a board across the top, and form a kind of counter. I always took with me a iron wire cage--so big a one, that Mr. Barnet, a Jew, laid a wager that he could get into it, and he did. I used to form this cage at one end of the cart, and sell my composition at the other. There were rats painted round the cart-that was the only show I had about the vehicle. I used to take out the rats, and put them outside the cage; and used to begin the show by putting rats inside my shirt next my bousem, or in my coat and breeches pockets, or on my shoulder --in fact, all about me,

anywhere. The people would stand to see me take up rats without being bit. I never said much, but I used to handle the rats in every possible manner, letting 'em run up my arm, and stroking their backs and playing with 'em. Most of the people used to fancy they had been tamed on purpose, until they'd see me take fresh ones from the cage, and play with them in the same manner.” We don't know anything about Black's parentage or youth save that he started his career as a professional ratcatcher at the age of nine when he caught a number of rats in Regent Park for his terrier to kill in training for rat baiting, a popular sport at the time. In his own

Legend & Lore

The Take-Me-Home Waiting Room Magazine

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Queen Victoria hired Jack Black to catch the rats in the palace and in London’s 21 barracks.

Legend & Lore Magazine

Contents copyright 2010 by Clear Lake Media, Inc. All rights reserved. 3

words and dialect, as reported by Henry Mayhew in London Labour and the London Poor (1851), Black recalled:

Although Victorian England had little fear of civil unrest, the army was well represented in the metropolitan area ARUL DORAISWAMY, MD with 21 barracks. Former Assistant Professor at UCSF “At that time it [Regent's Park] was Initially, Black was retained at six Double Board Certified all fields and meaders in them parts, and pounds a year at his royal ratcatching in Pain Management and Anesthesiology I recollect there was a big orchard on job, but that was amended later so he All Patients Treated by one side of the sheds. I was only doing was paid three cents per rat. This was Dr. Doraiswamy Only it for a game, and there was lots of probably a better deal for Black, since 951-925-3600 ladies and gents looking on, and he caught thousands of rats. In addition, 1260 East Latham, Hemet wondering at seeing me taking the rats he could sell rats by the hundreds and out from under a heap of old bricks and thousands to the various rat-baiting pits wood, where they had collected in the area. At that time, pub owners Dignity with Economy theirselves. I had a little dog--a little red and other rat-pit operators paid Black 'un it was, who was well known through and other ratcatchers as much as three 250 S. State, San Jacinto 951-654-2255 24/7 pennies per rat. A thousand rats caught the fancy [of dog breeding]--and I by Black in the Queen's service would wanted the rats for to test my dog with, Serving All of So. California net him--at six cents each (three cents I being a lad what was fond of the sport Regular Hours: 9-5 M-F from Victoria and three cents from a rat[of rat baiting]. Available Any Time of Day or Night pit proprietor) 6,000 pence, or 25 “I wasn't afraid to handle rats even for Consultation pounds. If he worked at this level every then; it seemed to come nat'ral to me. I Z Only Veteran-Owned week, his annual income would be very soon had some in my pocket, and Mortuary in the Valley 1,300 pounds, nearly twice that of a some in my hands, carrying them away Z Family Owned & Operated "rising professional man" of the period. as fast as I could, and putting them into Z No-Cost Body-Donation Black wasn't above having a little fun my wire cage. You see, the rats began to Program Available with others (and at their expense, of run as soon as we shifted them bricks, course) when it came to handling rats. and I had to scramble for them. Many of Z Hospice Discount He recalled he went into a pub where he them bit me, and, to tell you the truth, I Z Convenient In-Home didn't know the bites were so many, or I was unknown and there saw a man who Arrangements (We Come to You) dare say I shouldn't have been so had some rats to sell for rat baiting: Z Serving All Faiths venturesome as I was.” “There was a feller there--a tailor by Z Guaranteed Lowest Cost By the age of ten, Black was using trade--what had turned rat-ketcher. He Se Habla Español License # FD1765 ferrets to exterminate rats for homehad got with him some fifty or sixty 10% On Mortuary Goods & Services owners and farmers in the area. Most rats--the miserablest mangy brutes you With This Ad DISCOUNT (Cannot Be Combined with Other Discounts) often, however, he caught the rats live, ever seed in a tub taking 'em up to using his bare hands, to supply the ratLondon to sell. I, hearing of it, was baiting fraternity. Men with terriers used determined to have a lark, so I goes up KITTENS! in rat baiting habitually bought rats for and takes out ten of them rats, and puts Don’t Try This at Home them inside my shirt, next my bosom, their dogs' training, and for a poor boy or They’ll Take You and and then I walks into the parlour and in Battersea this business could bring in THIS AD sits down, and begins drinking my ale some good money. Whereas a farmer to Karla’s for a as right as if nothing had happened. I with a rat-infested barn would pay as FREE scarce had seated myself, when the much as two cents for each rat caught, NAIL TRIMMING! landlord --who was in the lay--says, 'I the rat-baiting crowd would pay three (Dogs & Cats) know a man who'll ketch rats quicker cents per rat. than anybody in the world.' This put the At 15, Black expanded into bird tailor chap up, so he offers to bet half-acatching to supply another Victorian Professional Dog gallon of ale he would, and I takes him. pastime, that of bird-singing contests. In & Cat Grooming He goes to the tub and brings out a very this sport, two birds were put into Any Breed, Size large rat, and walks with it into the singing competition at a pub. The pub's or Temperament room to show to the company. 'Well,' customers would vote on which bird 16 Years Experience says I to the man, 'why I, who ain't a sang the sweetest. rat-ketcher, I've got a bigger one here,' Sometime around 1835, Black learned and I pulls one out from my bosom. that the queen's current ratcatcher, a Mr. 134 S. San Jacinto St. 'And here's another, and another, and Newton, was ailing and near unto death. Corner San Jacinto & Florida Behind Walgreens another,' says I, till I had placed the Not one to dawdle, Black immediately whole ten on the table. 'That's the way I applied for the man's job and got it. (We ketch 'em,' says I,--'they comes of their don't know whether Black took over 3474 own accord to me.' He tried to handle before or after the man's death.) Black A group of crows is a “murder,” a group of the varmints, but the poor fellow was was given the responsibility of catching goats is a “tribe,” a group of pelicans is a “pod,” a group of prairie dogs is a “coterie,” bit, and his hands was soon bleeding rats at all the army barracks in London.


San Jacinto Valley Mortuary


so what’s a group of rats? A “mischief.” 4

Legend & Lore Magazine

March 2011

“Happy Family” Exhibitions in Victorian England The wolf shall also dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together.... Isa. 11:6

advise him on the subject —that he could show in public animals and birds, supposed to be one another"s enemies and victims, living in quiet together. He did show them in public, beginning with cats, rats, and pigeons in one cage; and then kept adding by degrees all the other creatures I have mentioned. He did very well at Coventry, but I don"t know what he took. His way of training the animals is a secret, which he has taught to me. It’s principally done, however,

At the opposite end of the spectrum from rat-baiting were the “happy family” exhibitions that were very popular in Victorian London. The “happy family” was a cage of various animals and birds, both predator and prey, living in harmony. Henry Mayhew interviewed one of the more successful “happy family” exhibitors: “I have been three years connected with happy families, living by such connexion. These exhibitions were first started at Coventry, sixteen years ago, by a man who was my teacher. He was a stocking-weaver, and a fancier of animals and birds, having a good many in his place—hawks, owls, pigeons, starlings, cats, dogs, rats, mice, Z guinea-pigs, jackdaws, fowls, ravens, and monkeys. He used to keep them separate Z and for his own amusement, or would train them for sale, teaching the dogs tricks, and Z such-like. He found his animals agree so Peaceable Kingdom, by Edward Hicks well together, that he had a notion—and a Z (1780-1849). American Quaker artist. snake-charmer, an old Indian, used to

Z furiously and I without a mark. A

ratcatcher in the world:

that spilt the fun. The poor fellow seemed regular done up, and said, 'I shall give up rat-ketching, you've beat me!” Black's usual means of catching and killing rats included the use of terriers and ferrets, as well as his bare hands (“I've been bitten nearly everywhere, even where I can't name to you, sir.”). But he also experimented with other animals, including monkeys, badgers, and raccoons. “I've learnt a monkey to kill rats, but he wouldn't do much, and only give them a good shaking when they bit him. After I found the racoons no good, I trained a badger to kill rats, and he was superior to any dog, but very difficult in training to get him to kill, though they'll kill rabbits fast enough, or any other kind of game, for they're rare poachers are badgers. I used to call her Polly. She killed in my own pit, for I used to obleege my friends that wouldn't believe it possible with the sight. She won several matches--the largest was in a hundred match.” With all his side jobs and hobbies, Black was still, in his mind, primarily a ratcatcher and, also in his mind, the best

job. There's some gents I've worked for these fifteen years-- sitch as Mr. Robson, the coach-builder, Mivart's Hotel, Shoulbreds', Mr. Lloyds, the large tobacconist, the Commercial Life Assurance, Lord Duncannon's, and I can't recollect how many more. My

Z gentleman as knowed me said, 'This “I general contracts with my Z must be the Queen's rat-ketcher, and customers, by the year, or month, or

March 2011

Legend & Lore Magazine

I may tell you, by continued kindness and petting, and studying the nature of the creatures. Hundreds have tried their hands at happy families, and have failed. The cat has killed the mice, the hawks have killed the birds, the dogs the rats, and even the cats, the rats, the birds, and even one another; indeed, it was anything but a happy family. By our system we never have a mishap; and have had animals eight or nine years in the cage—until they"ve died of age, indeed. In our present cage we have 54 birds and animals, and of 17 different kinds; 3 cats, 2 dogs (a terrier and a spaniel), 2 monkeys, 2 magpies, 2 jackdaws, 2 jays, 10 starlings (some of them talk), 6 pigeons, 2 hawks, 2 barn fowls, 1 screech owl, 5 common-sewer rats, 5 white 215 rats (a novelty), 8 guineapigs, 2 rabbits (1 wild and 1 tame), 1 hedgehog, and 1 tortoise. Of all these, the rat is the most difficult to make a member of a happy family: among birds, the hawk. The easiest trained animal is a monkey, and the easiest trained bird a pigeon. They live together in their cages all night, and sleep in a stable, unattended by any one. They --continued on next page

terms is from one guinea to five pounds per annum, according to the premises. Besides this, I have all the rats that I ketch, and they sell for three pence each. But I've done my work too well, and wherever I went I've cleared the rats right out, and so my customers have fell off. I have got the best testimonials of any man in London, and I could get a hatful more tomorrer. Ask anybody I've


– “Happy Families” continued from page 5

Rats are extremely social animals, which is one reason they make good pets. If you want to become a pet-rat owner, get two, not just one. They need company. Some sources suggest getting two females because they’re less likely to fight with one another.

were once thirty-six hours, as a trial, without food—that was in Cambridge; and no creature was injured; but they were very peckish, especially the birds of (formerly Health Rhythms Medi-Spas) prey. I wouldn"t allow it to be tried (it was for a scientific gentleman) any to find Mr. Rat an intruder. The ketchers longer, and I fed them well to begin upon. are paid for ketching them in the There are now in London five happy warehouses, and then they are sold to 4250 E. Florida, Hemet 951-927-2233 families, all belonging to two families of 5995 Brockton, C-1, Riverside me as well, so the men must make a men. Mine, that is the one I have the care 951-217-7991 good thing of it. Many of the more of, is the strongest—fifty-four creatures: Put a New SPRING in courageous kind of warehousemen will the others will average forty each, or 214 Your Step With our take a pleasure in hunting the rats birds and beasts in happy families. Our Stepping Stones themselves. only regular places now are WaterlooIntensive Foot I should think I buy in the course of bridge and the National Gallery. Therapy The expense of keeping my fifty-four the year, on the average, from 300 to is 12 s. a-week; and in a good week— Foot Soak - Foot Scrub 700 rats a-week." (Taking 500 as the indeed, the best week—we take 30 s.; and Foot Mask weekly average, this gives a yearly in a bad week sometimes not 8 s. It’s only Followed by intense foot massage purchase of 26,000 live rats.) "That’s a poor trade, though there are more good from the knees down. what I kill taking all the year round, you weeks than bad: but the weather has so You’ll Leave Feeling Like You’re see. Some first-class chaps will come much to do with it. The middle class of Walking on Air! Spring Special: $65 here in the day-time, and they’ll try society are our best supporters. When the a Healing Massage a Microdermabrasion their dogs. They’ll say, "Jimmy, give the happy family—only one—was first in a Responsible Tanning a Full-Service Waxing dog 100." After he’s polished them off London, fourteen years ago, the a Private Parties proprietor took 1 pound. a-day on they’ll say, perhaps, "Hang it, give him Waterloo-bridge; and only showed in the another 100." “Bless you!" he added, in Low-Impact Circuit Training summer. The second happy family was M-F 7am-9pm Sat & Sun 7am-6pm a kind of whisper, "I’ve had noble ladies started eight years ago, and did as well and titled ladies come here to see the for a short time as the first. Now there are sport—on the quiet, you know. When too many happy families. There are none worked for, and they'll tell you about my wife was here they would come in the country.”

Hands of Mercy Day Spas

Jack Black.”

Jimmy Shaw Jimmy Shaw owned one of the more popular pubs for rat-baiting in Victorian London. Part of Henry Mayhew’s interview with him follows. You can find the entire interview on our website. “Some of the rats that are brought to me are caught in the warehouses in the City. Wherever there is anything in the shape of provisions, there you are sure

regular, but now she’s away they don’t come so often. “I’m the oldest canine fancier in London, and I’m the first that started ratting; in fact, I know I’m the oldest caterer in rat-killing in the metropolis. I began as a lad, and I had many noble friends, and was as good a man then as I am now. In fact, when I was seventeen or eighteen years of age I was just like what my boy is now. I used at that time to be a great public charakter, and had

many liberal friends —very liberal friends. I used to give them rat sports, and I have kept to it ever since. My boy can handle rats now just as I used to then. “The rats want a deal of watching, and a deal of sorting. Now you can’t put a sewer and a barn-rat together, it’s like putting a Roosshian and a Turk under the same roof. “I can tell a barn-rat from a ship-rat or

Rat-Baiting in the United States Rat-baiting in the United States could be found, as in England, most frequenty at taverns. In New York City, the most famous of these locations was The Sportsmans Hall,” owned by the infamous Kit Burns. Burns was the chieftain of New York’s most dreaded criminal gang, the Dead Rabbits. His tavern was a front for his illicit activities, but he also made it pay off as a tavern and center of ratbaiting and dogfights. As reported by a contemporary, who had no love for the lower orders near the docks: “The ostensible business of Kit Burns, is that of a tavern keeper, and it is said that his house is well kept for one of its class. The bar does a thriving business, and is well stocked with the kind of liquor used in Water street. “Attached to the tavern, however, are the principal attractions of the place to those who frequent it. These are the rat and dog pits. “Rats are plentiful along the East River, and Burns has no difficulty in procuring as many as 6

he desires. These and his dogs furnish the entertainment, in which he delights. The principal room of the house is arranged as an amphitheatre. The seats are rough wooden benches, and in the centre is a ring or pit, enclosed by a circular wooden fence, several feet high. A number of rats are turned into this pit, and a dog of the best ferret stock is thrown in amongst them. The little creature at once falls to work to kill the rats, bets being made that she will destroy so many rats in a given time. The time is generally "made" by the little animal, who is well known to, and a great favorite with, the yelling blasphemous wretches who line the benches. The performance is greeted with shouts, oaths, and other frantic demonstrations of delight. “Some of the men will catch up the dog in their arms, and press it to their bosom in a frenzy of joy, or kiss it as if it were a human being, unmindful or careless of the fact that all this while the animal is smeared with the blood of its victims. The scene is disgusting beyond description.” Legend & Lore Magazine

Kit Burns’ “Sportsmans Hall” still stands today at 273 Water St., New York City, but as luxury condos that recently sold for $1 million. March 2011

The “Sport” of Rat-Baiting Some people contend, with perhaps some justification, that human beings are naturally attracted to “blood sports.” Witness, they say, the Roman gladiators in the Colosseum, and today’s “contact” sports such as football. The most popular blood sport in Victorian England was rat-baiting. The blood sports of bull-baiting and bear-baiting had been outlawed by Parliament’s Humane Act of 1835, so rats, reviled as they have been for centuries in the West, took the place of the bull and the bear. In short, rat-baiting went like this: A great number of rats, usually 100, were tossed into a wooden ‘pit” measuring about four feet by eight feet with four-foot-high walls. Then a dog was tossed in with them. The amount of time it took the dog to kill all the rats determined its standing in its competition with other rat-killing dogs. Rat-baiting was usually conducted at pubs, and was no respecter of persons. The high-born and commoner jostled elbows and laid down wagers with one another at these contests. One such meet in the late 1800s was described by Wentworth Day, a rat-baiting aficianado, as follows: "This was a rather dirty, small place, in the middle of the Cambridge Circus, London. You went down a rotten wooden stair and entered a large, underground cellar, which was created by combining the cellars of two houses. The cellar was full of smoke, stench of rats, dogs and dirty human beings as well. The stale smell of flat beer was almost overpowering. Gas lights illuminated the centre of the cellar, a ring enclosed by wood barriers, similar to a small Roman circus arena and wooden bleachers, arranged one over the other, rose stepwise above it nearly to the ceiling. This was the pit for dog fights, cock fights and rat killing. A hundred rats were put in it, large wagers went back and forth on whose dog could kill the most rats within a minute. The dogs worked in exemplary fashion, a grip, a toss and it was all over for the rat. With especially skilful dogs, two dead rats flew through the air at the same time...” As you might gather from the above, the dog most likely to win a rat-killing contest was one that executed a quick bite and toss. Dogs that

shook the rats first took up too much time. The most popular dogs for rat-baiting were various breeds of terrier: the bull terrier, fox terrier, Jack Russell terrier, rat terrier, Manchester terrier, and Staffordshire bull terrier. Because these dogs come in various sizes, some rat-baiting contests applied a handicap to a dog based on its weight. The Victorians gave their rat-baiting heroes as much fame and celebrity as we give to recordbreaking racehorses today. One such famous dog was Billy, who set rat-killing records in the 1820s. The October 1822 edition of The Sporting Magazine reported two of Billy’s matches as follows: "Thursday night, Oct. 24, at a quarter before eight o'clock, the lovers of rat-killing enjoyed a feast of delight in a prodigious raticide at the Cockpit, Westminster. The place was crowded. The famous dog Billy, of rat-killing notoriety, 26 lbs. weight, was wagered, for twenty sovereigns, to kill one hundred rats in twelve minutes. The rats were turned out loose at once in a 12-feet square, and the floor whitened, so that the rats might be visible to all. The set-to began, and Billy exerted himself to the utmost. At four minutes and three quarters, as the hero's head was covered with gore, he was removed from the pit, and his chaps being washed, he lapped some water to cool his throat. Again he entered the arena, and in vain did the unfortunate victims labour to obtain security by climbing against the sides of the pit, or by crouching beneath the hero. By twos and threes they were caught, and soon their mangled corpses proved the valour of the victor. Some of the flying enemy, more valiant than the rest, endeavoured by seizing this Quinhus Flestrum of heroic dogs by the ears, to procure a respite, or to sell their life as dearly as possible; but his grand paw soon swept off the buzzers, and consigned them to their fate. At seven minutes and a quarter, or according to another watch, for there were two umpires and two watches, at seven minutes and seventeen seconds, the victor relinquished the glorious pursuit, for all his foes lay slaughtered on the ensanguined plain. Billy was then caressed and fondled by many; the dog is estimated by amateurs as a most dextrous animal; he is,

unfortunately, what the French Monsieurs call borg-ne, that is, blind of an eye. This precious organ was lost to him some time since by the intrepidity of an inimical rat, which as he had not seized it in a proper place, turned round on its murderer, and reprived him by one bite of the privilege of seeing with two eyes in future. The dog BILLY, of rat-killing notoriety, on the evening of the 13th instant, again exhibited his surprising dexterity; he was wagered to kill one hundred rats within twelve minutes; but six minutes and twenty five seconds only elapsed, when every rat lay stretched on the gory plain, without the least symptom of life appearing.' Billy was decorated with a silver collar, and a number of ribband bows, and was led off amidst the applauses of the persons assembled." An indication of how quickly Billy worked can be seen in the following table of his most famous matches: Date Rats Killed Time Time per Rat 9/3/1822 100 8 min., 45 sec. 5.2 sec. 10/24/1822 100 7 min., 17 sec. 4.4 sec. 11/13/1822 100 6 min., 25 sec. 3.4 sec. 4/22/1823 100 5 min., 30 sec. 3.3 sec. 8/5/1823 120 8 min., 20 sec. 4.1 sec.

Billy’s records were broken in 1862 by one of Jimmy Shaw’s dogs, a bull terrier named Jacko. On July 29, 1862, Jacko killed 60 rats in 2 minutes, 42 seconds (2.7 seconds per rat); and on May 1 killed 100 rats in 5 minutes, 28 seconds (3.3 seconds per rat). The sport of rat-baiting was outlawed in England near the end of the 19th century. Not because of any concern for the rats, but because of Queen Victoria’s love for dogs. She didn’t want any “sport” legal wherein dogs could be harmed. The last reported rat-baiting contest was held in Leicester in 1912, against the law. The proprietor of the event was arrested, fined, and “had to give a promise to the court he would never again promote such entertainment.”

Illustrations of two Victorian rat pits. The picture at the right depicts Billy, who was rat-killing champion in England in the 1820s.

March 2011

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Yes, the fleas carried by rats in the Middle Ages did spread the black (bubonic) plague. But those rats were the black rats from China, not the brown rats from which today’s pet rats are descended. Pet rats cannot and do not carry diseases harmful to humans.

New tires, brakes, tranny service. Leather, sun roof, stereo & more. 77,000 miles. $4,400. Private party. 760-805-7840. The albino laboratory rat was developed from the pet rats first domesticated by Jack Black and Jimmy Shaw. Chief among the breeders of the white rat for laboratory experiment was Dr. Henry Herbert Donaldson, who was director of research at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia in 1893.

The Black Rat: Plague Culprit

a sewer-rat in a minute, and I have to look over my stock when they come in, or they"d fight to the death. There’s six or seven different kinds of rats, and if we don’t sort ’em they tear one another to pieces. I think when I have a number of rats in the house, that I am a lucky man if I don’t find a dozen dead when I go up to them in the morning; and when I tell you that at times—when I’ve wanted to make up my number for a match—I’ve given 21 s. for twenty rats, you may think I lose something that way every year. Rats, even now, is occasionally 6 s. a dozen; but that, I think, is most inconsistent. After finishing his statement, the landlord showed me some very curious specimens of tame rats—some piebald, and others quite white, with pink eyes, which he kept in cages in his sittingroom. He took them out from their cages, and handled them without the

least fear, and even handled them rather rudely, as he showed me the peculiarities of their colours; yet the little tame creatures did not once attempt to bite him. Indeed, they appeared to have lost the notion of regaining their liberty, and when near their cages struggled to return to their nests. In one of these boxes a black and a white rat were confined together, and the proprietor, pointing to them, remarked, "I hope they’ll breed, for though white rats is very scarce, only occurring in fact by a freak of nature, I fancy I shall be able, with time and trouble, to breed ’em myself. The old English rat is a small jet-black rat; but the first white rat as I heard of come out of a burial-ground. At one time I bred rats very largely, but now I leaves that fancy to my boys, for I’ve as much as I can do continuing to serve my patrons.”


Legend & Lore Magazine

Jack Black, Jimmy Shaw and the First Pet Rats Black not only caught and killed rats, he also bred them and thereby left a legacy that lives until this day: the pet rat. Black and pub owner Jimmy Shaw would keep rats that had interesting colors and breed them. These rats became popular as pets among the higher classes, including Queen Victoria and the ladies of her court, who kept their rats in dainty gilded cages. Beatrix Potter's pet rat Samuel Whiskers, for whom she named one of her books, is supposed to have been a gift from Jack Black, as well. About these rats, Black said: “I've bred the finest collection of pied rats which has ever been knowed in the world. I had above eleven hundred of them all wariegated rats, and of a different specie and colour, and all of them in the first instance bred from the Norwegian and the white rat, and afterwards crossed with other specie. “I have ris some of the largest tailed rats ever seen. I've sent them to all parts of the globe, and near every town in England. When I sold 'em off, three hundred of them went to France. I ketched the first white rat I had at Hampstead; and the black ones at Messrs. Hodges and Lowman's, in Regentstreet, and them I bred in. I have 'em fawn and white, black and white, brown and white, red and white, blue-black and white, black-white and red. “People come from all parts of London to see them rats, and I supplied near all the 'happy families' with them. Burke, who had the 'happy family' showing about London, has had hundreds from me. They got very tame, and you could do anythink with them. I've sold many to ladies for keeping in squirrel cages. Years ago I sold 'em for five and ten shillings a-piece, but towards the end of my breeding them, I let 'em go for two-and-six.” Jemmy Shaw ,also known as Jimmy Shaw, was one of the pioneer fanciers of the early dog show days, a promoter of dog fighting and rat-baiting contests and a breeder of Old English bulldogs, bull terriers, and toy terriers. According to the Sporting Chronicle Annual, Jem owned a black-and-tan bull and terrier named "Jacko", the world record holder for rat killing (see sidebar on page 7).

The domesticated rat is a social animal like a dog and actually bites fewer people than dogs do. March 2011

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Sources for More Information about Jack Black, Jimmy Shaw, and Victorian London The entire original interview of Jack Black by Henry Mayhew, as published in London Labour and the London Poor, is on our website. In the same book, Mayhew devotes an entire chapter to the various vermin destroyers of Victorian London. Of particular interest is the interview with Jimmy Shaw, who along with Jack Black bred the precursors of today's domestic (pet) rat. Mayhew’s entire interview of Jimmy Shaw is also on our website. A history of rat baiting, along with contemporary accounts of the sport and a list of champion rat-killing dogs, can be found in the encyclopedia. ( encyclopedia/Rat_baiting) An interesting history of pet rats can be found at the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association website. ( For a look at the average wages paid and the living standards in Victorian England, see "Wages and Cost of Living in the Victorian Era” and "The Price of Bread" at The Victorian Web. ( 11

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The rat you find in your house or barn is not indigenous to North America. It will be either a brown rat or a black rat, both of which originated in Asia. The only native North American rat is the woodrat, which is shy and nocturnal and stays as far away from humans as it can.

For the Best Places to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, See Page 13.

Domestic rats are nothing like their wild cousins the black rat and the brown rat. In fact, if you let a pet rat loose in the wild, it will soon perish. Domestic rats are calmer, less likely to bite, can tolerate greater crowding, breed easier, and can produce more offspring than wild rats.

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ST. PATRICK’S DAY SPECIAL Corned Beef & Cabbage Potatoes Full Meal with All the Fixin’s $2.95

a! the Are

DINNER SPECIALS EVERY DAY 4 pm-8 pm Fri, Sat, Sun Full-Dinner Special: Prime Rib, BBQ Rib, Steak, or Lobster

MONDAY Happy Hour All Day $2 Beer Special $1 Menu Specials Pool Teams Wanted

TUESDAY Mexican Fiesta $1.00 Tacos All Day (Dine-In Only) In-House Pool Tournament 6:30 pm

WEDNESDAY THURSDAY Meat Loaf Special $5.95 Mexican Food Fiesta

Thirsty Thursday $1.50 Dom Drafts 7 pm-11 pm Individual Pizza & 50 oz Pitcher $8.50



Live Music 9pm-1:30 pm NO COVER Prime Rib or 8 oz Steak $12.95 Lobster $17.95

Country-Style Breakfast 8 a.m. Live Music 9pm-1:30 pm NO COVER