This is an indoor game the aim of which is to swing a metal ring
which is dangled from the ceiling on a rope, onto a metal hook on
the wall. Originally, the hook was a bull's horn. Quite often the
hook is embedded in the nose of the head of a bull on the wall.
Other variants exist featuring other animals such as stags
and pigs. The game is one of the oldest in the country; legend
has it that it was brought back by Crusaders from Jerusalem.
The story appears to have come about primarily from the most famous
pub featuring the game - the venerable "The Trip to Jerusalem"
situated in the cliffs underneath Nottingham castle. This
pub is an old crusaders tavern dating from 1189 and so the legend
certainly is not without merit.
Left top is pictured Ringing the Stag!. By kind permission of
Left middle and left bottom is Ringing the Bull found at Ye Olde
Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham. This pub is one of at least 5 pubs
that claim to be the oldest in Britain and is worth a visit even
regardless of the game.
The game is also played in and around the Caribbean where it is
known by several names and often has a nautical theme and one is
required to ring a fish! Various theories for its origin are espoused
- some say it was introduced by Pirates, other say its inventor
was Ernest Hemingway! However, the earliest confirmed documented
reference found for the game is from England in Men of Character
by D. Jerrold, 1838, in which is written "After that, he must
visit the gypsies; then he must ring-the-bull" and "There
is first the lucky-bag–then the sticks–then the ringing-the-bull–then
This is an illustration of the game from a book published in 1890
that upon detailed scrutiny reveals some points of interest. Notice
the 2 hooks on the horns as well as 1 on the nose. The horizontal
suspending pole appears to be telescopic - the author presumes so
that the game wouldn't get in the way when not in use. The description
of the game mentions tossing the ring onto the hook and the picture
seems to back this up because the string is not taut. If true, this
would be a quite different skill to that of swinging the ring...
game is so simple that many pubs stage it simply as an informal
pastime rather than as a competitive game. A person will make
a a number of attempts to ring the bull and then pass the ring to
somebody else for a turn. The basic throw is simple a swing
in a clockwise direction (for a right handed player) straight onto
the ring but advanced players can also ring the bull across themselves
in an anti-clockwise direction. Old hands are able to throw
with either hand in either direction and will then really impress
their spectators by facing away from the hook and swinging in the
opposite direction such that upon its return the bull is ringed.
For extra difficulty, they might do this while standing next to
the target instead of at the usual throwing mark. The ultimate
throw is one which circles the room completely twice and then lands
squarely on the target. Difficult yes, but not impossible!