Preston bar brawl was ‘fair fight’ but led to agonising death

The Bull Inn where trouble was brewing in 1836
The Bull Inn where trouble was brewing in 1836
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Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at a pub fight that had tragic consequences...

The present-day Old Bull Inn on Church Street, known to many as the former Bull & Royal hotel, with origins back to 1773, was the scene of a bout of fisticuffs in 1836.

Many a drama has taken place there down the centuries, and following an incident in July that year a trial at Lancaster Assizes would follow.

On the last Sunday of July 1836 tempers ran high in the Bull Inn and all was revealed before Mr Baron Parke at the Summer Assizes in mid-August.

Henry Finch appearing in the dock accused of killing and slaying Peter O’Neil.

Thomas McAlgrew was the first witness and he stated that along with the deceased he had visited the Bull Inn after drinking elsewhere. O’Neil was calling for a pint of ale when Finch, who was clearly the worse for drink, approached them and in an aggressive manner proclaimed that he could lick every Irishman in the place.

O’Neil replied that he was happy to give him a twist and they commenced wrestling in the bar area with O’Neil being thrown amongst some chairs.

McAlgrew testified that heated words followed and the pair went out into Church Street with the witness following. Throwing their coats to the ground they began a bout of fisticuffs. McAlgrew reckoned it was a fair fight that lasted a few minutes. Finally, O’Neil took a couple of hefty blows and fell down and, according to McAlgrew, the prisoner asked O’Neil if he had had enough and when he replied, yes, Finch walked away.

Mary O’Neil, mother of the victim, was in the Bull Inn at the time and heard Finch issue his challenge, aware that her son was also in liquor she claimed she tried to dissuade him.

Dr. Moore told the court that he had been called to attend to the victim the day after the fight and he was clearly in a dying state, suffering much from pains in his lower body. He died on the Tuesday morning. Witness opened the body after death, the cause was inflammation of the bowels due to the rupture of certain vessels by violence.

Dr. Brown, defence counsel, called Sam Seddon, spindlemaker, who claimed McAlgrave had started the quarrel with derogatory comments about the accused. He remarked that the deceased was an extremely quarrelsome man when in liqour, who was seldom without a black eye.

The jury after their deliberations returned a guilty verdict. His Lordship then remarked that there was a great difference between the way O’Neil met his death than the deaths that occurred due to a brutal kicking during brawls. This was not ruffian brutality, but the result of a fair fight. He then announced that Henry Finch would go to prison for three months with hard labour.