This story could be included in a book titled Folk Tales of London’s SoHo District. The heroine is Jane Prior of 87 Wellington Street who apparently exuded such a sense of calm that she stopped a raging bull in its tracks.
On May 23, 1914, at 11 a.m. in the morning, a drover was driving a large and cranky Durham bull into downtown London for shipment out on a Grand Trunk rail car. The bull may well have suspected this did not bode well for his future. The bull suddenly made a successful break for freedom and charged down Wellington Road. For the next hour, the frightened animal tore around the neighborhood, chasing small boys and women, and eluding any attempts at capture.
In the same period, Jane Prior, well known in London’s black community, was on the way home from a shopping trip, carrying groceries and other parcels. At the corner of High and Wellington streets, she heard a large noise behind her. As she would later tell a London Advertiser reporter, “I thought it was an auto. It made a noise exactly like that.” She half turned, and to her dismay, saw the large and angry bull charging right for her.
Without thinking, Mrs. Prior dropped her parcels and grasped the bull by its horns. By taking this heroic action, she likely saved her life, since the animal would undoubtedly have gored her.
Watching the bull’s attack from the sidelines, some young boys then attracted the animal’s attention by pelting it with stones. When this distracted the animal, Mrs. Prior let go of the horns and jumped to one side. The bull turned its attention to the smaller tormenters and headed straight for the youngsters. The animal, just as you see in Spanish bull rings, displayed the classic pose of keeping its head down, while loudly snorting and pawing the ground. The boys scrambled out of the way, and the bull headed north, turning onto Nelson Street, where it knocked down a pedestrian, cutting him under the nose.
Eventually police officer William McCullough, riding his bicycle, arrived on the scene. The bull then charged the officer of the law – and spectators said the animal won the battle with the policeman’s bicycle. Finally several men succeeded in chasing the animal into a field where it remained at press time.
Returning to the tale of Mrs. Prior’s encounter with the bull, the reporter noted that Jane Prior she owed her life “to her presence of mind.” Providing details that Jane Prior might not have wanted published, the reporter observed, “She is a woman of ample proportions, and she knew she was struggling for her life. She see-sawed the animal for some time, and finally gave it a shove and leaped away from it.”
“I could have just busted that bull’s neck,” the plucky Mrs. Prior exclaimed. Three hours after her adventure, when the reporter visited her, she was happily ensconced in her rocking chair, under a shade tree, appearing perfectly relaxed.
The fate of the unhappy bull is less certain. The London Advertiser article concluded that the bull would be kept in the field until arrangements could be given for its disposition. Some residents – probably those who had been chased by the bull – thought it should be shot. Others were a bit kinder, saying that as long as the animal wasn’t brought into the city again, things should be alright.
A.R. Boug, who operated the grocery at the “V” of High and Wellington, and whose delivery wagon had been attacked by the bull, praised Mrs. Prior for her heroics.
“Mrs. Prior certainly gave the big brute a battle, and she certainly saved her life. Whenever the animal saw a person, it lowered its head and charged them. It was a wonder that half a dozen were not gored.”
– Alice Gibb