Echoes of the past: Who was Bull Pratt and did he exist?

James Pratt, better known as Bull Pratt, would often be seen walking towards Hipperholme from the direction of Stump Cross and Lower Brear
James Pratt, better known as Bull Pratt, would often be seen walking towards Hipperholme from the direction of Stump Cross and Lower Brear

Most police officers can remember days when mothers would threaten their children with, ‘If you don’t behave I’ll get the policeman to take you away...’

I cringe at the very thought of it, and I know I told a few parents off for using me almost as the bogeyman.

I was told if you get lost always look for the policeman, he will help you. Now, which child will do that if they have been told by their parents that if you don’t behave the same policeman will take you away and lock you up?

If you were not one of those parents, perhaps an earlier generation of parents used someone else as the bogeyman.

I remember standing in Hipperholme with a few friends during the 1950s and seeing a man, a tramp like figure, walking slowly up Kirk Lane. ‘Come on, quick, it’s Bull Pratt, he’ll get you and eat you...’ As a youngster I had heard mention this person called Bull Pratt before but had never seen him. Once seen and you were left in no doubt he was a scary character. But just who was Bull Pratt - did he actually exist or was he just another person used by parents as the bogeyman?

Thanks to one of the members of my weekly reminiscence group who meet at 11.15am for an hour at the Maurice Jagger Centre in Winding Road, Halifax, I can now reveal a little bit more about who this person was.

James Pratt, better known as Bull Pratt, would often be seen walking towards Hipperholme from the direction of Stump Cross and Lower Brear. He would not be wearing any shoes or socks, and as soon as he was spotted the cry would go up, ‘Look out, here comes Bull Pratt’. Within seconds every young lad in listening distance of those words would run and hide.

He would openly brag that it would take two of the finest from Halifax Borough Police to take him down. It is documented that on one occasion he held a young lad by the legs over the parapet of North Bridge threatening to drop him down to his death in the railway goods yard below if the police came any nearer.

Bull Pratt was born in Skipton c:1850 and was certainly a character. Yes, he would frighten children and their mothers. On more than one occasion he would snatch a child from the arms of its mother, driving her to almost hysteria, to have a child snatched by this bearded, bare footed, tramp-looking character in the middle of a town centre. The mother’s screams would be heard by every policeman within earshot to get to the source of the fearful scream.

On one occasion when he did it and the mother screamed, whilst not apologising he quickly handed the child back, complete with a bag of sweets. A witness to this event said, that in his opinion, Bull was not aware that he was causing distress. In his strange way he wanted to be nice to people.

During the summer months he would often be found on Beacon Hill asleep under the shade of a tree from the summer sun.

James (Bull) Pratt died on March 17, 1918, aged 68 years in Menston Hospital. This was opened in 1888 as the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum and was later called High Royds Hospital. It closed in 2003. He was interred in an unmarked grave at Stoney Royd Cemetery, Halifax.