Bear-leaders were men who led captive bears on a chain. Between the 12th and 19th century in Britain, bears were used in two ways for public ‘entertainment’. Firstly, they were used in bear-baiting which was particularly popular in Elizabethan times and took place in special arenas known as bear-gardens. In these settings, chained bears were either set upon by dogs, or blinded and whipped. Secondly, during the same period, tame, trained bears were also taken around the country to perform on their hind legs as ‘dancing bears’. Bear-baiting in Britain was banned in 1835, and dancing bears in 1911.
In the 18th and 19th century, bear-leader was also the name given to a sort of chaperone or tutor who accompanied young gentlemen on their travels.
The Compleat Angler was first published in 1653, but Walton continued to add to it for a quarter of a century. It celebrates the art and spirit of fishing in prose and verse. There was a second edition in 1655, a third in 1661, a fourth in 1668 and a fifth in 1676. By the fifth edition the original 13 chapters had grown to 21.
Walton’s Halfhead Farm near Stafford, purchased by him in 1655, is now a museum to his life. The ground floor is set-out in period and has a series of illustrated information boards covering Walton's life, his writings and the story of the Izaak Walton Cottage. Up-stairs is a collection of fishing related items, the earliest dating from the mid-eighteenth century.