W3C Cock Fighting DO U KNOW?

Long ago cockfighting was banned, but at one time it was a popular “sport” in the Lake District and many other places beside. Of course banning it did not stop it, there are always those who turn a blind eye to the law.

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Following its abolition in 1835 cockfighting became an “underground “ sport, practiced in secluded places, the farm out building, the dense woodland or perhaps on the marsh land where all that could be heard was the piping of the oyster catcher and the sound of the wind. The days when school children fought their “cocks” and paid the master a penny were consigned to history. Primarily a sport of “betting”,  substantial sums were waged on the outcome of a fight, ten pound being not an uncommon sum in the days when a man sold his labour to a farm for five pounds for six months toil. Cock fighting had its followers across the social spectrum from Lord Lonsdale (The Yellow Earl) and the Earl of Derby to the farmer on a remote hill top farm who liked to have “a few birds abut t’ yard.”

But what actually happened at a “main”. Here is an account of one written in the 1960s where the author is writing of his childhood in the 1920s/30s.

“The time was about 9.30 am. There was no indication about the farm that anything out of the ordinary had been planned for the day. It appeared to be a typical, quiet May morning on the remote moss farm, but soon a strange straggling procession of men began to converge on the farm on the edge of the wilderness. The cockers arrived at intervals, in order not to arouse undue comment by wayfarers on the main road, which passed the entrance to the farm.

They came on foot, by cycle, motorcycle, car, haulage wagon and pony and trap, an oddly mixed company of local men and off comers. In little over an hour some thirty or more vehicles were discreetly parked in empty barns and at the back of buildings. Many of the vehicles were cars belonging to farmers with the usual neglected appearance, but there was also a Bentley sports car and an Alvis.

Some of the men gathered into conventional groups, others busied themselves unloading the cars, pulling out tall, narrow, wooden travelling cases drilled with air holes, and sacks containing struggling, chortling cocks. The movement and noise stirred the birds into raising their voices, and soon the yard rang with the short sharp challenge of gamecocks.

All the cocks were taken into an empty barn adjoining the farmyard. The battles were to take place in the neighbouring building normally used as a potato store, where grass sods had been carefully laid down to form a fighting pit, surrounded by wooden benches, barrels and boxes, provided as seats for the spectators.

The ‘main’ was a challenge between the Westmorland and Cumberland cockers of nine battles, fighting for five pounds a battle and ten pounds for the winner of the ‘main.’ First of all the cocks were clipped out in fighting trim, giving them the bare, shorn appearance of the fighting cocks as depicted in the sporting prints.

After all the cocks had been prepared in clipped out battle trim, every cock was hooded in a black cloth pouch and weighed on a pair of scales. The supporters of the rival counties watched intently for the cocks were matched to fight each other by similarity in weight. Two-ounce, difference being the maximum allowance. After a great deal of chatter and suggestion eighteen cocks were matched in pairs, giving and taking a few ounces to strike a fair balance among the birds.

After this was settled the cocks were put back into the boxes and a man chalked the weight of each bird on top of its box.

The first pair of cocks selected to commence the ‘main’ were taken up by a man from either side, they were carefully fitted with one and a quarter inch curved steel spurs. The slender rapiers had steel sockets and soft leather gaiters. They were slipped onto the cut - down stubs of the cocks natural spurs and after a small piece of wash leather had been tucked around the leg shank, the leather gaiters were bound with hemp over the wash - leather; when finally affixed the spurs inclined slightly inwards.

Preliminaries completed, the company moved across to the potato hull and gathered around the sward laid pit.

Once inside, two handlers faced each other across the pit holding the cocks forward from their chests.  ‘Gentleman make your bets’, said the judge. ‘Two pounds on the blue dun’, challenged an elegant offcomer, wearing a well-cut brown lounge suit. I’ll have a pound on the black red’ announced an old farmer. Other wages of a pound or 10 shillings were quickly offered and taken up. ‘Right’, announced the referee, focusing attention on the grassy area. ‘Pit your cocks’ he commanded…

After eight battles had been fought, and the Westmorland cocks had won 6, two farm girls came into the barn carrying vast teapots, cups and baskets full of sweet home cured ham sandwiches.

Suddenly a man dashed into the farmyard creating pandemonium amongst the ducks and hens, he raced into the potato hull and cried, ‘get out of here, the police are coming down the lane.’ A scene of confusion ensured, all of the dead cocks were thrust into a barrel and covered with chaff. A stout Cumberland bookie shambled aimlessly into the yard his fat face gasping like a goldfish. One of the men seized a cock and ran like a fly-stung carthorse over the fields and into the mosses with the chortling cock flapping against his breast. He did not stop until he reached a farm a good mile away, where he dropped the fighting cock amongst the poultry near the farmhouse. When he called to collect the bird a week later, he was met by an indignant farmers wife who shouted,’ yon geam cock’s kilt ivery yan o’ me cock chickens an turkey jock an all, it’ll cost thee summat.’

All the men who could ran off across the fields to the moss where soft peat bogs, dikes and treacherous Marsh brought a heavy toll among the unsuitably garbed cross-country runners. A horsey, sprucely dressed gentleman from Cheshire displayed a good turn of speed on the flat, but failed to clear a water jump and landed in the middle of the muddy dyke.

Another man bounced like a roebuck over the mosses with a whiskey flask in his pocket. Fortified by this, he floundered across the treacherous estuary sands and river channel, where quicksand’s had sucked down many victims in the past. He half waded and partly swam the river channel and arrived at his large house soaking wet and muddied from toe to head, his gardener at first sight took him for a tipsy tramp and tried to turn him out of his own garden.

The 20 stone cattle dealer, whose Westmorland by-name was ‘Bullock,’ knew he could not escape by running. He climbed laboriously up a ladder to the hayloft and tried to hide his bulky figure in the scanty supply of last summer’s hay crop. The policeman of his own village climbed the ladder and recognises the cattle dealer’s conspicuous rump peeping out of the hay. ‘It’s no use Bullock,’ he called familiarly; ‘come out I can see thi girt bum.’

After everyone who stated openly or in hiding around the farm had been rounded up, the police sergeant ordered his men to search diligently for the bodies of the cocks killed in battle. It was essential to find the bodies of cocks slain in the pit to uphold the charges of cockfighting in, court. However despite a diligent search, the police were unable to find the bodies of the cocks slain in the pit to uphold the charge of cockfighting in court and the matter was quietly dropped.

This was much to the relief of the local sporting Baronet who was on his way to attend the ‘main’ when a farm labourer stopped his car at the opening to the lane and told the Baronet about the police raid. The old patron of the sward hurried home; it would never do the chairman of the local magistrates to sit in judgement over his friends and tenants let alone among them.

Both minor and major gentry followed the ‘main.’ In the 1800s Edward Smith Stanley, the twelfth Earl of Derby was one of the greatest patrons, putting down two or three thousand cock chickens per year which were reared by two men named Roscoe (father and son). His grandfather Lord Strange is credited with building the cockpit at Preston.

Edward Stanley fought ‘mains’ in the Chester, Lancaster and Liverpool pits. Shortly before his death in 1834 he was confined to his room and his two lady relatives gave instruction that his ‘cock feeders’ were not to be admitted, thinking Stanley should turn his mind to matters spiritual.

Stanley, however told his private chaplain to arrange a ‘main’. Cocks ready to fight were hauled up to the bedroom window in a bag from the ground and after the fight let down again, by this means his final hours were brightened.

Lower down the social scale is the story of the shepherd on the Westmorland / Yorkshire border walking over the fell to attend a ‘main’ in an isolated dale. He came across the local policeman in full uniform hiding behind a boulder watching the cocks fighting through binoculars. “Nay, Bill, surely thaa’s nut gaa’n t raid t’lads” said the shepherd.

“Whisst, man my lall black-red’s knocking hell out of Todd’s grey,” replied the bobby smiling.

COCKFIGHTERS SURPRISED. – On Monday morning last, it had been arranged that there should be a series of cockfights in the neighbourhood of Crook or Underbarrow. During the Sunday, information was given to Mr. Superintendent Hibberd, of the County Police, who with a party of men was on the alert at an early hour the next morning in the locality in question and came upon the cockfighters about a mile from Cunswick hall. They immediately ran off upon seeing the police. One however was secured with a cock in his possession, nearly dead from fighting. In a short while they returned and determined to continue the contest, thinking only one officer could be committed. There were 14 cocks in separate bags, ready trimmed for fighting. The Superintendent to prevent further cruelty took possession of the cocks and conveyed them to this town, telling the owners they should have them upon application at his office. The alleged owners of the cocks are James Dixon of Kendal, brush maker and William Wilkinson of Lyth, labourer. There were between 200 and 300 persons present. Those engaged in the affair will be summoned before the county magistrates on Saturday next.

Westmorland Gazette 21st May 1864


William Wilkinson, James Dixon, Joseph Harrison and Robert Troughton, were charged by Mr. Superintendent Hibberd, under the Act for the preventing of cruelty to animals, the two former with fighting cocks already mutilated and maimed and the two latter with aiding and abetting them.

Mr. Clarke of Lancaster appeared for the defendants. Mr Hibberd stated the case, the leading particulars of which have already been set before our readers. On the morning of Whit Monday, in consequence of information he received, he went with two of his staff to Cunswick Wood, at an early hour, and fund about 200 people assembled in a hollow between two hillocks. After waiting concealed for a time he saw two cocks meet and immediately heard a cheer and saw a cap thrown up, and then he ran towards the crowd. He saw the two cocks which had been the cause of the cheer. The people all ran away, but afterwards some of them returned. Witness went up to some bags which were tied to sticks in the ground, and found that each bag contained a cock, clipped etc, as is usual for fighting. He saw Wilkinson with a cock in his arms, and took it from him. It was bleeding, and in a dying state, and had steel spurs on. He asked the defendant his name, and he said he was well known, his name was Wilkinson; but he added – “let me put it (the cock) out of its misery.” He (the superintendent) said “Very well,” and defendant then took out a knife and put it through the bird’s neck and killed it. Dixon then came up and said – “we are well catched, and we may as well go on with the fight, they can do no more with us if we finish it.”

He (the witness) then said – “I shall take possession of the cocks that are in the bags,” the defendant Dixon swore that he should not do so, for they could only commit an offence if they stuck to the cocks and went on with the fight, and that 12 of the cocks were his. Troughton then came up and got hold of two of them and said they were his. Harrison said witness had no right to take the cocks and they were fools if they allowed him to do so, and if they were all of his mind the police should not go home with the whole bones. Witness then took the cocks away to the station.

He afterwards saw Wilkinson in Allhallows Lane, and told him he might have his cocks back by calling to identify them, but defendant refused to take them, on the grounds that they were improperly seized. Witness after met Dixon in Collin Croft, and made him the same offer, and met with the same refusal. Dixon said witness should have let him have them when he wanted them; and added that he (witness) might have stayed and seen some good battles (laughter,) but that they did get three or four after all, for he did not get the whole of the cocks, and that when they got the others back they would fight them; “so mind,” he said, “you feed them well and keep them in good condition” (laughter.)

Mr. Clarke. - Well now Mr. Superintendent, will you tell us when you made those notes you have referred to?

Mr. Hibberd. - I made them at the time.

Mr. Clarke. - You made them at the time! It’s somewhat unusual for a witness to come prepared with notes to refresh his memory.

Mr. W. H. Wakefield. – is this Mr Superintendent’s brief.

Mr. C – I beg your pardon, Mr. Wakefield. A witness has no brief.

To Mr. Hibberd. – And so Dixon said that if you had stayed you might have seen some good fun?

Mr. Hibberd. – Yes.

Mr. Clarke. – and the defendants are brought up here under the act for the prevention of cruelty to animals, yet the only cruelty you saw was one of the defendants putting one of the cocks out of its misery.?

Mr. Hibberd. – I cannot say, I think the cruelty had been before that.

Mr. Clarke. – You cannot say? I think it was an act of mercy. It seems as if someone had been abusing the cock, and the defendant had put it to death out of pure pity. But you took away the scales as well as the cocks; did you think the scales were cocks?

Mr. Hibberd. – I believe the men took the scales away.

Mr. Clarke. – Come, now, Mr. Superintendent, don’t let us have this shuffling, by what right did you take the scales away?

Mr. Hibberd. – I don’t know; the men took them.

Mr. Clarke. – By what right did you take the cocks away?

Mr. Hibberd. – I took them away to prevent the fight, and I offered to give them up again after the probability of the fight going on was passed.

Mr. Clarke. – Did one of the cocks die with you?

Mr. Hibberd. – Certainly not. I believe one died after being restored to the owner.

Mr. Clarke. – In consequence of the treatment it received in your office?

Mr. Hibberd. – Certainly not.

To a Magistrate (Mr. Argles). – I saw a cock flapping when I came up, and then I saw it dying; I was about 40 yards from the crowd.

A question was here put by Mr. E. Harrison of Abbot Hall, and Mr. Clarke reminded Mr. Harrison that he came in after the case had commenced, and consequently he must object to his putting any question.

Mr. Hibberd called Thomas Webster (a lad of about 18 or 19) who, after being sworn, stated that he was at the place of the cock fight on the day in question, but he did not go to the fight. He was only there a short time before the police appeared. He saw Wilkinson and Dixon with each a cock which had been fighting. He (witness) got there just as the police were coming down – perhaps two or three minutes before them. He saw one of the cocks blinded, but he could not see whether it was with the beak of the other cock or with its spur. He saw one cock with steel spurs on.

Mr. Hibberd. – You say you saw one of the cocks with its eye knocked out?

Mr. Clarke. – no, no, Mr Hibberd, he said he saw a cock blinded; it might have closed its eyes, not liking to fight (laughter).

Witness. – At the last meet they said –There’s Currie, and ran away.

Mr. Hibberd. – is the statement you have made now the same as you made to me yesterday? – Witness (with an air of injured innocence). – Yes.

Witness. –Troughton was standing by. I did not hear him say anything. I did not see Harrison.

To Mr. Clarke. – The cock was kilt before the police came up. He didn’t mean quite “kilt,” but so that it was done for.

By Mr. Clarke. – He did not mean that it was quite dead before the police came up, but was fidging (laughter).

James Lewthwaite (a lad about the same age as the former witness), sworn said – He was at the cock fight on Whit Monday. The defendants were all there, and Dixon and Wilkinson held the cocks, one a-piece, which were fought. He did not see how many meets they had, but thought there would be about three or so. He saw that one cock had its eye knocked out, and Wilkinson held it afterwards, and after they had another meet, and after the one with the eye out was killed or knocked down. He did not hear the defendant say anything. He heard Harrison say afterwards that the police should not have taken the cocks.

To Mr. Hibberd. – He had not seen any of the defendants since then, till he was coming up to the court, and all they told him was that he was to speak the truth. He saw “Mr. Wilkinson steel (spur) one cock.”

John Currie. P.C, sworn said he was in Cunswick Wood on the day in question, and saw the defendant Dixon there. He had a cock in his hands, and was cutting the spurs off it. He heard him say – “we are well catched now; we may as well go on and fight it out,”

And Harrison said – “if you were all of my mind they (the police) should not go home with whole bones.”

Mr. Clarke. – Did he mean that they were going to set the cocks on you? Were you frightened when he said that? (laughter).

Witness. – No, I should think not.

Mr. Clarke. – Did you bring the cocks away yourselves?

Witness - We gave them to some boys to bring.

Mr. Clarke. – What, I suppose you were frightened of the cocks fighting you. Well, you say there were 14 or 15 of them – did you handcuff them?

This little bye play the advocate had pretty much to himself. He then continued –

But you brought the scales away too – were they fighting? Witness the scales were brought away. Mr. Clarke – yes and you brought them I suppose. Witness – No, I didn’t bring them. Mr. Clarke – Well, well, we don’t want this sort of thing, and they were brought with you to the police office? Witness – Yes. Mr. Clarke. - Under the act for the prevention of cruelty to animals I suppose eh? You were afraid the scales might do each other damage?

The case for the prosecution then closed, and Mr. Clarke rose for the defence. He had no doubt that the magistrates would at once dismiss Troughton and Harrison for there was not one iota of evidence against them; in fact neither the Superintendent nor his witnesses had made any charge against them.

The magistrates after a short consultation discharged the two defendants who were charged with aiding and abetting.

Mr. Clarke continued – he would remind the bench that this was not a charge of cock fighting, it was a charge brought under the 12th and 13th Vic for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and could have nothing at all to do with any opinions the bench might entertain about cock fighting, though he might be allowed to say that it was only right that the law on the subject should be known, and would therefore state that cock fighting was not in itself illegal except.

Mr. W. H. Wakefield reminded Mr. Clarke that according to his own statement, the charge before the magistrates was not one of cock fighting. He was well aware of what Mr. Clarke was going to say, and depreciated any statement which would or encourage cock fighting.

Mr. Clarke said he thought this was the first time a judge had told an advocate that he knew what he was going to say. However the law was that unless cock fighting was carried on in a place kept for that purpose, and where a price was paid for admission it was not illegal. (Mr. W.  H. Wakefield – Yes just what I expected.) In this case the fight was in the open air, and of course did not come within the meaning of the act. He remembered a case which had come before the magistrates at Milenthorpe, and was afterwards heard before the Court of the Queen’s Bench, and if the decision in that case was correct the magistrates ought to have the policemen before them for acting contrary to the law.

Mr. W. H. Wakefield – They were acting for the prevention of cruelty to animals.

Mr. Clarke – but some people had strange notions about what cruelty to animals was. He knew of a case of a man who had a donkey which was in the habit of feeding at the public charge on the road sides, and at last it was impounded, and the owner of the donkey, fancying that it was not fed as well as he had fed it summoned the pinder (a person whose job it was to impound stray animals) for cruelty to animals. He was sure no such bench as the present would listen to any such absurd charge, but it only showed what absurdities were brought before magistrates under Acts of Parliament which were framed for very different purposes. In the Court of the Queen’s Bench it had been decided that a cock was not an animal, but he did not wish his clients to stand on a point like that. The clause of the act on which these prosecutions rested was the statute 12 and 13 Vic, c 92, s2, and stated that – “if any person shall, from and after the passing of this act, cruelly beat or ill treat, over drive, abuse or torture, or cause or procure to be cruelly beaten, ill treated, over driven, abused or tortured any animal, every such offender shall for every offence forfeit and pay a penalty not exceeding five pounds.” By the interpretation clause, the word animal throughout the statute is to be understood to mean any “horse, mare, gelding, bull, ox, cow heifer, steer, calf, mule, ass, sheep, lamb, hog, pig, sow, goat, dog, cat, or any other domestic animal.” In the case to which he had referred the judgement which was taken before the Court of the Queen’s Bench and was then quashed, but in that case, the cock was fought ten minutes after its thigh was broken, and the magistrates conviction was confirmed, and he contended that the present case must come up to it before the magistrates could convict. What proof was there that these people did anything that came under this clause of the statute? All the cruelty the court had heard attested was that of the old man there putting the cock out of its misery – an act of mercy. It had not even been proved whether the injury had been inflicted by the beak or the spur of the cock, or whether any one had put them down to fight, or whether it had not been a fight of the cocks without anyone putting them down at all. Who put the cocks down? He would like to know that, but no one had told them. Before the bench could convict they must have proof of the cocks being put down to fight. The magistrate could not go by surmise: they must have proof, and he submitted they had none. Only one cock had spurs on –

Mr. Argles – I think you are in error. If I understand from the evidence the policeman found them cutting the spurs from one cock, and Mr. Hibberd took the other to the office dead with the spurs on.

Mr. Hibberd said this was the fact and Mr. Heap clerk to Mr. Harrison corroborated it from his notes.

Mr. Clarke. – The evidence he wanted was the putting of the cocks to fight, and without that there was no case. The witness did not say that the men did anything, except in the one instance when one of them put a cock out of its pain. And whatever the bench might think of cock fighting it was quite certain that these men had the example of some of the highest in the land in that respect, and he believed that there were very few who had not at some time done a little in it. He believed very few magistrates could come to court with clean hands in this respect –

Mr. W. H. Wakefield – I hope you don’t mean this remark to apply to the present bench.

Mr. Clarke. – Oh, dear no, he would not apply it at all; his remark was only a general one. If there was a doubt in the matter he called upon the bench to give defendants the benefit of it. He was certain the bench would not be among those who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. They would not be led astray by vain and romantic feelings, but would give their verdict as English gentlemen were used to give on facts alone.

The court was then cleared for a few minutes, and on the admission of the public the chairman said the bench did not deem the evidence conclusive, and had resolved to give defendants the benefit of it. They were very sorry they could not do otherwise.

The defendants were discharged.

The Kendal Mercury Sat 4th June 1864


It is our duty this week to direct public attention to the decision of a bench of county magistrates in petty sessions at Kendal on Saturday last; for unless we entirely misunderstand the meaning of evidence the decision is one of the moat absurd, as it certainly is one of the most dangerous, ever come to by a Westmorland bench. We allude to the case of cockfighting a report of which will be found in another column.

The facts are these. On Whit-Monday Mr Superintendent Hibberd, with two policemen, went to Cunswick, very early in the morning, Mr-Hibberd having received information that a cockfight was to be held at that time, and place. We are now dealing with the evidence given before the magistrate. He saw about two hundred people assembled in a hollow, and he took his place above them on a hill, at a distance of about forty yards. He heard a cheer; saw a cap thrown up, and then, he ran down the hill, and found one of the defendants cutting- the spurs from a cock, whilst another of the defendants hold in his arms a cock bleeding, mutilated, dying. The man, with a coolness worthy of the occasion, said, “Let me put it (the cock) out of its misery,” and immediately cut its throat.

The police took away with them the mangled cock, the cock from which the spurs had been cut, and fourteen or fifteen others all ready clipped for fighting.

Many a man has been hanged on a weaker chain of evidence than this. The cocks had been brought there for some purpose; unless tho defendants could prove otherwise there was hut one purpose for which they could be brought—for cockfighting. The charge, however, it was said, was not for cockfighting, but for cruelty to animals. Now, had there been cruelty to animals? The police saw two cocks flapping their wings, saw a cap thrown up, heard a cheer of victory, and then found two cocks, the one spurred and dying, the other having its spurs taken off. The ownership of the birds—at least for the fight, for fight it had been unless we are to throw all rules of evidence to the winds—was proved by one of the defendants taking the spurs off one cock, and by the other defendant killing another cock, to “put it out of its misery.”

But this was not all. One of the defendants said—” We are well caught; we may as well fight on, and finish it.” We may as well fight on; therefore we had been fighting, and were responsible for the mutilation of the poor cock in the meanest, vulgarest, brutalest occupation that ever men, on a bench or off it, called “sport.” One of the defendants claimed twelve of the birds; another claimed two; and another, in a fit of righteous indignation, said—“If you (the mob) were all of my mind, they (the police) should not go home with whole bones.” The magistrates protected their servants, and gave them a guarantee ‘of future security and safety whilst in the execution of their duty, by ‘dismissing the case, on the ground that there was no evidence who put down the cocks to fight’—one of the absurdest decisions that ever was conceived and uttered on a county Bench.

Begging their worships’ pardon for venturing to differ from them, we say there was evidence, and strong evidence. The prosecution had three witnesses. One, a policeman, confirmed the evidence of Mr Hibberd, the others—two boys subpoenaed as witnesses—supplied the links needed to even prove the putting down of the cocks, though we fancy almost any other bench would have been satisfied that the men who were found with the birds in their hands after the fight, the men who were cutting the spurs from one cock, who put another “out of its misery” were the cockfighters.

But still law is law, and it was just possible the conscience of some worshipful gentleman might cause him to hesitate,

• “Well, Mr Hibberd called a witness who was there a few minutes before the police; and this witness saw “two or three meets,” saw one of the cocks blinded, whether with a beak or spur he did not know—and who cared? —saw one of the defendants take it up, and then saw it set down again to fight—did not say defendant set it down; though if the question had been put (but it was evidently deemed unnecessary) he would have said that too with a little pressing—and then it was killed. No, not killed, only “fidging”—that is straggling for life, in fact so near the end that he twice or thrice spoke of it as “kilt.” And this was the cock (there was no other) that Mr Hibberd took to the office dead. The witness saw two cocks fighting; saw them have “two or three meets”; saw one blinded, and then put down to be killed; heard a cry of—”Here’s Currie:” saw the police running down the hill, and then, we suppose, ran away himself. Where his story ends Mr Hibberd’s begins. The lad saw two cocks fighting; Mr Hibberd saw the flapping of their wings; the lad saw the cocks on the ground, one of them dying, in the arms of a man, and the police running towards it; nay, more definitely, he saw Mr Hibberd running towards it. Mr Hibberd, running down the hill, comes on the same scene, which the lad describes. The one had his eyes on it escaping; the other had his eyes on it coming up in the name of law; what one left the other found- exactly. The lad pointed to a man in the court, and said—he did so and so. The Superintendent of police pointing to the same man said—I found him doing that.

It was all the work of a couple of minutes; all (to narrow the question) done by two men; all seen by two witnesses; all confirmed, as far as any such evidence can ever be confirmed, to the smallest particular.

It was attested by witnesses, confirmed by the admissions of the defendants; but the magistrates of this county of Westmorland thought the evidence defective. The charge was not one of cockfighting, but of cruelty to animals. Granted, but if the cruelty to animals in this instance is cockfighting (and putting a blinded bird down to fight is allowed to be so even by the bench) then the cockfighting in this case is cruelty to animals. Mr Clarke did his best for his clients, and rightly so; as an advocate that was his duty. We do not blame him for his assertions. He had a bad case, and evidently knew it, but he had a unique bench, and the result was a triumph to the advocate, who won in spite of evidence, and, doubtless, against his most sanguine hope. When Daniel O’Connell once did the same feat for a horse-stealer (or some such person) the man came up to him with a broad grin on his Irish face and said—” May heaven preserve your honour for tho next time”—the next time Pat stole a horse.

Tho cockfighters should say the same to Mr Clarke, with their profoundest bow, and then turning to the bench should repeat the prayer, with, not one, but a dozen bows, for whilst that bench lives there will never cease to be a bright hope for cockfighters.

But now, the advocate said, and the bench evidently believed him—Gentlemen, you may not think about cockfighting, for this it not cockfighting, but cruelty to animals; or if you should think—(you won’t think sentimentally I am sure)—about cockfighting I beg to remind you it is not illegal unless in a cockpit. Moreover, these men have the example of the highest in the land; scarcely any bench can sit on such a case with clean hands, if indeed cockfighting makes hands dirty. All English gentlemen like a little bit of sport, etc., etc.

We have nothing to say against Mr Clarke, but the bench that could accept such argument—the best any advocate could have offered in such a case—deserve to be remembered forever.

We say it was a case of cockfighting, proved to be cruelty to animals. If it had been a case of dog fighting it would have been just the same. If it had been a case of whipping a horse it would not have been the same. To whip a horse may be necessary, and only becomes cruelty when carried to excess. And we might say the same of many things. “Gentlemen,” an advocate might say, “there is no cruelty in whipping a horse; you will not allow any sentimental feeling against whipping in general to influence your decision. The question simply in, has this man whipped it brutally?” But there are English gentlemen who believe that cockfighting in itself is cruelty to animals, and this feeling must have its weight. There are English gentlemen who believe that when steel spurs are put on two cocks that the birds may fight till one of them is killed, the persons who put the spurs on are brutes, not men, brutes in instinct and feeling, be their station high or low. There are English gentlemen who never saw a cockfight, nor ever would. No gentleman, English or otherwise, is ever seen in those days at a cockfight. Wealthy persons are seen there we dare say, but there are no gentlemen among them. The “sentiment” talked about is the sentiment of civilization, the sentiment upon which hangs all the efforts that man is making to root out as much of the brute as possible from his nature, and. give fuller scope to the moral and intellectual nature, by which alone the gentleman is known from the “fellow.” The highest in the land then never support this mean vulgar occupation of low minds.

We wish now to place before the magistrates the natural results of the day’s work of the bench on Saturday last. The cockfighters—even those who had gone so far that the bench allowed it was cruelty to animals—had a triumph. This is not much in itself, but it may be a great deal in its effect. From this time we begin a reign of cockfighting—as open and defiant as the cockfighters care to make it. The police may just as well remain at home, for stronger evidence than this the cockfighters will take care they shall not obtain, and stronger evidence than this it will be scarcely possible to obtain. The Superintendent, with praiseworthy zeal, made his way to Cunswick Wood at four o’clock in the morning, got up evidence and got it up completely. Not a link was wanting, yet the magistrate said—” It is not enough.” For the future, then he may give it up, and abandon the hollow of Cunswick Wood to the cockfighters and their sport—a much-abused term in many cases, but never more abused than here. Our young boys—remember there were two such, witnesses—will be allured from their work to drink the dregs of the brutal lessons that belong to those vulgar brutal men. They will learn that brutality may be sport, and when better men advocate outdoor sports in preference to tea drinking’s and speeches, the pupils of cockfighters will set it down to their own credit, on the arena where cocks die and brutes cheer, but where no man is ever seen.

This is the effect of the last petty sessions held in Kendal by our county magistrates. The Kendal Town Council a short time ago petitioned the Lord Lieutenant of the county to add to the county magistrates. Surely this is a time (if such accorded with the proper dignity of the council) to repeat the request with an argument, which would be irresistible. We cannot think the whole of the bench agreed to the decision; but we must speak of it as a bench, and it needs fresh blood on it. A cry of shame and disgust is heard from all parts of the town whenever this notable decision is named. It is unjust to the men, who now fancy the magistrates wink at cockfighting, and who will have to find their mistake some day before another bench, and suffer for it. It is unjust to the rising generation, who look to the magistrates for an example; it is a shame and scandal to Kendal and to the county.

Kendal Mercury 4th June 1864

The champion fighting cock was a financial asset to be pampered and cared for, one 19th century cock fighter claimed that a single bird had won for him six chairs, a load of meal, a quarter of beef, a watch, and a chest of drawers! Not surprisingly the attention devoted to the feeding of these birds was legendary. The exact diet of fighting cocks was usually a closely guarded secret for it was believed that feeding was the key to success but generally the birds dined on warm fresh milk and cock-loaf, a rich bread made from flour, eggs, milk, sugar, currents, barley and either a glass of sherry or port wine. Even today the term fed like a fighting cock is in common use for anyone enjoying gastronomic delicacies.

The following recipe was used in 1865–30 years after cockfighting had been made illegal, by Miles Birkett who worked in the Black Beck Gunpowder mill near Bouth.

2ozs cream of Tartar
2ozs candied lemon
1 juice of lemon
boil in three pints of water.
When cool pour into a bottle


Wheaten bread without crusts crumbled up, mixed with three eggs according to quantity. (lb?) mutton without fat. One glass of port wine all mixed up into a paste..... After a meal of that stuff with two teaspoonfuls (from the bottle?) With cock bread when broken up. Between times feed with Barley Pratched (sic) in oven until very dry and beard drivers of champion stuff of all world for feeding.

Cumbria Records Office Barrow

The Charcoal Black and the Bonnie Gray

This version is from Walney Island but the ballad was known throughout Cumbria, the place names being changed to suit a particular location.

Come all you cockers far and near
I’ll tell a cockfight when and where
At Tummerhill I have heard them say
The North scale lads had a Bonnie Gray.

Two dozen lads from Bigger came
To Tummerhill to see the game
They brought along with them that day
A Black to match with the bonnie grey.

They all went in to take a cup
The cocks they were soon set up
For 10 guineas aside those cocks did play
The charcoal black and the Bonnie Gray

The Bigger land said now what odds?
No odds, no odds, the rest did say
But we’ll hold your guineas and beat your grey.
Now the black cock he has lost their brass
And the Biggar lads did swear and curse
If you wish they’d never come that day
To the Tummerhill to see the play.

Kendal Cockfighter
Reminiscences of Tommy Hill

Kendal lost one of its former well-known characters on Sunday by the death of Mr Thomas Hill, at 3, Fountain Brow. Though he had reached the age of 89—he would have been 90 had he lived till July—he had only been confined to his bed three weeks, and it was thought even then that his comparatively strong and robust constitution would pull him round. His wife died in 1907 and he had lived to see the demise of six of his nine children. The three children of the deceased living are Mrs Turner of Fellside. Mrs Bailiff of Burnley and Mr Thomas Hill. Mr Thomas Hill was a through sportsman all his life, and by his death a link is severed with the old sports of other days. After his work, he lived for sport and it assist was always his desire to enjoy himself and at the same time to assist in the pleasure of others. As a keeper of gamecocks he was known throughout the district in the days when “Brushy” Dixon, “Bobby” Troughton the Wilkinson’s of Lyth were such well-known followers of the sport. Thomas Hill was seldom missing from the arena. It was a source of delight to him to related experiences and many a good laugh was enjoyed over an incident which occurred at a cockfight arranged to take place at Cunswick when he was a lad, and before the prohibition 1849. The fun had not begun when the police came upon the scene and confiscated all cocks, it being alleged that the promoters of the match were trespassing. The police retained all the birds, and the subsequent proceedings cause much amusement in the town. The constable called upon the owners to collect their birds. This they refused to do, as they contended that the police, having taken them away, were the fit and proper persons to return to the owners. What eventually transpired is not now quite clear. But it seems that the case was heard in the police court, the owners of the birds had a lawyer from Lancaster to state their case, and amidst much enthusiasm the owners won the day. Equally entertaining were the stories which Tommy Hill told about the fights at Sizergh. He was always a well-known figure at the Kendal races. It was, however not only as a cockfighter that Tommy Hill was so popular, he was exceedingly fond of greyhound coursing along with his father-in-law (a Mr. Robinson) who was employed as a foreman for Messers Whinnerah, at Kendal) possessed one of the finest dogs in the country, which invariably won stakes wherever it was entered. He was the poultry fancier all his life and never missed a single exhibition at Kendal up to a year before last. The special breeds he fancied in his younger days were the black Spanish and the Milorca when these two breeds were so popular 55 years ago Tommy carried away many prizes and the shows held at the Albert Building in Beezon Lane had a particular fascination for him probably because he figured so conspicuously in the prize list. The first poultry showing Kendal was held in the national school 70 years ago one of the spectators was Tommy Hill, and he decided there and then that he would take a fancy and his subsequent success with birds proved that his confidence was not misplaced. Though such a busy man in the feathered world Tommy found time for other hobbies, including rabbiting. Otter hunting also claimed his attention. His last hunt being undertaken when he was nearly 80 years of age. In truth, Thomas Hill was a busy man far busier than men of the present age appear to be. By trade he was a builder, and carried on business in the yard in Strickland gate. From that business he retired but it was not until he had reached mature age of 75. In politics he was a staunch old Tory, and was one of the oldest members of the Kendal Habitation of the Primrose League and the Kendal Conservative Club. Whatever happened his political opinions never faltered, and the present-day fencing proved his mind that “they had all gone mad”. He was a keen Orangemen and took part in several guilds at Preston. He also interested himself in the Kendal Rugby Football Club, being associated with the organisation in the balmy days of the “Hornets”, and was a member of the committee. Whether at home or away Tommy never deserted the team and did a lot of hard work for them for many years. The funeral took place at Parkside cemetery on Wednesday afternoon, the blinds of the Conservative Club being drawn. There was a large gathering of sympathisers and the officiating minister was the Rev E.W. Russell, curate in charge of all Hallows Church. Mr Gilbert Little represented the Conservative club the Mr Howard Garnett the Primrose league. Readers were sent from both organisations.

Westmorland Gazette 19th of February 1921

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