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THE

COCKFIGHTERS

Published in association with
ĎA.G FOXí
Consultants in Wildlife, Fieldsports,
and Countryside Law, Litigation,
Management and Planning


Sketch of a Ginger Cock.   (Ray Smith)


THE

COCKFIGHTERS

A Survey and Analysis of the Sport of Cockfighting in Britain,
and a study of the Criminology of Cockfighting Offenders, in
the period 1991-1992

by

Dr Barry F. Peachey
 

Beech Publishing House
15 The Maltings
Turk St
GU 34 1DL


© Text and some illustrations  Barry F. Peacbey, 1993
©Certain Illustrations the Publishers 1993.

 

This book is copyright and may not be reproduced in any way or stored
without the express permission of the publishers in writing

 

First Published 1993
 

The Publishers do not neccessarily agree with opinions expressed
or conclusions reached. This research study was conducted by the
author and associates

 

Beech Publishing House
15 The Maltings
Turk St
Alton
Hants GU34 1DL


 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Due to the nature of this type of work, the very people who I would most like to acknowledge are those who would least like to see their names in print as being connected with cockfighting. Some are afraid of prosecution, whilst others are far more frightened of the conse≠quences of their fellow cockfighters finding out that they have been talking to me. I am of course extremely grateful to them all, for without their cooperation this research would never have got past the idea stage. Accordingly you can rest assured that any individual named hereunder as having assisted me is not a cock fighter.

To the Oxford Old English Gamefowl Club, I would say only this. Your secret society has a good many members who are not too bothered about keeping your secrets.

I would like to thank certain people who although not cockfighters are authorities on gamefowl and the people who keep them. They include Dr Joseph Batty of Alton, Hampshire, Sir Mark Prescott of Newmarket,  Cambridgeshire, and Mr Paul Smith of Stretham, Cambridgeshire, all of whom have helped to grease my path in various ways. Thanks are also due to my illustrator, Mr Ray Smith of Middleton, Norfolk for his drawings of a variety of types of gamefowl, my professional Partner Mrs S. Kim Lathaen MBAE for her encourage≠ment and contributions, and my wife Mrs Heather L.E. Peachey MCollP Cert.Ed for providing computing facilities and consultancy advice, and for putting up with me generally over many years though this and other equally difficult projects.

A Thai Cock (Ray Smith)
 

Ready for Battle

This splendid cock was 'cut out for the Pit' in the last day's of cockfighting.
 

From painting owned by A. L. Pulford. Esq.

Black-Breasted Light Red Cock. Winner of Welsh Main
and other battles. I gave this Cock to the late George
Downey, who bred from him for many years, and won
many Mains with his offspring.      
H.A


 

INTRODUCTION

The origin of the sport of fighting game cocks in Britain is by no means certain. It appears to have originated in Greece about 500 B.C. and it was certainly in Britain by the time of St. Augustine. As a sport participated in by all social classes, a number of attempts to ban it have met with conspicuous failure. In a letter dated 12th June 1365 from King Edward III to the Sheriffs of London, he called upon them to ban a variety of sports, including Cockfighting, in order to encourage the male population to practice archery for the defence of the realm in≠stead.

Further attempts by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Oliver Cromwell also had little impact. In more recent history it was made illegal by the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 with tougher penalties being introduced fourteen years later, in 1849. In 1847, S.36 of the Town Police Clauses Act created a further new offence of keeping or using a house, room, pit or other place for the purpose of fighting, baiting or worrying animals. This too had little effect, and the sport carried on more or less openly until the 1930ís.

A watershed in the affairs of the Cockfighting ĎFancyí, as the participants call themselves, took place in 1936 with the death of Herbert Atkinson, of Ewelme, Oxon, widely described as the last of the great Cockers. Atkinson was a man of many talents, writer, artist, naturalist, explorer, and sportsman. He was a founder of the Oxford Old English Game Club in 1885, and during his life travelled all around the world studying Gamefowl and Cockfighting in a depth that remains unsurpassed.

Membership of the Oxford Old English Game Club is strictly limited to 100, although there are not necessarily that many members at any one time. In 1991 there were about 85. These people are devoted to the maintenance of the Old English Gamefowl and its gladiatorial spirit. Atkinson's many volumes of notes were reproduced in Cock-fighting and Game Fowl by an undisclosed editor after the death of the author. This is one of very few standard texts on the subject.

Quite apart from the Oxford Club, there are a number of other Gamefowl clubs spread around the country, the most important being the Old English Game Club (known as the 'Carlisle Club') which organizes an annual show of Game birds, large and bantams, which has over 1000 birds penned from all over the country. These are the true fanciers who are concerned with producing show birds which comply with a specified standard, but are judged for shape, colour or other attributes. Accordingly, it should not be thought that keeping Game Fowl implies that these people are involved in cock-fighting. Many people keep Gamefowl for showing or for decoration of the barnyard just like other breeds of poultry.

It is a curious anomaly that the people who genuinely keep and breed Old English Gamefowl are least likely to be cockfighters, be≠cause the majority of modern fighters are using Asil[1], Thai Game, Malay Game, Indian Game, and English/American/Irish crosses rather than Old English types. In addition to the cockfighting, quail fighting takes place, almost exclusively amongst the Asian immigrant communities.

In 1952 , a further law, the Cockfighting Act 1952 , made it an offence to possess any cockfighting equipment for use in cock-fighting. A number of works misrepresent this Act by leaving out that mere possession is not an offence, only possession for use is illegal. An example is Fair Game a book by Parkes and Thornley which is a general guide to game and countryside law written by two non-legally qualified policemen and published in 1987.

Now that cockfighting has been solidly illegal for well over 150 years, the public perception is that it has died out. Nothing could be further from the truth, as this study will show. Those who participate in the sport are offenders against the criminal law, so if labels are to be applied the result is a criminology of participants in a crime that most people do not even realise exists any more.

Recent years have seen great public interest in other animal fight≠ing activities such as dog-fighting and badger-baiting. Much man≠power and the many resources of the police and RSPCA have been put into covert operations to detect these offenders, yet prosecutions for cockfighting are very rare indeed. Is this because of lack of interest on the part of the law-enforcers, or are the real reasons more complicated than that?

In any consideration of a subject it is only possible to set it in its modern context by comparing it in some respects with its recorded history. Cockfighting, with its long and colourful history, is no excep≠tion. However, this study is not intended to be a history of the sport, as there are a number of works from the historical aspect in circulation already. It is about the sport as it is extensively practised in Britain today, much to the surprise, not to say astonishment, of a great many people.

Not the least of these is John Breslain of Cheriton, near Alresford in Hampshire who is Chairman of the Poultry Club of Great Britain. He told me:

The Poultry Club of Great Britain, and the Rare Poultry Society are both totally opposed to cockfighting, officially and unofficially. We will not tolerate cockflghting and any member found involved in this illegal activity will be expelled.
In the past there was no specific rule in this respect, but after a couple of incidents involving club members a rule was introduced, but that was some years ago. Of course, we have our suspicions about a few people, but suspecting them and proving cockfighting involvement are two different things. Quite honestly until you brought your study to my attention I was unaware that cockfighting was still widespread. I certainly had no idea that it was prospering.

However, other people in the world of domestic poultry are much closer to the action often by no choice of their own. Michael Roberts and his wife Victoria run the Domestic Fowl Trust at Honeybourne near Evesham in Worcestershire. This is one of the finest collection of domestic poultry in the country[2].

Michael told me:

Iíve never seen a staged cockfight in this country, only in Thailand. We go out of our way to have nothing to do with it here, I am just not interested. Legal or illegal, it just does not appeal to me. There is a hell of a lot of cockfighting around the Heart of England, especially amongst the travelling people. When you get further across to Herefordshire, especially around Bromyard, it is particularly common. I know one man in particular who holds high public office in Warwickshire who is a member of the Oxford club and who has fought birds for years.

Victoria Roberts is also a Member of the Council of the Poultry Club of Great Britain. The family have suffered a good deal as the result of fruitless efforts to include gamefowl in the collection[2]:

We keep no gamefowl strains at all at the Trust. When the Trust was first started on its earlier site in 1975 there were some gamefowl but we had no end of trouble with them, or rather with people stealing them, obviously for fighting. We were raided three times in four years by gypsies. One night we actually disturbed them in the act, but they got away. No one was ever caught. The trouble is that here in the Heart of England area there is a lot of fruit growing, and the gypsies turn up here in droves for the fruit picking season. The regulars now know that there are no gamefowl here so they don't bother coming to the Trust any more. We still get new-comers turning up. They elbow their way in here, sometimes paying the entrance fee, sometimes nor, and wander round the place looking for gamefowl. When they see our great big fat hens they leave. I get an occasional "Got any cocks, have yer?", but I just tell them that we haven't.
As we are quite close to Birmingham we find ourselves acting as suppliers to the Pakistani cockfighting community. They never actually say so, but it is pretty obvious why they keep the birds. We know full well what they are up to, but there is nothing we can do about it. We sell them every sort of fowl equipment, coops, feed, medicines and so on, as we do to any other member of the public. We hear that they fight Japanese Quail, and also the Indian Black Partridge so they are not interested in our birds, just our equipment.

Other people who act as involuntary assistants to the keepers of fighting cocks include a pet shop manager who wishes to remain name≠less, not because he is a cocker, but because he does not wish to attract reprisal visits from those who are. He commented:

There is quite a bit of cockfighting going on around here, especially amongst the Asians in the Southall area. You can buy game birds at Southall Market and they buy them and fight them all around West London. I donít fight birds myself, but I keep half a dozen Old Dutch Game Bantams just for curiosity. They are a rare breed. One day, in May 1991, someone went into my back garden and pinched them. I thought Iíd seen the last of them but suddenly three weeks later they mysteriously reappeared again! I reckon that somebody wanted to know whether or not they would fight, tried them out, found they wouldnít, and bought them back.

A sporting gentleman from Suffolk recounts a story of a day's fox hunting with one of the Cumbrian Fell packs in the Lake District which took place in the early 1980's. As is the custom, he and his local host were following the hunt on foot, and were high up on the side of a Fell when he noticed some activity in the valley below. Upon paying closer attention he could see that there was a tent in a field. "What's that all about?" he asked his host. "Oh, it's a cockfight" the host replied. "I suppose the pit is in that tent?" he said. "Oh, no" replied his host, "that's the Caterers' tent".

People who are substantially closer to the sport tell more revealing stories. This gentleman lives near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire:

I am a leather craftsman by trade, and make my living by making all sorts of things for the sporting community, legal and illegal. I can do almost anything made of leather or netting. I even make gun holsters for the police! Amongst the things I produce are boxing-gloves for gamefowl, and bridles which go over their heads and beaks during sparring to prevent the bird pecking its opponent. There is substantial demand for this sort of thing, and the demand is increasing. I am not interested in what people use my products for, that's up to them.

Most of the birds currently being fought right across the Midlands from Leicestershire through Birmingham to Shropshire and Herefordshire are either American Hatch [3], or Quail. Mostly the Asians fight the Quail, but everyone else is into American Hatch fowl [3], particularly in Sherwood Forest. There is a thriving breeding industry operating in Shropshire at the moment. Certain gamekeepers are using their employers' pheasant rearing equipment to hatch gamefowl for other people. A lot of birds are being reared by one particular estate, walked on the estate of a castle in the north of Scotland, and eventually find their way to Aberdeen where people in the oil business have got plenty of money for betting on cocking matches. There are very few naked-heelers through the Midlands. Almost everyone fights with spurs. I am not a cocker, and although I used to keep a few birds for fun I don't now. I've been involved in almost everything at some time or another, but cocking does not really take my interest.

In the Eastern Counties of Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Lincolnshire, particularly in the Fens we find the home of naked-heel cockfighting. Wisbech in Cambridgeshire is locally claimed to be the centre of things, but naked-heel fighting (i.e.,without artificial spurs) is very common in the area, amongst a variety of interesting charac≠ters. One of them, a man from a small village in the south of Lincolnshire told me:

During 1990 to 1991 the price of birds round here has trebled. For some reason the East of England lurcher lads have suddenly got the cocking bug in the last year or so, and it has really taken off. A year ago you could buy a trio (a gamecock and two hens) for £30 or so, but now you can splash out £100 no problem, and even up to £150 for something really good. All of our little groupsí birds have got names such as Dangerous Donovan, Bill Sykes, Terrible Tyson and so on. My old bird, Scrapper Jones who died in the summer of 1991 from coccidiosis was a legend round here. He was a real killer.

Outside the boundaries of the English counties, things are clearly just as active. Ireland has a long tradition of cockfighting which shows no signs of abating as demonstrated by this gentleman

I'm a dog fighter, not a cockfighter, but I know quite a lot of cockers, mostly in Ireland, both Northern Ireland and the Republic. I was over there for a dog fight in Northern Ireland when some friends said they suddenly had to drop out to attend a funeral. The man who had died was a famous cockfighter, as had been his father and grandfather before him. Nearly the whole village turned out, and I understand that the attendance of all local cockers was virtually compulsory, so my friends had to go. If they hadn't they would have lost respect amongst the cockers, and so far as they were concerned that was out of the question.

From my knowledge of the dog fighting world I know that there is quite a trade going on between Ireland and the mainland, and also between Britain, Holland, and Belgium. You would be surprised at how many bits and pieces, eggs and so forth, cross the channel on the ferries. At the end of the season it is quite common to have what's called a bag-day. When people have been fighting in Mains and Derby matches over the winter, they are left with a few birds that are fit but which have not been used. They bring all these odd birds to a bag-day and match virtually anything with anything they see fit. It's just a way of rounding off the season before the moults start to set in.

The situation in Wales is very much the same, especially in the closely knit valley communities of the south. A young Welshman now living in the east of England told me:

I come from the Bargoed area of South Wales. There are a lot of cockflghters and dog fighters in my home area. They fight with spurs. When I say a lot, I really mean a lot. I know dozens of people in the valleys with birds that they fight. It is certainly not dying out, the reverse is true in my opinion. The more people that get put out of work the more time they have for sport. Those that arenít cockers are dog fighters, or ordinary hunting people with terriers, lurchers and so on.

There is not so much cockfighting activity further north in the country until one reaches the English borders around Shropshire and Cheshire. Of course, the gypsy cockfighters travel widely so when they are around in an area, so is cockfighting even though the indigenous activity may not be great.

In Scotland the relatively low population in comparison to the land area of most of the country does not lend itself to large concentrations of cockfighters in general, but there are certain centres, including a couple of specific stately homes. A Scottish gamekeeper told me his views and experiences:

If you want to find gamefowl you should try looking around Aberdeen. Due to the oil industry there are a lot of men around with time on their hands and money to spend, and they are happy enough to spend it on birds imported from the south, especially Shropshire. There is a steady trade in these birds, nearly all American Hatch types, but with other bits and pieces thrown in.

As we have seen, the generalisation is that the sport is divided into naked-heel fighting with oriental breeds, and spur fighting with Eng≠lish, American, and Irish strains. Oriental birds are not fought with spurs, and traditional breeds are not fought naked-heeled. As with every rule,one does find a few exceptions. Fitting spurs to oriental birds is extremely rare, although some Asil are fought this way. However, there is a very small element which fights traditional British breeds and American crosses naked-heeled. The following is from a man in the south of Hampshire.

I keep Morgan White-Hackles which we fight without spurs just for a bit of fun. We donít put any money on, because we have not got any. Thereís just a drink in it for the winner. There are a lot of cockers around the area but they all fight spurred- up usually. Itís just me and my mates who naked-heel birds. I am married into a family of travellers, so there is a bit of a gap between us and the locals, even though the travellers donít like me anyway because I was not born one of them.

However, it is only accurate to emphasise that against the vast bulk of cockfighting activity these variations in activity and technique are very rare indeed.

It is an inescapable conclusion that can be reached at this early stage in this study that cockfighting is rife throughout Britain. We are not talking about tens or hundreds, but several thousand hard-core enthusiasts with countless hangers-on of one sort or another. One might be forgiven for not remembering that it has been illegal for about 150 years.


A Mill Ridge cross Kelso-Hatch Stag at ten months old. This line is from America. This bird was Lot No.12 in Sir Mark Prescotts Sale on 26th May 1991

(Photograph: Vincent Oliver. Reproduced by kind permission of Sir Mark Prescott)

To Chapter 1

 

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