Black Country Muse

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Forum Home > Beliefs and other Oddities. > Black Country " Sports ".

Alaska.
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If you have to blame anyone for what follows in this post, you will need to go a long way back in time, to the Egyptians, Greeks, and The Roman Empire. Thats not to say that the people involved in all this are blameless, they most certainly are not. As some of the so called " pastimes ", are still with us, then the blame and shame is squarely on the shoulders of the avericious, and, in some peoples opinion, the mentally retarded individuals who support it all. The famous Vicar of Rowley, George Barrs, made many enemies, in his life long pursuit of condemnation towards the participants of such barbaric scenes.


Cock Fighting.  A blood sport, watched by many since Roman times, and which reached almost fever pitch in the Georgian Era. Easy to arrange, even in someones front parlour. The main attraction of course, being the vast sums of money, gambled on the life and death struggles of two natural enemies. There are quite a few discriptions of what occurs at such gatherings, and I'm not going into any gruesome details here, they can all be sourced online. Around the Black Country, there are still places, where the sight of blood, excites spectators of both sexes. The so called "sport" was banned under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1835.


Bull Baiting.  The mere mention of this, to the Rev Barrs, would have seen steam coming out of his ears, and an anger that would have shook the Church on it's foundations. We have many places in the area, which still have the name associated with this barbaric " game ". The Bull Ring, in Sedgley,  the Bull Stake, in Willenhall, and several other places that spring to mind. Again, introduced to this Country by the Romans, who enjoyed a bit of "entertainment ", although try asking the Bull the same question. Setting dogs on an animal secured to a large object, is hardly what some of us would have called "sport". It attracted large crowds, much drinking and gambling, and from it came the breeding of special dogs. The Bull Dog, from which developed the strain known as Staffordshire Terriers, only ever had, and possibly still do, the one aim in life, Fighting. Put yourself in the Bulls place for a minute, and try and imagine having a load of Pepper blown up your nose to make you angry, then tied to a stake, and have dogs tear pieces out of you. Banned under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1835.


Dog Fighting.  This activity may have been brought here by the Greeks. No real way of knowing, as the fighting of dogs has been recorded many times from the Normans, to the present day. There are countless tales from the Black Country of dog fights, and of the horrific injuries and deaths which have resulted from such encounters. Again, banned under the Cruelty to Animals Act, it has never gone away. We have had some famous names of breeders passed down to us, but everyone avoids the reason why they were breed, to Fight. One of the first winners of a trophy at Crufts, had, some months before, won three dog fights on the same day. I suppose one could say, that it's better than that other great peoples day of entertainment, Public Executions, which lasted until 1868. My father both bred and showed dogs, Chows as it happens, and he gave me some advice. " Never ", he said," buy a Stafford, far too much close interbreeding, you never know who they will attack ".  A thing I bore in mind when we had children, for which I will always be grateful.


Boxing.  By that of course, I mean Bare Knuckle Fighting. In case you didn't know it, a form of boxing which was part of the ancient greeks Olympic Games. When it began to get a grip in this country, it was little more than street fighting, there being no rules. The early rules banned blows below the belt, no wrestling below the belt, no hitting when the opponant went down, and the 30 second rule to come to scatch. It was a rather bloody sport, and consequently drew huge crowds of up to 30,000 to some matches. The first champion this country produced was James Figg, in 1719, who remained undefeated until 1730. The Black Country had it's own champions, and people went long distances to cheer on their hero's. Gambling at such meetings was rife, with huge sums changing hands, and when it all went wrong, a massive punch up from rival supporters was the order of the day. There are plenty to choose from, The Tipton Slasher being a firm local hero. Sadly we seem to have some of the really nasty stuff coming back into fashion, they call it Cage Fighting.


There are some pictures of the subject matter in the Gallery Album " Images from the Forum ".



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 20, 2011 at 11:56 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

We also have a few sportsmen who lived in the region, while not being born here. One of these was George Davidson. This gentleman was born in Birmingham in 1866. He became a noted cricket player, and joined Derbyshire County around 1881. During the 1885 season, he scored a record 1,295 runs, and took 188 wickets. The following year, he made a record score in one innings of 274, against a strong Lancashire side. During the winter of 1899, he unfortunately went down with a severe bout of Influenzer, and within a week was dead. He is buried in Tipton, I presume, at Saint Martins, this being the old Parish Church. Has anyone got any more information on why he was laid to rest here, or will it remain a puzzle, similar to why the Tipton Slasher was buried at Kates Hill.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

January 15, 2012 at 3:01 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

From 1910, I came across a report on another Black Country pastime, Rabbit Coursing, using Whippets. This involved the small furry bunny being released from a cramped cage, and then being chased by the dogs. Apparently, someone made a complaint, that being so cramped the Rabbits were soon caught by the dogs, which, being hunting animals, soon tore the poor little creature to shreds. " Not very sporting ", went the complaint, although I'm not sure if he was complaining that the dogs didn't get to run very far, or that the Rabbit never had a fair chance. He suggested that the RSPCA should be called in. Fat chance of them doing anything at the time, as it wasn't until the 2004 Hunting Act, that, even if the dogs were muzzled, it was still illegal to run such meetings. It still goes on though, as does Hare Coursing, Dog Fighting, Cock Fighting, and that other digusting " sport ", Badger Baiting ". I left out Fox Hunting, as the Black Country really isn't very suitable is it, too many traffic lights.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 2, 2012 at 4:18 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Some 41 years after the passing of Act I mentioned in the first post above, there were scene's of chaos at Penkridge Police Court. In May of 1876, getting wind of a large gathering, for the purpose of " Cock Fighting ", the Police came up with a cunning plan. Disguising four large Constables as animal drovers, they infiltrated the meeting at a Farm in Shareshill, near Wolverhampton. They found over 150 Miners, Licenced Victuallers, and Locksmiths, all betting on the outcome of several Cocks who were already dressed and spurred. There was a mass stampede to escape, and indeed, a great many succeeded, but twenty or thirty of the more well known amongst the throng, were not so lucky. 4 men were fined £5, a large sum at the time, but they could probably afford it, 16 were fined £1, and the rest 10shillings each. The usually practice with confiscated Fowl was, I suppose, adherd too. A nice little Sunday roast at the Cop Shop. Whatever would the RSPCA have thought about that I wonder.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 9, 2012 at 4:48 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

I mentioned it before, " Dog Fighting ", and to be honest, I wasn't going to allude to it again, as its a barbaric and cruel thing to be involved with. The problem of course, is that in parts of the region, its still going on. The main reason is money, gambling to be precise, and not small sums either. Even way back in the 1890s, large sums would be wagered on the outcome of a Dog fight, one of whom would, in all likihood, not survive the injuries sustained. David Brindley, and George Powell, both natives of Willenhall, staged a Dog fight in Darlaston in May,1891, in which the side stakes were £7 10s each. ( winner takes all ) This, in 1891, was a great deal of money, and the fight was staged under a set of " Rules ", a picture of which can be viewed in gallery. Like bare knuckle boxing, each dog had to come to scratch before each "round", and during each break, the owners were allowed to tend to any damage. Both dogs had to be "Tested", before and after the fight, as it wasn't unusual to switch, or even paint dogs, to disguise a well known and successful animal. No need for the testing after, if the dog was dead, or dying from its wounds. There were appointed referees as well, just to see fair play, and to administer certain rules, such if a dog died during the fight. The rules stated, that if it was the dead dogs turn to go to scratch, and it failed to do so, the prize money was forfieted to the other side. I should have thought that was a foregone conclusion, but nobody said the people who indulged in such disgusting practises, had to be very bright. Not even Police intevention really stopped the fighting, as it was re-started the next day, or even the day after that, untill the fight was settled. Now I know, a great many older folk will remember a few from the past, who had a reputation for breeding very good Staffordshire Bull Terriers, but for what reason other than fighting I ask. Nothing like a good fighting pedigree to sell a few pups is there.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 12, 2013 at 2:46 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Pigeons, a Royal Hobby.


Now this was one of the sporting pastimes that could be enjoyed by anyone with a few Birds, and a bit of wood with which to build a Pigeon Loft. Keeping and racing pigeons is as old as the other " sports " I have alredy mentioned, and still enjoys great support today. The area has produced many famous racing birds, and quite a few excellent breeders, some of whom have supplied birds to Royalty. Our present Queen, still keeps over 250 pigeons in the Royal Lofts, and has been involved with them since childhood. Lets start with Jack Downing, the owner of a Dudley Brewery, several pubs, including " The Black Horse ", in High street. His Brewery was at the back of this Pub, in Greystone Street, and on the top floor, Jack built his Loft. It was thought by the locals, that the fumes from the process of brewing, added to his birds stamina, but in truth, they all came from carefully selected stock. In the years before the first World War, almost every miner and Ironworker it seemed, had a loft of sorts, and competition for prizes was fierce, and sometimes downright sneaky. Jack Downings loft was at it's most productive during this period, and he had many famous locally known birds. " Princess Ena ", a Barless Mealy Hen, in 1904, came second in race from Spain. Released in St Sebastian, at 11.25am on Monday 22nd July, she arrived back in his loft at 5.07pm the next day. It wasn't the prize money that mattered, ( not much more than £5 ) but the prestige and the breeding potential. Jacks business grew as well, and in 1907, he splashed out on a brand new Motor Car, which he could be seen in, all around Dudley. ( weather permitting of course, for it doesn't seem to have had a top )


Perhaps one of his best birds was the Blue Cheq Hen,  " Combine Jewel ", ( Picture in the Images From the Forums Album ) which, in 1910, swept the board with three first prizes in a Midland Counties Race. It average speed was over 40 miles per hour, and the distance covered was over 300 miles. As with all pigeon owners, racing was suspended in 1914, and a great many birds were required by the military for Carrier Pigeon duties. Jack now suffered the greatest loss imaginable, not his prize birds, but his son, Samuel Downing, aged just 17, killed in France in 1916. He never really recovered from the shock, and having no heart to carry on, sold the business to William Butlers Ltd, and bought a little house in Firs Street, Dudley, where, unable to resist his pigeons, built a small loft, although mainly for breeding this time. My paternal grandfather also raised and raced pigeons, as, I'm sure did many relatives of those reading this topic. The skies, on a fine sunny Sunday where I came from, were full of both racing and " Tumbler Pigeons ", a sight which today, is just a long gone memory.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 30, 2013 at 4:25 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

I have been asked, on many occasions, to include a piece on a certain locally (in)famous old character, Joe ( Joseph) Mallen.  I have wrestled with the problems, one of which was where to post the article, for it could cover both old Rogue, and the constant breaking of the Law regarding animal cruelty. While most would turn a blind eye to the first, the second would have bought down the wrath of  most of todays folks, for the appalling cruelty involved, not just the Dogs, but the Fighting Cocks he bred and reared as well. It could be said, that he was born into the culture that gave birth to such activities, but as he was born in Cradley Heath, in 1890,  thats not strictly true, for the " Sports," in which he was a main contender, had been outlawed in the 1830s. Instead of applying himself to better things, Joe Mallen decided to follow in the footsteps of Steve Bannister and Jack Garrett, two other noted blood sports enthusiasts. Between them, these men fostered, and encouraged, illegal Dog and Cock fights around the region, giving the impression of a rather backward community in a fast changing world. It's no wonder, that  Black Country folk were looked on as a bunch of mainly savage, uneducated barbarians. Joe Mallen began his working life as a Chain Striker, a tough and hard job, in the grime streaked and filthy workshops of Cradley Heath. Breeding good fighting Dogs was a bit of a " hobby " to men like Joe, as was a Saturday or Sunday, spent huddled round a tiny enclosure at a local Public House, watching fighting cocks kill each other. Gambling was another curse of the period, and kept the Pawn Brokers in a comparative state of some luxury. The story goes, that Joe really got interested in Dogs when he bought a " Stafford ", from a man who displayed a remarkable ability to translate the Bible. This man was Jack Challoner, a supposedly staunch Salvation Army Man, who apparently could find nothing in the good book, that prohibited Dog Fighting. He had obviously discounted the Law of the Land on the matter, as a mere trivial detail. His reputation really took off, when he aquired the licence of the Dog Fighters head-quarters, " The Cross Guns ", at five ways, Cradley Heath, in 1921. Just as moths are attracted to light, or flies to ****. the members of the fraternity flocked to the Pub. Joe and Jack Dunn, Harry Pegg, and Jackie Birch, were among many who indulged in this illegal activity, and I make no appology for mentioning them. Dogs will of course, naturally fight, as do other animals, but to train, and then set them deliberately on each other, just for a bet, is totally inexcusable, and nothing to be proud of either. In 1935, and I suspect, with growing condemnation of the " Sport ", they set up "The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club ", and the next year, at the famous Crufts Dog Show, Joe Mallens recent offering, " Cross Guns Johnson ", was awarded Best Exhibit in the breed. There was some controversy among the members over this, for Mallen had 'purchased for a pound', or, as so many thought, cheated Jack Dunn over the sale of the Dog. In 1939, after the breed had been awarded challange certificates, Joe Mallen walked away from Crufts, with the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Supreme Championship in his pocket, thanks to his most famous fighting dog, Gentleman Jim. This of course enhanced his reputation no end, and his advice was sought in many quarters, but it failed to stop him from entering dogs and cocks into the charnal house of the prize rings. He was also noted to have, how shall we say, pulled a few fast ones over his customers, who came to buy a good dog, and finished up with a pig in a poke. Giving up the Pub, he later retired to a quieter life in the rural surrounds of Kinver, where his son-in-law had a smallholding at White Hill. He would have had many a tale to tell in the local Pubs, stepping around the subject of all the blood and gore no doubt. Maybe he's up there somewhere, reading this piece, or then again, maybe he's spinning like a top in his grave, where's he's been since 1975. I may, at the time, have liked the man, but I certainly don't like what he supported and engaged in, barbaric, hardly even begins to describe the horrors inflicted on the animals involved.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

June 26, 2013 at 11:06 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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