Cock & Bull Stories

cocknbullTHE following brief extracts from the excellent Cock & Bull Stories: Animals in Isle of Wight Folklore, Dialect and Cultural History, are reproduced by kind permission of the author, Alan R Phillips.
This charming and beautifully researched publication, a must-read for anyone interested in Isle of Wight folklore, dialect and place-name origins, focuses particularly on the way Islanders interacted in the past – so much more closely than today – with the creatures of the natural world around them. Indeed, in a foreword, Tony Tutton, chairman of the IoW Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership writes: “…it is easy to forget our own native creatures and the great levels of interaction we had with them through the ages. This booklet celebrates and reminds us of the importance of animals over time – for farming and the food they provided; as workers helping to manage the land; as creatures that filled us with awe or fear; and as a reference in describing places”.
The author does not, however, shy away from the darker side of Islanders’ relationship with animals, which is reflected in the title of the publication itself…

Alan writes in the book:

Cockfighting

A licence was granted by royal prerogative for cockfighting to be held at the Castle Inn, Newport, in 1705. On the 12th May 1777 the Hampshire Chronicle gave the following announcement: “Cocking May 19th and the following two days. A main of cocks to be fought at Mr. Gregory’s at the Green Dragon Inn, Newport, between the gentlemen of the East and West Medina. To show thirty-one cocks main and ten beys for five guineas a battle and a hundred guineas the odd one”.
Around 1820 cockfighting was still in full swing, and one of its patrons, Squire Thatcher of Wacklands, kept 50 game cocks. Great battles were fought in a barn at Lambsleaze, close to Hale, and Island cocks fought ‘All-England’ at Westminster; Sunday afternoon was also a favourite time for cockfighting at the nearby Fighting Cocks Inn at Hale Common. A cockpit in use at the Squire’s Wacklands residence from the 18th century onwards also survives as a circular rose bed at the front of the house. There was once also a Fighting Cocks public house in Ryde, pulled down between 1800 and 1810; presumably so named for the same reason. A ‘soourder’ in dialect referred to a gamecock that had badly wounded its antagonist.

Bulls
TWO public houses on the Island still retain the name of The Bugle – Brading and Yarmouth – and another one at Newport used to be so called. They are all represented by the sign of a young ox: this is apparently rare nationwide. The most likely reason for its Island adoption is that the bugle, or wild bull, was the supporter to the arms of Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, crowned King of the Isle of Wight by Henry VI in 1443.
Close to the Bugle in Brading is its famous Bull Ring, the only visible reminder of the former practice of bull-baiting, in which the unfortunate beast would be goaded by large dogs before being slaughtered. This was believed to improve the quality of the meat as well as providing a public “entertainment”. The custom was particularly common in the 16th century: a large field in Niton is also named the Bull Ring and in 1595 had a cottage on it known as Bull Ring Cottage; another smallholding of one acre was known as Bear Close, so it is possible that bear-baiting was also indulged in. In the Assize for Butchers (1636) we are informed “that Butchers may not kill or sell any bull or bulls unbaiten”, and Brading Town Hall records indicate that in 1592 William Smith was fined 6d. for killing a bull without baiting.
Towards the end of the 18th century, however, pressure for change was mounting. In 1785 Newport Borough strongly noted its disapproval of “the continued interruption of the peace of this town by the dangerous practise of Bull Baiting. We lament that bills [of prosecution] are preferred against those only in the lower class of life, as the punishment already inflicted on them… must in a measure have done away this evil, had they not been abetted by persons, whose conduct ought to have been an example of strict conformity to the civil laws of this borough” – in other words, the activity was being egged on by upper middle-class individuals. In 1815 George Bull was being prosecuted for the act of baiting a bull at West Cowes, and bull-baiting was finally outlawed in 1835.
– Alan R Phillips

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