Cock Fighting In Crieff -Big Crowds and Big Money In The 19th Century !

 




 
                                                                                    



As  a collector  of the odd little  book or pamphlet , I never  cease  to enjoy what  was written  in days  gone by .  I procured a small booklet  many years  back from a local source  and  although  in a somewhat shabby condition, it is  full of   delightful little  cameos of the Crieff of yesteryear . Entitled “Crieff in the Victorian Era”  by “ Dixon “ it  is on par  with Macara for its colloquial and couthy  delights !Written in   wonderfully  descriptive  style it  has  stood  out in my thoughts  for  many a year .   The  following is a tale  concerning what was Strathearn’s  main sporting interest in the early part of the 19th Century . No it wasn’t football or golf  but  cock fighting . Not  acceptable in this day and age  and an undoubtedly cruel and somewhat barbaric past time , it  attracted much interest and following  in those  far off days . Cock fighting   was popular with the general public as it attracted a large amount of betting with considerable stake money going to the winning owner.  This little tale is not intended a s a defence  of the past  but  purely an historical account of what it was

like . It is  not generally known that cock fighting at one time  was a regular  feature in Crieff within the other wise staid sanctum  of the Weavers’ Hall in what is now Commissioner Street . Apologies to Rory Stewart of the Broich – I mentioned to him that this tale  was in Macara but was wrong !

Please note  that this tale is an historical account of something that occurred nearly two hundred  years ago in Crieff . I do not condone, support  or publicise cruel sports but as an historian find it incumbent to highlight  what did occur – be it now unacceptable in today’s society .

The Old Sporting Days

Good Queen Victoria the first is coronated . The bell rings , the folks cheer and do many other  things necessary for the occasion , and the day passes  amidst very satisfactory enthusiasm . But there is something which remains  to complete the day , and that something is on every- body’s  mind . It is a cock fight . to witness the encounter Lochlane , Strowan  and Monzievaird , Fowlis and  Monzie  send their hordes , who come partly on foot and partly in hay – carts .

For days past the young Queen and the cock fight have been discussed and re discussed in every  weaver’s shop , at every corner , at every farm , and on every road , and the money  at stake  being in proportion to the importance of the event , the names of the principal sportsmen  re upon everyone’s lips . All the country  roads swarm  with the heavy traffic , and people stagger forward in their hurry to reach the town . Carts , with their precious loads , rumble along ; farmers on horseback mingle with the crowd ;  and the cries and shouts of the  passengers make the merry clinking of the harness on the excited horses almost  sink into insignificance .

“ The Young Queen , “ “ Horrrah , Horrah “ , and the cries are kept up for miles along the road – only to be repeated and passed back with additional enthusiasm . Everywhere  friendship  and good fellowship prevail in honour of the great day . Before the sun sets   fight unparalleled  in interest  for miles a round  wil be fought and won .

King and Sharp have long been names notorious for cock fighting . The former – the owner of some gallant birds – belongs the Bridgend, and in an honest open fight , can produce birds to match anything in the district . The challenge was thrown out  by  Sharp of Crieff , whose shady practises were not by any mans unfamiliar to the ring , but whose name as a cunning breeder of first – class birds was well and widely known .Both finely – trained smugglers they had fallen out in a public- house near Amulree, and after the fight was announced  and the stakes were arranged , the news was spread abroad in all directions . It required no sporting newspaper then to intimate coming events .

A beautiful site for the encounter has been selected on the Broich estate ( the belief is that the Laird is ill in bed ) . And what a glorious afternoon! A cloudless sky extends  from the Grampians  to the Ochils  and the sinking sun shines  forth in all its lurid glory ; the gentle wind familiar  to June sighs peacefully  in every tree , and the roads are carpeted with the dust of many days . As the last rays of the sun strike  upon the valley the enormous crowd  begin to wend their way  in the direction of the Bridge ; and, crossing  the burn by a series of planks fixed for the occasion are soon in the neighbourhood of the ring . Closely they pack together, and those who are late in arriving, fill up the open space on the hillock behind , from which a splendid vies of the ring can be obtained . How many people there will be present it is difficult to estimate. But they form a mixed crowd. From every part of the district representatives are present and conversation is loud and vigorous on the prospects of the coming fight. Monzie men support Sharp because his mother is a M’Ara ; the Strowan contingent back King  because his sister is married  to the Laird’s coachman ; while the Fowlis men , actuated  by the same motives which impelled  the Ephesian idol makers  to shout – “ Great is Dianna , “ &c., range themselves on the side of Sharp ( Fowlis at this time  was the chief  centre of the riddle- making industry , and King being engaged in this trade in the Bridgend the position of the Fowlis  men is easily understood. ).

Here in this mighty throng what excitement prevails. The spectators behind press forward; those in front press back , and people  roar and cheer  as the names  of favourite sportsmen are shouted across the ring . Good – humoured banter passes  between  the men of Fowlis  and Bridgend – the later indulging in trade references  regarding the “ Celestial City “ and the riddle trade. Monzie  and Monzievaird remind each other of past tussles in the ring  and the hour  for the start comes  quickly upon them. As final preparations  are being made by the referee,, shouts of “ The Broich ,”  “ The Broich, “ are heard  from the top of the hillock , and at that moment the laird , who is a terror to the whole community , is  seen striding over the turnip field in the vicinity of the arena . The two principals secure their  birds , nd make their escape ; the referee remembering the fate of the old poacher , and knowing the dangers of entertaining the Broich preserves , takes to his heels , and the whole crowd follow suit at their utmost speed towards the public highway . Picture the scene if you can . Excited men , startled women , and terrified  children  trip and tumble in their anxiety to escape the clutches of the Laird , and panting  and gasping   like brewery horses , they reach the highway .

The Broich follows leisurely . As he walks  up the street  not even a dog is to be seen , the streets being deserted  as the ruins of Thebes . Doors are barred  and blinds  are drawn – such is the  fear inspired by the appearance of the Laird . Two hours  afterwards  the principals  and several supporters gather  round the Gallows Tree – on the Drummond estate and outside the jurisdiction of the Broich – and there preparatory arrangements  are made  for the fight being fought to the  bitter end . But the referee fails to put in an appearance. On a search being instituted he is found dead drunk round the corner, and the stakes lie in the nearest pub. And so ends the great battle.

 

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