For my culture gig this week, my London Shoes led me to explore London’s historic lost ‘Cock Fighting Pits’.
The origins of this barbaric, cruel sport, dates back from across the globe, some 6000 years – but it wasn’t until the Tudor period that it came to prominence in the UK and in particular London.
The sport of cock-fighting was not something that could be taken up by just anyone. The required breeding and training of the birds for at least two years prior to any matches required a great deal of money, as well as time and attention. But, as a spectator sport, it could be extremely lucrative as the owners of these fighting birds received a large chunk of prize money plus a percentage of the gate-money provided by the spectators.
The rules of Cock Fighting were really complex, so much so that loads of books were written by prominent and respected authors regarding the correct manner in which the fights should take place.
However evil and unpleasant cockfighting was, the sport itself played a large part in introducing rules and regulations into other sporting arenas. The large sums of money being wagered and its massive popularity, meant that there could be no other choice – as the sport itself needed to be fair and balanced.
The “cockpits” themselves were often dirty, rowdy and rather seedy places – although the “Royal Cockpit” that was situated just off Bird Cage Walk in Westminster, was specifically geared more towards the more upper classes (due to its 5 shillings admission charge).
A bit like horse racing is today, most cockpits were places where social classes mixed. The majority of towns throughout the UK, had at least one cockpit, and London itself had loads of them scattered all around the ‘smoke’, particularly in the City.
London’s main cockpits were situated in locations such as:-
- Tufton Street – Westminster
- Aldersgate Street – nr the Barbican
- Great James Street – Holborn
- Shoe Lane – Holborn
- Pickled Egg Yard (now Crawford Passage) – nr Smithfield
- off Catherine Wheel Yard – nr Spitalfields
- Drury Lane – Covent Garden
- The Royal Cockpit – Westminster
Cock Fighting as a sport, was banned outright in England & Wales by the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1835 – and it was finally banned in Scotland in the 1890’s.
Although there are no longer any traces of the original cockpits, the actual ‘steps’ that led down to the Royal Cockpit in Westminster, still remain as they were back then – and there are still ‘street names’ in existence that either bear reference to the sites of the original cockpits or the areas association to what was, for a period of time, one of London’s most popular of sports.
So – my quest for this gig was to track down some of these long lost cockpit locations and its associations – hope you find the accompanying photos interesting.