Tyne and Wear HER(6919): Newcastle, Bigg Market, Turk's Head, cockpit - Details
Newcastle, Bigg Market, Turk's Head, cockpit
A cock-fighting competition or "Gentlemen Trademen's Main" was held at the old Turk's Head in Newcastle in April 1798, and another for unqualified tradesmen in March 1814. In the Durham County Advertiser of 14 January 1815 there is a notice that during the week commencing 13 February the fighting at Mr. Bull's pit in Newcastle (ie The Turk's Head) would be postponed until 27 February due to fighting in Durham that week. There were as many as eight different cock-fighting pits advertising in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle in the eighteenth century and there were probably others who did not advertise. Cock-fighting was a popular pastime throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was often referred to as the "Royal Sport". The pursuit had a number of notable folloers including the Duke of Cleveland and Earl of Northumberland. Contests were advertised as "Gentlemen's Subscription Mains" but the "sport" was actually popular with all classes. Established rural cock-pits were often no more than an uncovered earthwork, they were generally located in or near to villages. This feature is about 400m away from Grindon village. The pis consisted of a central fighting platform, 2.5m or more in diameter, surrounded by a shallow ditch and external bank. During the contest low boards were put on the platform to contain the birds. Three classes of birds were normally used - stags which were under one year old, cocks which were older, and blinkards or one-eyed veterans. Birds who refused to fight were known as "fugies" or "hamies". Cock-fighting became a well publicised and financially well-backed "sport". As well as the local venues, cock-fighting also took place at local race meetings, usually in the morning, followed by the horse racing in the afternoon. Events were advertised in the local press, such as the Newcastle Courant. Prizes were normally in the region of 10-20 Guineas, however there were occasions when they could be as much as 500 Guineas. Sometimes the prizes for cock-fighting were of greater value than the awards for the local horse races. By the early nineteenth century opposition against the barbarity of cock-fighting was increasing, due to improved education and a religious revival which exerted moral pressures on society. Many of the local gentry turned to other pastimes, such as fox hunting, which at the time was more politically and socially acceptable.
George Jobey, 1992, Cock-fighting in Northumberland and Durham during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Archaeologia Aeliana, Series 5, Vol XX, pp 1-21; P. Egan, 1832, Newcastle may challenge the world for cocking in Book of Sports; Frank Graham, 1976, Historic Newcastle, page 20