Purring – Sport
of The People is an exhibition currently showing at Gallery Oldham which explores the lost histories of clog fighting in Oldham
and surrounding areas. The
following blog was written by artist and contributor to the exhibition, Anna FC
The idea for the
exhibition took seed in 2013 as I was just beginning a project on clog dancing.
I was chatting to a friend about my project when he asked if I had heard of
clog fighting, a local sport his dad had told him about. As he described this
mysterious and illegal sport I was compelled to find out more. I started by
looking in the library at the Museum of Wigan life and found a small book by AJ
Hawkes which stated the sport had died out in Wigan around 1910. I then spoke to my friend’s father who
recalled his dad going to matches and speaking about it in the 1930s. This
tantalising glimpse had me hooked as I realised that not only was very little
known about the custom, it was also just in the reach of living memory. I
seized this as my new project and approached the Museum of Wigan Life to
support me in my research and to exhibit my results.
I didn’t just
want to find out what the men had done, but to understand why they did it and
to get a contextual understanding of their lives, building up a picture of working
class culture that was nearly completely lost to time. So, I put a call out to
the local newspapers and website forums for remembrances, and I started looking
in Bolton, and Wigan and Leigh archives, trawling history books and newspaper
archives. I discovered that alongside grudge settling matches, clog fighting
was a semi professional (yet underground) sport. Pubs and areas had their own
champions who would travel around districts for matches organised by
‘promoters’ and landlords. The sport was played mainly by miners and spread
from Wales, all across Lancashire, Cornwall and Yorkshire. It was also exported
to America with Welsh and English emigrant miners.
In 2015 I
approached Galley Oldham as the town had featured prominently in my research.
We put out another call for remembrances and I continued my search in
newspapers and in Oldham Local Studies & Archives. I found that the towns
annual Wakes and Rushcart had been host to many matches. The famous Oldham
chronicler Edwin Butterworth had worked for Thomas Baines and collected a lot
of the information contained in Baine’s Lancashire, which is one of the
earliest accounts of Lancashire purring.
My research brought
to light the fact that purring continued until the mid to late 1950s, long
after indications from official records and I have discovered many different
methods, locations and even names of champions. Over the course of my 2 years research I have
interviewed or had communication from more than 30 members of the public with
tales of clog fighting, and to my delight a handful of people who actually
witnessed matches as children. Unfortunately the one thing that I have yet to
find is a pair of original fighting clogs as it seems champions were buried in
them, almost Viking warrior style. I am still looking to hear tales of the
sport and am desperate to lay my hands on a pair of fighting clogs.
As a personal
satisfaction, while researching for the Oldham exhibition, I was contacted by
the Saddleworth Morris Men. They had commemorated a clog fight in their Delph
Dance and so my project has come full circle back to the clog dancing, where
the whole journey began.
Images: (Top) Anna
FC Smith, Fighting in the Fields, 2015. (Bottom) Anna FC Smith, Leg Fracture, 2015
Purring – Sport
of The People continues to Sunday 9 April at Gallery