Here is an extract from the book "Staffordshire" by Phil Drabble:

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Here is an extract from the book "Staffordshire" by Phil Drabble:

Message  Brian le Jeu 1 Nov - 10:04

He [Big Jack Taylor] was -again like the rest of his kind- intensely proud of his forbears. "Bin hereabouts ower five centuries, we Taylors," he would say. "One of the owdest families in Rowley. Or anywhere round. Seen four churches from this very window, we have . And we've had the same strain of cocks and 'tarriers' since my grandfather's time." Now the last is very unusual. I have found that nowhere is prejudice against inbreeding stronger than with the men of the Black Country. The "gentry" may say what they like, but they are certain that you will get a "runner" if you don't use fresh blood.

The dogs they used for fighting have become so localized that they are known all over the world as Staffordshire terriers or, more recently, as Staffordshire bull terriers. There were nearly always one or two in Big Jack's on a Sunday morning. They would lie between their owner's feet, under the oak settle, and growl and rumble challenges at the dog across the room. But no one took much notice. Sometimes one would really mean business. It was easy to tell, for he would begin to lick his lips, as though his mouth were dry, and probably start that staccato barking which is so characteristic of the breed when trouble is wanted. "Tak 'im i' the back and tie 'im i' the brew 'us. Thee costn't hear theesen think, " old Jack would say. And the culprit would be led away and tied in what would pass as the scullery in other parts of the country. In this land of beer it is not only called the brewhouse but is still used for its original purpose.

They have altered a lot in the last fifty years, those Staffords. When bull-baiting was suppressed, and attention veered more and more to dog fighting, the original terriers were small. They had been produced by crossing the little rat-pit terriers with bulldogs, and the favourite size was about about twenty-four pounds. Old Tom Southall, who also lived at Rowley, was very scathing about the big forty-pound dogs lately made fashionable by the Kennel Club and dog showing. "Why," he would say, "if anyone came into my father's boozer with a dog ower twenty-six pun they would soon want to know what he was crossed with." He was a very merry old chap, and nobody loved a good cock and a good dog better than Tom. He had been talking of the old days and he once made a remark that I shall never forget. "In them days," he said, "everybody in Rowley loved a good tarrier. Even the women. Tha knowst this. If the Saviour had come to Rowley thenadays and said, 'Thee mun get shut on all thim dogs,' they'd have bolted fra the nail shaps and 'ommered 'Im to death." And I think old Tom would have led them.

Mention of bull-baiting reminds me that Staffordshire had the doubtful privilege of witnessing the last recorded bull bait. At one time it was compulsory for butchers to bait their bulls before slaughter, as it was thought that baiting made the meat more tender. (In the same way that a coursed hare or rabbit is supposed to be more tender than one which has met a a more sudden end.) Baiting became so popular that it became a national sport, and English bulldogs as famous the world over for their courage as English men. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, bull-baiting had almost died out, except in Staffordshire. But many Staffordshire towns still have their "Bull ring" or "Bull stake," and the last recorded bait took place at Handsworth in 1825. At least, it started near Handsworth but finished in Soho, because the crowd was disturbed by the runners.

Although bull-baiting lasted longer in Staffordshire than in other parts, it was never really anything but a national sport. Dog fighting, on the other hand, was almost purely local. Of course it spread to London and other big centres of sport in the heyday of prize fighting and similar sports. But it remained, nevertheless, essentially a Staffordshire sport. The rules were extraordinarily simple. Two dogs were matched to fight by weight, and the weights were always very even. I have heard some people say that their little dog will kill dogs twice as big. All I can say is that the big dog must be of some breed which is allergic to fighting. In practice bull terriers were usually matched at a stipulated weight "give or take a take a pound." A dog which was brought to the pit heavier than this was disqualified. An old saying in the Black Country was that "an ounce to a cock is a pound to a dog or a stone to a man."

When the match had been made the stakes were put in the hands of a neutral stakeholder, who held them until after the referee's decision, and a place fixed for the battle. And after dog fighting became illegal, some queer places for battles were fixed. One that; I know of took place in a chapel at Goscote, which is just outside Walsall. And who would think of looking in a chapel, on a Saturday night, for a dog fight? Others have taken place in empty railway trucks (which are about the right size and have conveniently deep sides) and cellars and bedrooms and a hundred odd places where one would not think of searching. But never in the same place twice.

Sometimes there was a certain amount of jiggery-pokery. That was almost inevitable, when stakes and bets were often surprisingly high. Before fighting, the dog was washed in milk. That was in case someone had rubbed a little acid into his neck or shoulders to discourage his opponent from biting him. It was specifically stated in the rules that a handler could "taste" his opponent's dog, either before or after a battle, to satisfy himself that there had been no doping. The washing in milk was simply an additional safeguard. But do not think there was more foul play than in modern sports : no more, for instance, than there would seem to be in modern greyhound racing - if prosecutions are any criterion. After the dogs had been weighed, and if necessary washed, the battle began. A mark, or scratch, was drawn diagonally across the pit, and each dog had a corner opposite the scratch.

Each dog had a setter or " 'ondler." Now " 'ondle" is a very favourite Staffordshire word. A Staffordshire man is quite incapable of judging a dog or a cock, or even an inanimate object, like a vase, by eye alone. Looks, he feels, are too often deceptive. He likes to pick it up ; to feel its muscles or its feathers or its shape. He likes, in a word, to " 'ondle" it. It was not necessary, nor even usual, to 'ondle one's own dog in a battle. Certain men gained reputations for being "cliver i' the pit," and it was considered half the battle to employ a reputed 'ondler. Experience was needed to restrain a dog tending to be "too fast across the scratch" or to incite one with the opposite tendency. Experience, call it flair if you will, was needed in helping a dog that was getting tired. Experience was needed to watch for the tricks of the opposing 'ondler which scarcely came within the rules.

A referee was chosen by mutual consent or the spin of the coin and the handlers, or setters, took their dogs to opposite corners of the pit. At a signal both dogs were loosed and rushed across at each other, for experienced dogs needed little or no incitement. The setters were not allowed to leave the pit until they had started the fight and, in the unusual event of a refusal the match was void. When once they had begun to fight, no one could touch them until they had both left off, which they would eventually do through weakness or fatigue. (This constituted a round and might take anything from a few seconds to half an hour or more depending on the mettle and condition of the dogs. ) A minute was then allowed for washing and first aid, after which the dog which first stopped fighting was loosed. If he "went across the scratch," all was well and the process was repeated until one failed to go to scratch in his turn, which occurred when one had had enough or was too weak or dead. The important thing was not so much to kill the opposing dog as to be willing to try. In fact, it was technically possible for a dead dog to win the battle, supposing it was his opponent's turn to go to scratch and he was either too weak or unwilling to go - the first dog who did not go to scratch, when it was his turn, no matter what the state of his opponent, lost the battle.

Because some of the last of the bull terrier men used to foregather at Big Jack's, I do not want to convey that Rowley was more noted for bull terriers than other towns. Willenhall was almost as famous for fighting dogs (and you had to be a "fighting mon" to keep a fighting dog) as for its locks. Bilston and Darlaston, Cradley and Ruiton, Gornal and Lye, all were famous for their "tarriers." Or should it be notorious ? But long after dog fighting ceased it was customary to gather from miles around to drink beer and talk of old times at Big Jack's. The beer was free, but the atmosphere and spirit of the place were beyond price. Some idea of what they thought of Big Jack in the Black Country can be gleaned from the fact that after he died one of his friends bought his cottage, lock, stock and barrel. He put no tenants in, but paid the little man who used to be potman to to keep it exactly as it had always been. And anyone who had known Big Jack could gather there at will, as in the old days. There was no Big Jack, and there was none of the beer he used to brew, but in the atmosphere of the place was the same friendly bond that flourishes among men who love the same things. "Sentimental" you say? Perhaps. But it is a sentiment I have rarely found in men addicted to more "civilized" pleasures.

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Date d'inscription : 07/11/2008

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