Purring – a Lancashire Martial Art? July 19, 2010Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
Nineteenth-century clog-fighting: did it really exist?
First some background. Clogs, of course, at least in their English incarnation, were wooden-soled shoes typically used in factories or in mines by the working classes in centuries gone by, because they kept their feet warm and because they were cheap
Some claim that factory workers would tap their clogs to the clacking of the machinery. Then, on their breaks, cloggers would take this machine-induced rhythmn and dance it out in impromptu routines to see who could tap the quickest and longest. Certainly clog dancing became hip and many paid to come and see the dancers in action: Charlie Chaplin’s career was launched as a clogger.
So far so good. But what about the claim that from out of clog-dancing – Beecham’s comment about trying everything in life bar incest and folk dancing comes to mind – a martial form, ‘purring’ developed, Lancashire Kick Boxing, whereby two naked rivals would set upon each other with lethal clog strikes.
The accounts differ as to how clog fighting worked. Nudity was a common element. One account claims that two naked men would sit on the edge of a barrel and kick each other in their thighs and shins. Other accounts talk of kicking each other in the head with a heavy wooden clog! Betting was allegedly endemic. There is even a folk story about a black ape that got involved in Oldham (Lancashire)!
Beachcombing is sceptical. Certainly he would feel easier in his own mind if he could get some the nineteenth or twentieth-century newspaper reports (or references to them) that described a good purring ‘back in the day’.
Beachcombing has only one source on the subject of clog-fighting that he trusts and that is the testimony of one old gentleman (and a clog expert to boot) who, in the 1950s, was introduced to a pensioned off purring champion. The champ was showing off his scarred, eighty-year-old shins in a pub in Wigan (Lancashire). Perhaps fortunately Beachcombing does not have a photograph though if anyone does… drbeachcombingATyahooDOTcom
Chris Brady, with his own extraordinary clog website, sent over several links to modern shin-kicking.
http://www.daeschner.com/shin_trivia.html, http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/others/outside-edge-060610-1992580.html, http://www.thesocialcentre.com/not-so-glorious-sport/, http://www.bbchistorymagazine.com/qa/wilful-assault-deadly-wooden-clog
Purring clearly took place then in one form or another in the past but Beachcombing is worried that there is little evidence prior to, say, 1900 – at least little evidence that he has been able to find. The best comes from the last link sent by Chris above: ‘One newspaper report from May 1843 tells of a clog fight near Manchester involving two men named Ashworth and Clegg, “both in a state of nudity with the exception of each having on a strong pair of boots”. Ashworth won, but both were severely injured. The winner, it was claimed, went on to kill an opponent in another of these shin-kicking matches before emigrating to Australia, though it’s not clear whether he went at her majesty’s pleasure.’ Chris has put Beachcombing straight on a couple of other points about clogs – Beachcombing actually grew up outside a clog factory, but it clearly never rubbed off… – and also the emails of two modern clog fighters. Beachcombing hopes to report back.