cock-fighting. A ferocious blood-sport, probably introduced by the Romans, in which intensively trained gamecocks with metal or bone spurs slipped over their natural ones were set to fight, usually to the death, on a stage in a circular pit. Mains (matches) were variously structured, with rules, the rowdy spectacles generally accompanied by heavy betting. A medieval Shrovetide schoolboy sport, and survivor of bans which claimed it interfered with archery practice, it flourished across all social classes and was a favourite pastime of royalty and the upper classes; numerous place-names involving the word ‘cock’ attest to the ease with which an arena could be set up. Forbidden briefly by the Commonwealth, its resurgence in Restoration England was typified by Charles II's own enthusiasm. The best cocks were valuable, and paintings frequently commissioned. County competition first showed itself in this sport, usually as three-day events and often associated with race meetings; Ireland quickly followed the English example. Opposition grew in the early 19th cent., but not all towns acquiesced readily; although banned in 1835 and 1849, it persisted in coal-mining areas, and still occurs secretly.
A. S. Hargreaves
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