Cockfighting art snapped up by collectors in Hanley
A sale of cockfighting objets d’art and memorabilia has pointed up the interest that there still is in the banned sport.
Although fighting between cockerels was made illegal at the beginning of the 19th century, it was widespread well into the 20th century.
Artists celebrated some of the most famous birds and their owners in paint.
The auction – in Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent – raised tens of thousands of pounds.
Deemed unnecessarily cruel because of the sharp metal spurs attached to the birds’ legs that caused injury to a fighting cock’s opponents, the pastime was suppressed in the first half of the 19th century at the same time as bear-baiting.
Campaigners argued that the large sums of unregulated betting surrounding it, as well as the cruelty, made the business criminal.
However, enthusiasts had argued that the ferocity of the birds merely indicated that the animals were inveterate fighters following their natural instincts.
A well-known enthusiast in north Staffordshire was Bill Tunstall, who was arrested in the courtyard at Trentham Gardens during a cockfight in the 1920s – proving that the activity had carried on underground.
A portrait of him by his son Eric Tunstall was in the sale.
After the war , the Cockfighting Act 1952 had to be introduced to make it an offence to possess any cockfighting equipment for use in cock-fighting.
It is suspected that the activity carries on secretly today.
In spite of the controversy there is no doubt that the birds themselves were regarded as magnificent specimens in the Georgian age. Their proud stance and colourful plumage have resulted in accomplished portraits of famous birds.
The author and artist Herbert Atkinson is perhaps the most famous exponent of the cockfighting genre. One of his fighting cock portraits depicting a strutting, red and black bird has been estimated as being worth more than £3000.
Works by another cockerel artist Abraham Cooper are also highly sought after by collectors. An oil of his in the auction showing a brightly coloured cockerel ready for the fray, titled ‘Heeled for Battle’, had a guide price of £5000.
The cockfighting sale took place at Louis Taylor Fine Art Auctioneers in Stoke-on-Trent.