An armoured cockerel, impregnable, but unable to do much damage either

An armoured cockerel, impregnable, but unable to do much damage either

Mr M from Cromer has asked if Capability Brown, excellent man that he was and energetic, had been so egregious as to take a hand in the landscaping of Wothorpe, Burghley’s second house, with its cock-pit, which remained in use though the Brownian era.

I don’t know about Wothorpe, but cock-pits do have a certain fascination.

Cock-fighting had been going out of fashion even among country gentlemen, but at the time of Brown’s death there was a revival of interest. Francois de la Rochefoucauld wrote about it, and: ‘so fashionable is this diversion become, that within a few years past, its regulations have been formed into laws’, as The Sporting Magazine reported. Several leading cockers emerged, including George III himself, the Dukes of Northumberland and Hamilton, the Earl of Mexborough, Lord Vere and Lord Lonsdale and the cock-pit at St James’ continued to operate into the 19th century.

However the place to look for Brown and cocking is Knowsley. Edward, the 12th Earl, was the most famous cocker of his time and bred Black-breasted Reds at Knowsley throughout his life. He kept the cock-pit in use as a park building. Cock-pits all tended to be isolated and the fighting-cocks themselves had to be kept apart: ‘that Walk is the best for a Fighting-Cock which is farthest from Resort, as, at Wind-mills, Water-mills, Grange-houses, and such like, where he may live with his Hens without the Offence or Company of other Cocks: Lodges in Parks are also good, and so are Coney-warrens’.

William Chafin regarded horse-racing as more cruel and gave a great description of the sport at Longleat: ‘there were but few gentlemen in the country who did not keep and bred Game Cocks, and were very anxious and careful in the breeding of them …  Lord Weymouth, of Longleat, an Ancestor (either the grandfather or great grand-father) of the present Marquis of Bath, for many years had a cock at walk at every Lodge in the Chase, and [believed that] … the cocks bred at the different Lodges … were superior to others. In so much so, that the keepers were well rewarded for taking care of them; and when they were brought chickens from Longleat annually, each game-chick was accompanied by two dunghill-hens, which became the perquisite of the keeper when the cock was taken away.’

I wish I could help you more.