Painful old ‘sport’ gets a re-boot

Clog fighting
Clog fighting

LAST year, if you thought of sport in Wigan you thought about the FA Cup or the rugby league double.

But in 2014, there will be something slightly different grabbing the attention ... the Victorian art of clog fighting.

Known as “purring” it was one of the most bloody, brutal and, of course, illegal activities undertaken by many northern men to settle disputes.

Local artist Anna FC Smith - who made headlines last year with her sculptures of characters from Harry Hill’s TV Burp - is opening an exhibition this month where Wiganers can once again sample a taste of what purring had to offer.

The Swinley artist delved deep into the archives to research clog-fighting and wants to tell its story of when, where, why and how it was carried out and by who.

“There was really no information further and started digging online,” she said.

“I kept finding little snippets so I did a call-out and contacted the museum to see if they would be interested in exhibiting a show which is exploring this and they were really interested.

“I’ve basically spent the last three months doing newspaper archive researches, going around the Wigan and Leigh archives. I did a call-out to the members of the public because I originally thought it was going on until 1930 so there would still be the odd person alive who might at least known of their dad doing it.

“But actually I got such a great response, it turns out that the last eye witness reports were from the 1950s.”

Among those who got in touch with Anna were descendants of “lookouts” who kept watch for police.

She also hopes that her exhibition can develop people’s knowledge and show that it wasn’t just a barbaric fight but one which involved culture and rules.

“A guy from the Leigh area witnessed a fight as a lookout when he was a young lad, he used to watch for the police,” added Anna. “An old man rang me up who was 90 and he used to organise matches but he wouldn’t tell me where.

“He was telling me how they really honoured the rules and not that many men got hurt, it was all about standing up to another man and being willing to fight and it was until the first person to submit.

“Not many kicks necessarily hit because they would be dancing, there was a lot of skill to it. You knew how to feel, how to jump out of the way.

“They were like boxing matches basically but more dangerous. They were illegal so it was always the lowest class going to them and who knew about them so that’s why they weren’t really written about.

“That’s until the odd death happened and then it made the news but that would be the only time it came onto the official radars really.”

The exhibition will open at Wigan Life Centre on Friday, and close on April 26. As well as videos, there will also be an events programme including workshops with sound artist and DJ Scrubber Fox, poet Louise Fazackerley and Anna herself.