Come all you cockers far and near
An’ I’ll tell you of a cockfeight, when and where,
On ’Olbeck Moor as I’ve ’eard say,
Between the black and the bonny grey.
Now the first to come in were the Owdham lads,
They came with all the brass they had.
The reason was I ’eard ’em say,
Ahr black’s too big for the bonny grey.
So it’s into t’ pub to teck a sup,
Yon cockfeight it was soon made up.
For twenty pounds them birds will play,
The charcoal black and the bonny grey.
The Owdham lads stood shoutin’ around,
‘I’ll lay thee a quid to ’alf a crown,
If ahr black cock ’e gets fair play
’E’ll meck mincemeat out o’ thy bonny grey.’
So the cocks they at it an’ t’ grey got tossed;
Owdham lads said, ‘By, tha’s lost!’
Us ’Olbeck lads we tonned quite pale,
An’ we wished we’d fought for a barrel of ale.
Then the cocks they at it one two three,
The charcoal black got stuck in t’ ee.
’E picked ’im up but ’e wadn’t play,
An’ the fight it went to ahr bonny grey.
With silver breast an’ silver wings
’E’s fit to feight i’ front o’ kings.
We picked ’im up with a hip ’ooray,
An' we carried off ahr bonny grey.
This is a traditional song about Yorkshire, collected in Yorkshire.
Known on broadsides as The Bonny Grey, the only issues with named printers are by Cadman and Pearson, both of Manchester, and Harkness of Preston, Cadman being the earliest. This five-stanza broadside version has been dated to c.1833 and is quite likely the original of the oral versions which have spread as far afield as Warwickshire, Barrow in Furness and Leeds where our version was found. In the broadside the battle is between Liverpool lads and Prescot lads. Oral versions have acquired four stanzas not found on the broadside. In our Leeds version, which appears to be based on the singing of James Hamilton of Hunslet (1951) with some modifications from Kidson’s Traditional Tunes, 1891, p136, those not found on the broadside are stanzas 2, 5 and 6. The broadside has the following stanza in place of stanzas 5 and 6.
‘Now when these cocks came to the sod,
Cry the Liverpool lads, ‘How now, what odds?’
‘The odds,’ the Prescot lads did say,
‘Tween the charcoal black, the bonny gray.’
Another song The Lee Bridge Cocking with the same first stanza, was found on the Shropshire/ Cheshire border. In the 1850s William Chappell printed the tune and a single stanza The Hathersage Cocking in his The Popular Music of the Olden Time p660. The tune used by Jim is closely related to that of The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington.
Cock-fighting, once a very popular sport amongst the working classes, was banned by act of Parliament in 1849. A few cockpits can still be seen preserved in public houses around the country. It still takes place in some Asian countries and probably still in secret in this country.
In the sixties Jim sang with a group called The Cropper Lads. The other members were Rennie Pickles, Gus Grenfell and Bob Spray of Leeds who was renowned for singing this song.