Unique exhibition explores facts and legends of clog fighting

A UNIQUE exhibition at Gallery Oldham is exploring the facts and legends around the brutal sport of clog fighting.

‘Purring – Sport of the People’ is the result of research by artist Anna FC Smith who has talked to residents and researched the subject in the Oldham Local Studies and Archives.

Fighting on the fields by Anna FC Smith
Fighting on the fields by Anna FC Smith

In clog fighting contests working men would engage in man-on-man combat, kicking unprotected shins with their heavy clogs.

The sport was often called ‘purring’ although other dialect words used in the Oldham area included ‘parring’ and ‘puncing’.

To illustrate elements of clog fighting for the first time, Anna has borrowed her drawing style from an anonymous lay ‘documenter’ (c1805-1820), who recorded aspects of lead mining and miners’ lives in Northumberland using pen and ink sketches.

The exhibition combines Anna’s art with historical research into the codes and customs of ‘purring’.

It also features a selection of local images and objects from Gallery Oldham’s collections to illustrate the lives and communities from which the clog fighters emerged.

‘Sufficient’: Fighters by Anna FC Smith

In producing this show, members of the public were invited to contribute their stories and visitors can listen to several interviews and stories from local people.

Anna said: “People came forward with some fascinating stories. Who would have thought these fights were once a regular occurrence on Sunday afternoons at Hartshead Pike?”

Other local tales include the famous battle of the Upper-enders and Lower-enders from Delph and Uppermill, which is still commemorated by the Saddleworth Morris Men as part of their special Delph dance.

There is even a legendary account of “the feytin’ ape” – a pet monkey owned by a pub landlord in Oldham and used as a quirky opponent for clog fighting matches.

The exhibition is on display at Gallery Oldham until April 9.


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