There is Manchester pub called The Spanking Roger. It’s named after a local hero who raised his own regiment, which took part in the Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1783) - the longest siege in history endured by the British Armed Forces.
In the 1760s, a regiment of Scottish Dragoons was stationed in Manchester and among them was a young cornet called Roger Aytoun, described as ‘a tall, raw-boned Scot’. He was 6’4” tall with a physique to match and, typically of his brother officers at the time, was a drunkard, a gambler and a spendthrift. He also liked a bare-knuckle fight, which he usually won – hence his nickname, Spanking Roger.
A few miles from the pub is Kersal Moor where, in the 17th and 18th centuries, young men traditionally ran races in the nude. Some said to emulate Greek athletes, others so that females could study the form. The year Spanking Roger competed, he caught the eye of a rich, 65-year old widow called Barbara Minshull and they married a month later. At the wedding he was so drunk that his friends had to hold him upright.
Within days of their marriage he had deserted his wife and later used her money to form a regiment. He would take on all-comers in a boxing bout: if they won, they got cash; if he won, they would have to join up. He came back from Gibraltar a hero but in great debt. His first wife had died and he had squandered her inheritance, but he found another wealthy widow in Scotland, and died a rich man.
(Other sources say Spanking Roger proposed to Barbara Minshull for a bet.)
Purrin’ (aka parrin’ or porrin’) was a kind of duelling, kick boxing or primitive martial art, popular in Lancashire mill towns and mining communities in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Two men in heavy metal-tipped clogs, with hands on each other’s shoulders, kicked at each other’s shins until one gave up with a call of ‘sufficient’. It was used to settle disagreements, but there were also touring professionals. Until recently, the sport was thought to have ended by 1910, overtaken by the popularity of soccer. But an exhibition at the Museum of Wigan, curated by artist Anna Smith, has found evidence that it continued well into the 1950s.
The rules varied. Sometimes purrers were naked and sat opposite each other on barrels; sometimes they fought standing in ‘Sunday Best’ with just their shins bared. These were often covered in lard or margarine to ward off glancing blows. It was against the rules to kick a man when he was down. Fighting clogs were ornately decorated and were so precious that miners were buried in them. Sometimes, the metal tips were sharpened and the winner was the first to draw blood. Counter-intuitively, these were the least dangerous fights: avoiding a blow being more important than landing one. Often taking place in pub yards, contests drew large crowds and heavy betting. A good kicking was known as a ‘clog-toe pie’.
Shin kicking was (and still is) part of the Cotswold Olympicks, the 400-year-old precursor to the Modern Olympics. The difference to purrin’ is that steel toe-caps are banned rather than encouraged, straw is used to protect the shins, and the contest is won by a throw rather than a submission. The Shin Kicking Association of Britain is known by the acronym SKAB.
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