The English Martial Arts Podcast Show
Martial art of purring
the sometimes noble and often incredibly ignoble Lancashire martial art whereby a man repeatedly kicked opponents or victims as hard as he could. We return to the theme today because of the exciting news that a Purring Display is going up in Wigan Museum, a display which has been put together by Anna Smith: special congratulations to Anna and how I wish I was in the UK this spring! The image above is hers.
There were essentially three types of purring in the eighteenth and nineteenth century: the golden age of purring stretched from the late 1700s to the late 1800s:
Competitive purring: here two men stripped, sometimes naked, and fought it out using clogs. Blows were to be directed towards the feet and shins of opponents, though of course sometimes things got out of hand. We’ve given an excellent past instance of this that includes the memorable line ‘at the last kick… his shoe was half imbedded in the groin’ of his opponent. A great deal of money changed hands over these fights.
Scrap purring: an argument in a pub or an insult in a street became a duel with two men heading round the back of the bike sheds to settle things. Here the classic feet-shins rules were not respected and the game was rather to get your opponent to the floor and give him a ‘bloody great purring’. Many accounts describe the crowds rushing up and cheering on one side or another. These fights took place at almost any social occasion. For instance, in one news report from Nelson (1874) we learn that no Brass Band Contest there went by without at least one purring incident.
Punishment purring: here a man or woman would be overtaken by their enemies and held down while one of the number ‘purred them over’. A particularly disturbing version of this was ‘wife purring’. Indeed, in the north-west in this period the newspapers didn’t talk of ‘wife beating’ but ‘wife kicking’. One reference describes a mob watching to see a wife being kicked by her husband: suggesting that this was acceptable social practice. The thug carried his missus out into the street to inflict his foot ‘jabs’. Contrast this with one case when a child was kicked by a grown man and a crowd, instead, quickly intervened.
Brought to you by Frank Docherty of The English Martial Arts Podcast Show