> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Cockfight
> The Watersons > Songs > Holbeck Moor Cockfight
> Louis Killen > Songs > The Cockfight
> Martyn Wyndham-Read > Songs > The Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey

The Cockfight / Holbeck Moor Cockfight / The Bonny Grey

[ Roud 211 ; Master title: The Cockfight ; TYG 81 ; Ballad Index VWL027 ; Bodleian Roud 211 ; Mudcat 17086 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang The Cockfight from his book Come All Ye Bold Miners in 1956 on his Riverside LP English Street Songs. He was accompanied by Alf Edwards on concertina. He commented in the first album's sleeve notes:

Street singers like to sing of sporting events as well as murders, and ballads about prize-fights, horse racing and cockfighting were long in favour. No sporting ballad was as well liked in the North of England as that of the gay little Lancashire game-cock with the silver breast and silver wing. Cockfighting is illegal now, but the song is still sung in the northern coalfields, and some say you can still hear the clash of beak on beak thereabouts, of a Sunday afternoon, if you know where to listen.

A.L. Lloyd recorded The Cock Fight for a second time accompanied by Steve Benbow on guitar. This recording was included on his and Ewan MacColl's Topic LP Bold Sportsmen All (1958) and EP Gamblers and Sporting Blades (1962). and on their Riverside LP Champions and Sporting Blades.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang The Cockfight in 1964 on their album Across the Hills. The album sleeve notes commented:

The frustrations of the miner's life were reflected in the brutal pastimes with which he exercised himself in his spare time. Nowadays they content themselves with keeping pigeons and racing whippets, but a hundred years ago they went in for dog fighting, clog boxing, rat worrying, and that gentleman's sport, the cockfight. We learnt two tunes for this song from A.L. Lloyd, neither with a chorus; we combined the two, using one for the tune and the other for a chorus.

The Cock-Fight is also printed in Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd's Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. The Watersons sang a version similar to this text, titled The Holbeck Moor Cockfight in an EFDSS concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 4 June 1965. This recording was included in the same year on the EFDSS EP The Folksound of Britain: Northumbria / West Country and reissued in 2004 on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

Harry Boardman sang The Cockfight (The Bonny Grey) in 1971 on his and Dave Hillery's Topic LP of popular song and verse from Lancashire and Yorkshire, Trans Pennine. He noted:

In The Manchester Racing Calendar (1760-1800), rules were quoted for ‘Matching and Fighting of Cocks’ which were said to date from the reign of Charles II. Obviously a well established national sport. The ‘original’ of this ballad seems to have celebrated a well known match in the time of the 12th Earl of Derby (died 1834), who supported the Prescott lads as opposed to the Liverpool lads. A version of this is printed from a broadside in Harland and Wilkinson’s Ballads and Songs of Lancashire (1865), and another version, from Casterton, just north of the Lancashire-Westmoreland border, is in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. The set of words we use was supplied to A.L. Lloyd by James Hamilton of Hunslet (1951) and is printed in Come All Ye Bold Miners (Lawrence and Wishart 1952).

Louis Killen sang The Cockfight on his and Sally Killen's 1975 album Bright Shining Morning. He noted:

I can't remember if I have this song from the singing of A.L. Lloyd or Ewan MacColl. I've had it so many years, but it can be found in Lloyd's Come All Ye Bold Miners (Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1952). Cockfighting has long been illegal in Britain but I love this song for the way it expresses the miners' ebullience.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang The Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey in 1977 on the Broadside album English Sporting Ballads.

Laura Smyth sang The Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey in 2014 as the title track of her and Ted Kemp's EP The Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey. They noted on their website:

Cockfighting is considered to be one of the oldest spectator sports, and in England was particularly popular amongst the working classes. Being a blood sport the activity was banned in England in 1835, although it is suspected that cockfighting still continues. Broadsides for this song were being published in the mid 19th century and featured the “Liverpool lads” and Lord Derby. The version we perform was that sent by James Hamilton of Hunslet, Yorkshire, to A.L. Lloyd in 1951 for inclusion in his book Come All Ye Bold Miners. This version features “the Oldham Lads” and seems to have a more contemporary feel. We’ve coupled this to the tune sung by John Collinson from Casterton at the Kendal Folk Song Competition in 1905 as noted by Cecil Sharp, and adapted it to create longer verses with more melodic variation.

Pete Wood sang The Cock-Fight on his 2014 CD Young Edwin. He noted:

A Lancashire song I first got from the Penguin book early in my folk song career. Made famous by Harry Boardman amongst others.

Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones sang The Hunslet and Holbeck Moor Cockfight (Rou in 2022 on their album of Yorkshire songs, A Year Too Late and a Month Too Soon.


A.L. Lloyd sings The Cockfight

Come, all ye colliers far and near,
I'll tell of a cock-fight, when and where,
Out on the moors I heard them say,
Between a black and the bonny grey.

It's into the pub to take a sup,
The cock-fight it was soon made up:
For twenty pound these cocks will play,
The charcoal-black and the bonny grey.

The first come in was the Oldham lads;
And they come with all the money they had;
The reason why, they all of them did say,
“The black's too big for the bonny grey.”

The Oldham lads stood shouting round:
“I'll lay you a quid to half a crown.
If our black cock he gets fair play,
He'll make mincemeat of the bonny grey!”

So the cocks they at it, and the grey was tossed,
And the Oldham lads said, “Bah, you've lost!”
Us collier lads we went right pale
And wished we'd fought for a barrel of ale.

And the cocks they at it, one, two, three,
And the charcoal-black got struck in the eye.
And they picked him up, but the devil wouldn't play,
And the cock-fight went to our bonny grey.

With the silver breast and the silver wing
He's fit to fight in front of the king.
So hip hooray, hooray, hooray!
Away we carried our bonny grey.

The Watersons sing Holbeck Moor Cockfight

Come all of you cockers far and near,
I'll tell you of a cock-fight, the when and where,
On Holbeck Moor, as I've heard say,
Between a black and a bonny grey.

Twelve men from Hounslow Town they came,
Along with them that brought their game;
This game it was, as I've heard say,
Of a black to fight with a bonny grey

The first to come in were the Oldham lads;
They come with all the money they had;
The reason why, I heard them say,
“The black's too big for the bonny grey.”

Lord Derby he come swaggering down:
“I'll lay two guineas to half a crown,
Why, if the black he gets fair play,
He'll have the wings off the bonny grey!”

And when the clock struck one, two, three,
The charcoal-black got pecked on the thigh;
They picked him up to see fair play,
But the black wouldn't fight with the bonny grey.


The Watersons' version of Holbeck Moor Cockfight was transcribed by Bob Hudson.