Here’s a tall tale I collected from a local character when I was researching folklore in Oldham, Lancashire. While the tale is purely fictional it does include some half truths and was ‘doing the rounds’ of the local pubs. I am pretty sure there was a variant of clog fighting or purring in the area, and there was also a story about a stuffed ape that used to be in one of the pubs. These were separate strands brought together by the author, but, I sometimes wonder how much folklore has its origins in similar tall pub tales, that were collected by researchers and became more accepted because they were written down. I include it here as an amusing story. The written story dates from the mid 1980’s as does the picture.
Danny J Parkinson
Back in the days of the cotton boom, Oldham had many peculiar games and pastimes which are all but forgotten; they simply failed to survive into the age of video and television set.
The bowling greens and ringer yards of yesterday are all buried now beneath the tarmac on pub car parks; they’ve gone the way of pewter mugs, cloth caps and Park Drive in fives, shawls, cobbles trams and tripe.
Canned lager, pool and Match of The Day have replaced have replaced real ale and the more traditional, if less civilised forms of entertainment such as: rat baiting, pitch and toss, crown and anchor, frog swallowing and cut jumping.
Who these days for example has heard of clog fighting, let alone barrel clogging, a local variation of the theme?
The rules were simple two prize clog fighters would climb into a large open ended barrel, sit on the rim, and kick away at each others shins until one or the other had raised his legs out of the barrel in submission, three submissions decided the contest.
Who for that matter will have heard of one of the clogging arts greatest exponents?
The Famous Feytin’ Ape
This monkey’s tale began when the landlord of a pub, where prize clogging was a weekly event, was given a gift by his sailor son: a monkey of sorts from foreign parts. Everybody thought it was just an organ grinder’s type of monkey, but as time went on the bugger grew and grew and eventually turned from a cheeky little novelty into a monstrous great ape covered in thick black hair and blessed with a face to shame the Devil.
Everyone said that the creature should be sent off to a zoo, but the Landlord was fond of the beast for it helped him in the cellar and by swinging on the gas mantles it could collect pots even when the pub was packed. “The ape stays” The Landlord said, “ he might be ugly as sin but, if it comes down to that the ape’s a sight better looking than three quarters of them that sup in ‘ere and, that includes the women”.
So the ape stayed and as time went by it became accepted by all the regulars, and in fact trade improved, for strangers would come from miles around just out of curiosity, to see this wondrous ape that by then had also learned to pull pints of beer and mop tables. The ape was given free run of the place except that it was not allowed into the pub yard when a clogging event was on, for money was at stake there, and no monkey business or aping about would be tolerated.
The ape never showed any inclination towards violence, it just helped around the pub, was pleasant to those that it took to, and never even attempted to enter the yard on a “special night”.
All was well until one fateful Friday when a market trader came in the pub early doors and was “kind” enough to feed the ape two dozen black bananas and four pounds of overripe plumbs he’d not been able to clear from his stall.
There was a big event on that night including a bout between one-legged “Mad” Jack Maddik of Bolton and Sam “Shin Breaker” Smith from Glodwick, who were arguably two of the best cloggers in Lancashire at the time. The bout was well under way when fate moved its mighty hand, and the rotten fruit moved the bowels of the ape.
Suddenly the ape, seeking the outside privy, tore into the yard like a creature demented. Howling like a banshee and tossing spectators aside like dolls it hurtled towards the toilet only to find its way blocked by the barrel with the two clog fighters in it. Sam and Mad Jack leapt from the barrel and stood their ground, but in seconds the ape had flattened the pair of them, cast the barrel aside and shut itself in the sanctuary of the toilet, where it remained groaning and farting for an hour or more.
Back in the bar there was serious business to be attended to. The match was declared abandoned and all betting stakes were returned to their respective owners, that plus a round at the bar from the fight promoters and the Landlord settled the money side of things, all that remained was the matter of the ape’s future.
Some wanted it destroyed, some wanted it chained, Mad Jack said he wanted it to be kicked in the balls as hard as it had kicked him, but after an hour or two and a quart or two, a decision was reached. The ape had shown such tremendous fighting abilities it was to be kitted out with clogs and trained up for the barrel.
The rest is history; the ape took to the noble art of clog fighting like a duck to water, defeating all comers for nearly twenty years. The Landlord had a pub that was packed to the doors every night, the public had a fine spectacle to watch at will, the ape had praise befitting his rank, and Oldham had a legend: The Famous Feytin’ Ape.
But all good things must come to an end and suddenly just before an important bout the ape up and died. Nobbling was immediately suspected, but a surgeon of the parish, who drank in the pub between operations, examined the body and declared that death was due to natural causes.
The ape was laid out in the parlour, while for three days clog fighters from all over England flocked to pay their last respects to the greatest of them all.
Unable to bear the sorrow of never seeing the ape again the Landlord had it stuffed for posterity, and for many years it sat in the tap room perched on the rim of half a fighting barrel, cap on it’s head, best irons on its feet, looking for all the world like it was ready to do battle at the drop of a hat.
And so it remained until one night a passing coach of rugby supporters from Wigan stopped at the pub for refreshment, and when they had gone the ape was found to be missing. Most likely a Wigan man mistook it for a woman and eloped with it, an easy enough mistake to make for a Wigan man (my apologies to men from Wigan, I assume this jibe is a rugby thing. Ed).
Where the ape is now nobody knows, but it’s said that on some dark and stormy nights, people passing the pub have heard the clatter of clog irons on the flags and strange moaning noises coming from the lavvy in the yard, as if some animal was in great distress. The only man who ever dared to look over the wall saw a hideous face looking back at him, so hideous that he lost his mind, went tea total and took up knitting.