Tag Archives: Tiger’s Head

Victorian Shooting at Lee Green

Charles Morton, the landlord of the Tiger’s Head always seemed to be on the look-out for sporting events, particularly those that involved gambling, that might bring in customers.  The blog has covered distance runningsprinting and hurdling and horse racing before.  So it is of no great surprise that live pigeon shooting, common in Victorian Britain, was tried out at the Tiger’s Head over the winters of 1843 and 1844.

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It was a sport that had a ‘not quite respectable’ reputation – there were sometimes reports of those operating the traps being bribed to pull out the tail feathers from an opponent’s bird to make it fly erratically and hence be much harder to shoot.

The picture below is of the sort of ‘trap’ that was probably used – this one is in the Ryedale Folk Museum – several would be lined up in a row.  They would have a lever connected to a rope at the side – once ready the shooter would shout ‘pull’, the rope was pulled and the pigeons escaped into a hail of shot.

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In February 1843, ‘The Era’ noted ‘A goodly muster of shooters attended at Morton’s, the Tiger’s Head, Lee Green, where several sweepstakes and matches were excellently contested’ (1).  The second reported shoot was the following year, although sadly for Moreton, poor weather seems to have restricted the turnout for the meeting during the second week in January 1844 (2).

Two weeks later another shooting match was advertised for up to 10 people with 10 shilling entrance fee, 7 pigeons each, for a silver cup prize (3).   In the end only 6 participated, including an appropriately named Mr Bang – the cup being won by a Mr Luffman (4).

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There were no reports in subsequent years of pigeon shooting at the Tiger’s Head, while the poor turnout amongst the competitors may have had a bearing on this, the changing neighbourhood with the area around Lee Green with new housing being developed on Lee Road and Lee Park was probably as significant a factor though. Horse racing, the Lee Races which the blog covered a while ago, met a similar fate during 1844 too.

Moreton though had troubles of his own which may have distracted him from his business – his father, also a publican working then in Blackfriars, had got into serious debt after an employee stole from him and he took his life in 1844.  The inquest was at the Tiger’s Head.

Notes

  1. The Era (London, England), Sunday, February 19, 1843; Issue 230.
  2. The Era (London, England), Sunday, 14 January, 1844; Issue 277.
  3. The Era (London, England), Sunday, 31 December, 1843; Issue 275
  4. The Era (London, England), Sunday, 21 January, 1844; Issue 278 (including press cutting)

Picture Notes

Photo of the (Old) Tiger’s Head in its original incarnation is from the information board by the Leegate Centre at Lee Green.

Sprinting & Hurdling at Lee Green

A few weeks ago, in a post on the Greenwich Cowboy, distance running at the (Old) Tiger’s Head at Lee Green was covered in passing. The landlord there in the early 1840s, Charles Moreton, tried a number of different sports to try to get additional drinkers into the pub, offering prizes and, no doubt, facilitating gambling on the outcomes. Some of these other sports will be returned to in later posts.

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The original (Old) Tiger’s Head – prior to rebuilding in 1896

One of the events that were tried out was sprinting – both on the flat and over hurdles. The first recorded one was in August 1844. It was advertised as a ‘foot hurdle race’ over 12 equidistantly placed hurdles on a 350 yard course – presumably along what is now Eltham Road (the longer distance races run by the Greenwich Cowboy and others were that direction). In horse racing terms this first race would be described as a ‘maiden stakes’ as it was only open to men who had never won a hurdle race before. The prize was a silver cup (1) but there would have undoubtedly been some side bets on the outcome.

The race was reported in The Era, a newspaper that covered sports and theatre that was published between 1838 and 1939 – after a number of heats the final was between Railway Jack and Makepeace – who clipped the penultimate hurdle and fell leaving Railway Jack the winner (2).

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The following year, hurdling was over 440 yards, over 8 hurdles with several of the previous year’s competitors returning. William Gazeley, Ned Wild – Merrylegs, Greaves, Martin and the previous year’s winner Railway Jack all competed. The final was between Martin and Railway Jack who came from behind to win at the Tiger’s Head. Gambling which paid for these races was clearly in evidence, with the newspaper report noting – ‘There was a good deal of speculation on the race.’ (3)

Several of the sprinters also competed on the ‘flat’ over a 140 yard course in October 1844. The ‘A’ race for 5 sovereigns was between Edward Smith and Wild, ‘Merrylegs’, the latter who raced at a variety of distances, ‘won in gallant style’. The evening’s ‘B’ race saw Mitchell beat John Perch (Railway Jack) over the same distance for 2 sovereigns (4).

Sprinting on the streets, mirrors one of the more recent developments in athletics – taking sprinting into temporary tracks and ‘stadia’ in city centres – such as the Manchester City Games and its counterpart in Newcastle, the Great North City Games, a precursor to the following day’s Great North Run half marathon.

Notes

1. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 18, 1844; Issue 308

2. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 25, 1844; Issue 309

3. The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, September 04, 1845; Issue 22388

4. The Era (London, England), Sunday, October 27, 1844; Issue 318

Tom Cook, The Greenwich Cowboy – a Victorian Running ‘Pedestrian’

Tom Cook was one of the journeyman professionals of the running branch of pedestrianism in the 1840s.  Other than his nickname, ‘Greenwich Cowboy’ and the tales of his races, little is known about him.  There was a Thomas Cook from Norfolk who lived in East Greenwich in the 1851 census who would fall roughly in the right age group but his ‘trade’ was different, so it may well not be him. However, his name regularly appeared in the sporting pages of the 1840s and early 1850s with a career that seems to have started, although is not reported at the time, around 1839 and carried on until at least 1853.

Pedestrianism had developed in the 18th century – initially it seems as walking but one branch had evolved into professional running where the competitors offered challenges to one another over particular distances, sometimes with a handicap.

The amounts raced for were considerable – £20 in 1850, at current prices, this is worth in the region of £64,000, although much of the money would probably have been made by the wealthy backers of the pedestrians, rather than the athletes themselves.

The athletes themselves will have earned a fraction of the sums staked, and, without modern methods of training, shoes, clothing and physiotherapy it was probably a precarious occupation.  The pedestrians all seemed to have nicknames.

The first that is heard of Cook was in early 1843 whether another runner, Maxwell, forfeited his initial stake to the ‘Greenwich Cowboy’, presumably being unable to run (1).  The early reports were all notices of races rather than reports – he was meant to race Blackheath’s Gazeley over 10 miles from Dartford to Blackheath in April 1843 for 10 Sovereigns, but had to forfeit (2).

In June 1843 he had his first press report, a victory over Peter Murphy, over 10 miles from the (Old) Tiger’s Head at Lee, over a mile course on the main road – seemingly from Lee Green to around what is now Eltham Green along Eltham Road – winning comfortably.  Oddly his opponent had two names, depending on the report ‘Temperance’s Romani’ (3) or ‘Manchester Pet’ (4).

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During 1844 he was challenged, amongst others, by Richard Manks, the ‘Warwickshire Antelope’, over distances of 1 mile or more for 5 – 25 sovereigns in July 1844 (5). He beat Ned Wilde (Merrylegs) ‘with great ease’ for 10 sovereigns after being given a 40 seconds at the Rosemary Branch in Peckham (6).  The Rosemary Branch was a pub, which stayed open until 1971, and, like the Tiger’s Head at Lee Green promoted a wide variety of sports – more on that in the blog another day.

1845 saw bigger stakes – beating James Openshaw of Bury for £25 over both 4 and 10 miles, presumably in the same race; (7) there was heavy betting on the race in front of a large crowd at the Rosemary Branch (8).

While his career continued, there are fewer reports, 1846 saw his first reported defeat – over 2 miles at Lee Green to James Byron – losing by nearly 100 yards (9).  He was challenged over 2 miles by a Lewisham runner, ‘Pirrian’s Novice’, over a mile in 1848 (10) and beat a runner called Dawkins over 2 miles at Smitham Bottom in Purley in 1849 – being described as ‘the old boy’(11).

His career was probably on the wane though, defeats were much more common. He lost to Bull at the Rosemary Brach in 1850 for a massive £40 stake (12)

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By the 1850s age seems to have been catching up with him, while he still had his backers for wagers of up to £40 there were a lot more defeats reported – losing twice to Thomas Birkhead, before beating him over 10 miles in Sheffield in late 1852 (13).  Then losing to the ‘Warwickshire Antelope’ in Barking at Easter 1853 over 10 miles (14)

His last known race of what seems to have been a career spanning around 15 years was a failed attempt to run 20 miles in 2 hours in early August 1853 – he completed the first 5 miles in 28 minutes, but it appears he had gone off too quickly as while he was recorded at 59:07 for 10 miles he was slowing down and got into difficulties quite soon after and gave up during the 12th mile (15).

With the advantage of modern training methods and kit, only 81 British runners ran under 2 hours for 20 miles in 2014, and the time at 10 miles was only bettered by 350 in 2014.

As the identity of Cook is uncertain, we cannot be sure what happened to him after his athletic career was over.  If, and it is a big ‘if’, he was the Thomas Cook from the 1851 census, he  lived at 8 Enderby Cottages in East Greenwich and was listed as a ‘watchman.’ If it was him, he was having to take a second job to make ends meet as his career waned.  That Cook was married to Jemima who was originally from Gravesend, just down the river in Kent.  There is no record of either of them after 1851. According to the excellent Greenwich Peninsula History site, Enderby Cottages were at the end of Blackwall Lane, and had been built for rope makers at the Enderby Works; one of the other occupants of number 8 was indeed a ropemaker.

Notes

  1. The Era (London, England), Sunday, February 5, 1843; Issue 228.
  2. The Era (London, England), Sunday, April 9, 1843; Issue 237.
  3. The Era (London, England), Sunday, 11 June, 1843; Issue 246.
  4. The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, June 10, 1843; pg. 5; Issue 22588, the picture of the Tiger’s Head is from the information board at Lee Green
  5. The Era (London, England), Sunday, July 14, 1844; Issue 303.
  6. The Era (London, England), Sunday, November 10, 1844; Issue 320
  7. Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, July 6, 1845; Issue 137.
  8. The Era (London, England), Sunday, July 6, 1845; Issue 354
  9. The Era (London, England), Sunday, January 18, 1846; Issue 382
  10. The Era (London, England), Sunday, March 12, 1848; Issue 494
  11. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, November 25, 1849; Issue 366.
  12. The Era (London, England), Sunday, April 28, 1850; Issue 605, the other picture is not of Cook but is illustrative and is another 19th century pedestrian – source
  13. The Era (London, England), Sunday, January 2, 1853; Issue 745
  14. The Era (London, England), Sunday, April 3, 1853; Issue 758
  15. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 7, 1853; Issue 776