THE MODERN GAME CLUB

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A Brief History
 

With the advent of poultry shows, following the abolition of cock fighting in this country in 1849, the exhibition Modern Game
fowl was developed. The evolution from the original fighting bird to the bird we now recognise, took place over a 50 year
period from the mid to late 1800’s.

In their heyday before the 1st and 2nd World Wars, 295 Large Moderns were exhibited at the 1902 National show of the time.

Good birds could fetch prices from £3 to £100. This would amount up to £1000's at today’s prices!
The top breeders of the day were the ‘well to do’ and the ’gentry’, with many of them employing managers to care for and show
their large flocks of Modern Game.

By 1910 the Large Modern was in decline and what with the two World Wars, the popularity of the Large Modern Game
diminished still further. The Bantams had increased in this period, always remaining popular.

Unfortunately Large Modern Game were never to return to their former days of glory and today are kept in small numbers by a
handful of enthusiasts. The Bantam by comparison became more popular, continued to thrive and is a now a very popular
show bird.

At that time there were many Modern Game clubs in existence based on colour or location.

The Modern Game Club as we know it today, was formed in 1947 following the 2nd World War.

 
 
Because of the lack of decent photography in the late 1800's, early 1900's, we are indebted to the artists and
engravers of that era, for a pictorial record of the history of our breed.
Two of these was Harrison Weir and Joseph Ludlow.
   
^ Four pictures of Harrison Weir
 
Harrison Weir was born at Lewes, Sussex, on 5 May 1824. In 1866 Weir started working on his Victorian gothic home
"Weirleigh", in the village of Matfield, Kent. Weirleigh was later bought by the Sassoon family and was the birthplace of
Siegfried Sassoon in 1886. The house still stands today. After selling Weirleigh, Weir lived at Poplar Hall, Appledore,
Kent, where he died on 3 January 1906. Weir was educated at Albany Academy, Camberwell, until 1837 when
he became apprenticed to George Baxter, the colour-printer. Weir worked in every branch of Baxter's business, his
main work being printing off the plates. From Baxter he learned to engrave and draw on wood and taught himself during his
spare time to draw birds, mammals, and other subjects from nature.

Weir was a natural history artist and he provided illustrations for many books of the natural history. Weir was enormously
 prolific and popular as a book illustrator and worked not just for the "Illustrated London News," but for many illustrated papers.

Weir was a keen animal fancier and his illustrations of domestic cats, dogs and poultry are probably best known. He
was an experienced breeder of cats, carrier pigeons, and poultry and for thirty years often acted as a judge at the principal
 pigeon and poultry shows.

   
^ Three prints from Harrison Weir showing the transition from OEG to Large Modern Game Fowl
 
 
^ Joseph Ludlow
 

Joseph Ludlow was born in Stratford-on-Avon on 17th March 1840, sharing his birthplace with that of William Shakespeare.
In time he grew to become the most famous of all artists specializing in poultry and pigeons. At the incredibly young age of six
years old his talent for art was beginning to appear, painting from life the farm animals in his local area.

Growing into manhood to become known worldwide as the master pigeon and poultry artist of his time. Josephs first
occupation was lithography, graduating into engravings.

Being amongst pigeons and painting scores of champions, it was natural that he would himself become a pigeon fancier. In his
early years he took up the hobby, a decision that led to him being one of the most famous fanciers of all time.

His taste in breeds ran to the Oriental varieties, of which he imported many into England, creating a great amount of interest. For over fifty years he excelled as a prize winner at such classics as the Royal, Crystal Palace and the Diary.

As one might expect with his eye for beauty and skill as a breeder and showman, he was an acknowledged judge of great
repute. For many years he was a member of the Birmingham Agricultural Club and President of the Birmingham Columbarian
Society. He painted most of Cassell & Co's drawings on pigeons and poultry.

He died in 1915, during his 75th year. Although he has been gone for 100 years his art and his reputation live on.

 
^ Ludlow 1900 - 3 Watercolours
   
   

A painting by Mr. J. Crosland, oil on canvas dated 1866.
Winners of First and Cup, Kendal, etc. Bred by Mr. J. Crosland.

 

WERE THESE THE FIRST PILE GAME BANTAMS?

 
During the transition period from OEG to Large Modern Game Fowl, there must have been many fanciers
experimenting with creating Modern Game Bantams but their stories are lost in the mists of time.
 
Below is the story of one of them.
 

The Club was contacted in 2011 by Roy Crosland who's great grandfather was a prominent breeder of Large Modern Game
in their transition period of which we, as a club, know just a little.

Roy's grandfather was John Crosland, born in 1830 and from the article which he provided it can be seen he was still a
prominent breeder when still in his 80s in 1910.

The article makes fascinating reading and relates to a time long gone and lists many peoples names.
It must be now preserved as an important document.

Roy also tells me his father continued breeding and showing and he remembers being taken to the Bradford Club at Bingley
Hall as a child.
Roy himself is now 81. His father and Fred Entwhistle were great friends, (the grandson of W F Entwhistle).

 
 
Some interesting reminiscences of the Fancy gleaned in an interview with Mr J. Crosland of Thornes, Wakefield,
the oldest Bantam Breeder in the Kingdom.

A few weeks since, in my article ‘Bantams and how to keep them’, I mentioned the name of that good old fancier,
Mr J Crosland, and shortly after I received a letter ­ thanking me for mentioning his doings, and inviting me to give him a call
when next I was in Yorkshire. This Invitation I accepted and a week or two ago I was found at Thornes. My Host was
expecting me and a right royal time, we had going over the olden-times when we oft met at the Yorkshire shows. Some
years' ago Mr Crosland met with an accident, breaking two of his toes, and since then he has not visited a show until the one
recently held at Ossett; in fact, for about six years he has not even journeyed from Thornes into Wakefield. He has now,
however, quite, recovered from the results of his accident, and when I saw him, although within a few days of his eightieth
birthday, he was as lively as one of his own Bantam cocks, and to show me that he has plenty of life left in him yet, he swung
his leg over the table at which we were sitting.

It was on June 26th 1830, that this veteran of the Fancy was born, and was born in the fancy, for his father was a well-known
breeder of poultry, even in those far off days, especially of Gold and Silver Pheasants. Reared amongst poultry from cradle, Mr
Crosland took to the Fancy like a duck takes to water, and before he had entered his teens, had made his debut as an
exhibitor, and fifty years ago was looked upon as England's leading authority. About, that time the "Wiltshire Rector", a
pseudonym well known to fanciers of the long ago, writing in reference to a controversy on Game Bantams said, in reference
to an opinion put forth by Mr Crosland; "Mr Crosland breeds every year a large number of the best birds, and it is not wise for anyone to speak in opposition to Mr Crosland, for he breeds the best birds in the kingdom, for the simple reason he knows
how to do it"

"he knows how to do it!"
What higher encomium could be given to a breeder's knowledge? What greater praise and appreciation of a man's standing
and ability? That what "Wiltshire Rector" said was true is shown by the fact, that in those far off days, Mr Crosland sold as
much as £300 worth of Game Bantams in one season.
He did not show a great deal, but used to have a flutter just now and then.

One of his particular shows which he ever liked to win at, was Thorne, and at this fixture he won the cup for the best pen of
Bantams no fewer than eleven times in succession, and so convinced were some of fanciers that one man could not fairly win
such a sequence of successes that they openly said friend John must get at the judges. His reply was that at the next year he
would not show, and told one gentleman who had expressed surprise and doubt at his continually winning the Thorne Cup,
that he could select a trio of birds (in those days the birds were always shown in trios) from his yard and he (John) would not
compete. This gentleman, Mr Jas Oldroyd of Wakefield, selected his birds from Johns stock, sent them to Thorne, and won the
cup. Two years later Mr Joe Hudson of Wakefield, repeated Mr Oldroyd's experiment with the same result, and later
Mr W F Entwisle had the same experience. One year he sold his best pen to Mr. Marples of Wavertree, and they ought to
have won, but did not, and Mr Crosland won with a pen not as good. On another occasion, at the same show, he sold the
winning pen, and ran 2nd and 3rd with two other pens himself. Thus Thorne has many pleasant recollections for him.
One year, when in the zenith of his fame, he sold £180 worth of his birds and yet won 4 cups at Darlington, Birmingham and
Thorne, and 1st's at several other shows including such important fixtures as Liverpool and Plymouth. This was in 1864.

As we settled ourselves down with the Mountain Dew at our elbows, and a smoke in our hands, I said

"When did you start John?”

"Start, why I was born into the Fancy, I cannot remember ever being without feathers. My father kept Golden and Silver
Pheasants (now, known as Spangled Hamburghs), and that well-known utility fowl, the Yorkshire Hornet. He also had some
Old English Game. You will thus see that I have been a fancier from the time I could toddle”.

"What led you to think of producing Game Bantams”

"Well in 1842, I was only twelve years old at the time, and was breeding Old English Game, when the thought occurred to me
that Game Bantams would be pretty birds. I set to work. My first try was with a small Old English Game, a clipped cock – that
is a bird got ready for fighting you know. He was a small one and I paired him to a Black‑Red hen. I worked on quietly for
several years, gradually improving my birds, until 1848, when Dr Swan, a noted breeder of Modern Game, became interested
in my efforts, and he let me have a late-bred Black-Red Cock. This bird I mated to twenty of my own hens, and the results
were most satisfactory. I began showing them and won in 1830, the medal for best pair of Bantams at Briton, also at Newmillerdam, at a show held in Sir Thomas Pilkington's Park."

"In those days you had no Bantam classes?”


"No. No one had ever seen Game Bantams till I brought them out, and we had to show in the Any Variety Bantam classes
against Sebrights – Sir John Sebrights we called  them in those days because Sir John introduced them – Blacks and
Whites, now known as Rosecombs".

"Can you tell me when you first won with Game Bantams at the Crystal Palace?"

"Yes, it was in 1858 that I first sent a pen of birds to the Crystal Palace, and they won 1st, but my birds had won there before
then. One Sunday, the year previous, Mr Isaac Thornton of Heckmondwike, came over to Thornes and begged me to let him
have a pen. I did. He sent them to the Crystal Palace and they won 1st prize."

"Having got the breed established, I suppose you sold to others as well”

"I should just think I did, and at the end of the fifties classes began to be given for Game Bantams, and with so many people
breeding them they improved. Amongst the breeders whom I sold birds to was Richard Hawskley, who won 1st, 2nd and 3rd
at Birmingham with three trios that he had from me. Mr Inson, Liverpool; Mr Mr Newsome, Batley; Mr Geo. Noble,
Heckmondwick; Mr Forrest, Greenhythe, Kent; Messrs. Harvey & Bailey, Biggleswade; Harry Adams had a lot of all kinds;
and I sent some to Mr John Hurst of Toronto, and to Mr Woodcombe of America; these gentlemen I supplied at one time or
another, with all kinds of Bantams and big Game too”

"Did not Sir George Gore buy a big lot from you?"

"Yes; I sold Sir Gore over £500 worth of Bantams including all my stock of Rosecombs, and the Duckwing Game Cock known
as the Leeds cock, for which he gave £35. Mr John Douglas also bought largely from me for the Duchess of Newcastle. One
bird he bought was my Newark cup-winning Black-Red and some Wheaten hens and these were reproduced in Lewis
Wright's book when he bought it out. George Helliwell - you will remember 'Yorkshire George? - he had many a lot from me.
Sam Fielding Menzies (of Glasgow), Revd. Raynor, Revd. Miller (of Carleton), Geo. Maples (of Wavertree), Richard Teahy
(of Preston), Mr Charlton and Mr Pease (both of Darlington), Dr Morris (of Rochdale), Fred Wragg (manager for Lady Gwydyr), Brownlow (of Scotland), Smith (of Wilmslow), James Holland (of Manchester), W.F.Entwistle (father of the present J.F
Entwistle), I sold him many a lot when he was at Otleyand after he went to Bawtry too; John How (of Denton), Wood
(of Sheffield), Sugden (of Cleckheaton), Barnes (of Stockport), Jas Fletcher (of Stoneclough), Mr Jefferies (of Ipswich), Geo
Hall (of Sunderland) – he showed my birds with great success and did well with them. Mr Joseph Senior gave me £21 for
the Thorne cup winner, and £50 for some others which he afterwards sold to W F Entwisle ; and many others that I cannot remember”.

 
Below is the original article from The Poultry World (printed about 1910)
 
   
Part of our history is preserved in Edinburgh Museum, where there are a pair of stuffed Large Moderns.
This is particularly interesting as people always say how good the Large Moderns were in their heyday.
This pair were stuffed in 1916 and preserved for posterity. They were Silver Wheatens by the colour of the female.
Below the whole glass case of chickens, well worth a visit when in Edinburgh.
   
^ Stuffed Male v ^ Stuffed Female v

 
^ Glass case of chickens in Edinburgh Museum
   

See also Trophy History in the Club's Archive

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