Part 20: "Satan's Abominations"

Back in the Cotswolds, shin kicking—and backswording—continued long after Dover's Games came to an end.

One famous venue was Cooper's Hill Wake: when locals weren't chasing cheeses, they were kicking shins.

As one critic recalled: "The wrestling was not a pleasant spectacle, despite its ardent admirers and votaries… I have seen stalwart fellows, with sinew and tendon of iron, struggle fiercely, not to say ferociously for the mastery. It was surprising how human limbs could be strained and kicked without the sinews cracking and the bones breaking."

One old gamester and past champion of Cooper's Hill blamed his crippled leg on "The follies o' my youth. If I had my days to go over agen, I'd never stond up to ha' my legs kicked to pieces. I ha' learned this, thot our blessed Meeker nivver made our precious limbs to be kicked at vor other volks' amusement."

Another old-timer with a thick West Country accent described similar injuries.

"How thoy did maul one another. All of a zudden I yurd summut snop loike a stick. One on um fell down like a hos, ond thur waur a cry thot his leg waur bro-ock, ond a vot lot they cared about it".

His own father had given up backsword fighting and become a Christian after a particularly vicious beating.

"All those old wakes, develrus wonderments, ond Sayton's abominations be all done away wi," he concluded, "and in the main we ha to thank the Methodies for't."

The hapless hero of The Spiritual Quixote would have been pleased.

T-shirt design by Button Lore
Shin kicking and backswording finally died out by the early 1900s.
Travel writer H.J. Massingham collected some of the stories about the bad old days for his book, Wold Without End, in 1931.

Locals told him about an old stonebreaker in the Vale of Evesham whose shins looked like corrugated iron from his wounds back when "Broddy fowt Kyanden" (Broadway fought Campden) and how the captain of the Campden team would "thrape" the soft parts of his shins with a coal hammer every night at The Eight Bells pub; other men used wooden planks to deaden the nerves in their legs or vinegar as an astringent to keep the skin from splitting.
©J.R. Daeschner

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