This excerpt on the hidden history of Shin Kicking is from TRUE BRITS: A Tour of 21st Century Britain in all its Bog-Snorkelling, Gurning and Cheese-Rolling Glory, by honorary SKAB member J.R. Daeschner.
(Shin kicking) was once common throughout England, Wales and parts of America…
Lancashire is now better known for clog dancing—a forerunner of American tap-dancing —but back in the day, the locals also enjoyed clog fighting. “Clog toe pie” wasn’t a regional delicacy, and “a leather ‘n’ timber kiss” wasn’t a sign of affection; they both meant that you were about to receive a good kicking.
What’s more, miners would grapple against each other wearing only their clogs—stark naked, except for their clunky, metal-trimmed footwear.
This may have been a conscious imitation of the Greeks, or it may have simply seemed like a good idea at the time.
Whatever the reason, naked shin kicking was common throughout Greater Manchester, when “hot and rebellious liquors were indulged in to excess, and the Sabbath was desecrated and made hideous by drunken orgies”.
Miners from Oldham, Bacup and Ashton would pit themselves against quarrymen from Whitworth. The Oldham “rough heads” were renowned for being as slippery as “snigs,” or eels. But their winning streak ended after they were caught cheating by rubbing soap all over their bodies.
Another report tells of a clog fight near Manchester in 1843 between two young men named Ashworth and Clegg—“(both in a state of nudity with the exception of each having on a pair of strong boots)”. They kicked each other for 45 minutes… all for one pound (£60 today).
Ashworth won, but both were severely injured. In another fight, he actually killed his opponent and emigrated Down Under, aptly enough—though it’s unclear whether this was his choice or Her Majesty’s Pleasure.