Edinburgh World Heritage

Assembly Rooms - Fowl Play

In 1785 in the un-finished building site of the Assembly Rooms kitchens a cock-fight was staged between the counties of Lanark and Haddington.

On that day it was the gentlemen cock-fighters of Haddington the emerged victorious with their bird having survived this brutal duel to the death.

In the eighteenth century cock-fighting was extremely popular among men of all classes. One contemporary noted: ‘It cannot but appear surprising that noblemen and gentlemen, who upon any other occasion will hardly show the smallest degree of condescension to their inferiors, will, in the prosecution of this barbarous amusement, demean themselves so far as to associate with the very lowest characters in society.’

Although cock-fights were held regularly in Edinburgh at the pit on Leith Links, the duel of 1785 was a much more widely anticipated occasion. Certainly the caricaturist John Kay (1742-1826) thought it important enough for him to illustrate the event for print.

Among the figures in the crowd that day were several well-known local faces. Perhaps the most infamous figure in attendance was Deacon Brodie, the man who by day was a respectable cabinet-maker and city councillor, but by night a burglar, thief and avid gambler. Interestingly enough it was only 3 years after this fight in 1788 that Brodie was caught and hung for his crimes by the gallows he himself had designed, finally putting an end to his ‘fowl play’.

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