Before starting writing on the breed of Oxford Game I must say that its history and standards, in fact everything about the Oxford was directly related to the now illegal sport of cockfighting, so many references to this will have to be be made to give an accurate history.
To Quote Harrison Weir, in "Our Poultry",
" The Old English Game cock has held its own against all comers.Bright and beautiful he stands to-day,as he stood with eager , bold dilated eye , full of defiant gaze - a monarch bird,clad in lustrous feathery garments of the brightest sheen- when unflinching and undaunted, he faced his foe , while old Roman warriors made the ring in which he fought on English soil. Though they beheld with wonderment his high prowess and daring deeds, not even then was he morecherished, more cared for ,than now ,when on the grassy mead he leads forth his hens to meet the rising sun , and , with voice clear , loud and shrill, proclaims,"`Tis day".
The English game fowl ,now known as the Oxford Game fowl, has a very long history. Julius Caesar mentions that the natives of Britain kept fowl for diversion. Many writers have mentioned the Fowl over the centuries in reference to the then legal and popular sport of cock fighting.In the work of William Fitz-Stephen (died 1191) writing about the life of Archbishop Beckett in the reign of Henry 11 (1154-1189) refers to it as the sport of school boys on Shrove Tuesday ,called `Camilvaria`in which boys fought their Game-Cocks at school ,paying the Master for the privilege.In 1790 the Master of Applecross School , Rossshire , Scotland had his income made up by , salary , fees ,and cock-fight dues. In the book A Practical Treatise on Domestic Poultry, by Bonington Moubray (1824) he gives one story on why this tradition was started. Apparently when when Britain was under the Danes there was a plot in one city ,not named, to overthrow the oppressors, However the plan was foiled by the unusual crowing and fluttering of cock birds as they tried to implement their plan. After this the English when the Danes were no longer their masters fought their cocks on Shrove Tuesday,the day of the foiled coup from:-
" A stupid and barbarous passion of revenge against the innocent cause of their misfortune , instead of admiring the natural vigilance of the birds. This infamous sport , although at first practiced in one city , in process of time became a national diversion."
Cockfighting was always a sport associated with the wealthy,nobility and Royalty. Henry the V111 , 1491 -1547, was particularly fond of it and built a cock-pit at Whitehall.
James 1st (1566-1625) had a keen interest and its on record that he paid his feeder, William Gatacre £16-13s-6d for feeding , breeding and training cocks. This is in the accounts for the exchequer.
By the time of Elizabeth 1st , 1558-1603 , there was a cock pit in Drury Lane, Horse-Ferry road, Greys Inn Lane, St James Park and Jewin Street.
A description of a cock pit from "Ornamental, Aquatic and Domestic Poultry" by J. J. Nolan in 1851 states-
"A cock-pit was a large, lofty, circular building, with seats rising, as in an amphitheater ; in the middle of it was a round, matted stage, of about 18 or 20 feet in diameter, and rimmed with an edge, eight or ten inches in height, to keep the cocks from falling over in their combats ; there was a chalk ring in the center of the matted stage, of, perhaps, a yard diameter ; and another chalk mark within it, much smaller, which was intended for the setting to, when the shattered birds were so enfeebled as to have no power of making hostile advances towards each other. This inner mark, admitted of their being placed beak to beak. A large and rude branched candlestick was suspended low down, immediately over the mat, which was used at the night-battles."
Charles 2nd ,(1630-1685), is supposed to have given the Pyle colouring its name. Its also reported he gave his mistress Nell Gwynn a set of silver cock spurs.It was said that he was so fond of cockfighting that , according to Sir John Rerebys Memoir`s at a visit to the races at Newmarket in October 1684 he:-
"In the morning he walked untill 10 o,clock, then to the cockpit untill dinner time at one p.m.; at three p.m. to the horse racing on the heath; at six p.m. to the cock pit again for an hpur, and then to the play."
It is easy to see how important the sort of cockfighting and the gamefowl was to Britain when you look at various names. In London there is a `Cockspur Street` , `Cock Lane`, `Cockpit Steps`,etc. It alos brought terms into the English language that are in use to day.`living like a fighting cock, ` to turn tail`,To show the white feather`,to die game`,and `pitted against` are some.
There have been several attempts to ban cockfighting ; On 12th June 1365 King Edward the 3rd wrote to the Sheriffs of London urging them to ban cockfighting and other sports , so the young men would spend more time practicing archery for the defense of the realm. Oliver Cromwell also tried to ban cockfighting on March 31st 1651. Cock fighting was finally banned in Britain in 1849, although the last official main took place in Newcastle in 1865, and the Game Fowl started to be bred as an exhibition bird.
In 1885 a group of fanciers met who felt that the Fowl was no longer being bred to its original form and started the Old English Game Fowl Club.The birds being bred for show then becoming the Modern,or Exhibition Game.This club folded but started again in 1887 folded again and finally started in 1891.In 1910 the standard for the Old English was developed.However there were still breeders who realized that again birds were being bred that were not the original Game Fowl, so in 1928 a breakaway club was formed ,known as the Oxford Game Club, so called because the meeting to decide the new club was held in Oxford.The breed split into two with the Carlisle or show Fowl being known as the Old English Game, and the old,original pit variety becoming the Oxford Game.
In 1867 a Simon M. Saunders in his book "Domestic Poultry" said that:-
"The Game-Cock is bold of carriage;his comb is single,bright red and upright;his face and wattles of a beautiful red color; the expression of countenance fearless but without the cruelty of the Malay;the eye very full and bright; The beak strong,curved ,well fixed in the head,and very stout at the root. The breast should be full, perfectly straight. The body round in hand, broad between the shoulders and tapering to the tail, having the shape of a flat iron or approaching heart shaped; the thighs hard,short and round;the leg stout;the feet flat and strong,the spur not high on the leg.The wings are so placed on the body as to be available for sudden and rapid spring.The feathers should be hard,very strong in quill,and like the Malay.It should seem as though all the feathers were glued together until they feel like one. A Game-Cock should be what fanciers call "clever".Every proportion should be in perfect harmony;and the bird,placed on his breast in the palm of the hand,should exactly balance."
The sentence "every proportion in perfect harmony" is very important.This is what most show fowl breeders ignore and go for exaggeration. The Oxford was essentially a working bird with no exaggerated body parts, and should be kept as such.
The standard for the Oxford Game as laid down in 1920 is as follows.
Head: Small,and taper,skin of face and throat flexible and loose. A large coarse head would indicate recent Oriental blood , especially if it has `beetle brows`. The loose skin was originally to help a cock breath during battle.
Beak: Big , boxing , crooked or hawk-like. pointed , strong at the setting on . Boxing means that the upper mandible should shut tightly over the lower one for a good grip.
Eyes: Large ,bold, fiery and fearless.
Comb,Wattles,and ear-lobes: Of fine texture,small and thin in un-dubbed chickens and hens.
Neck: Large boned,round,strong,and of fair length,neck hackle covering the shoulders.
Back: Short , flat , broad at the shoulders, tapering to the tail.Short does not mean to short as in exhibition type fowl.A very short backed bird is easily knocked over in combat. Again the bird must be in proportion. Again the shoulders should not be to broad or the bird does not taper towards the tail properly. Without this a bird cannot be close heeled,, were the legs are set close together ,again to help with accuracy when in battle.
Breast: Broad,full, prominent,with large pectoral muscles,breast bone not deep or pointed. Powerful pectoral muscles will gie the cock power to fly with strength and force.
Wings: Large,long and powerful,with large strong quills,amply protecting the thighs. This adds additional force when the cock strikes.
Tail: Large,up,and spread,main feathers and quills large and strong.In the hen inclined to fan shape and carried well. A good high , strong tail acts as a ruddef which helps support and balance the fowl when striking. It can also indicate courage , the first act of a beaten cock being to lower his tail.Herbert Atkinson , in "The Olde English Game Fowl" says that the tail should have 14 vane feathers: some birds wth weak tails have only 12 and occasionally cocks are bred with 16, but 14 the norm.
Belly: Small and tight.
Thighs: Short,round,and muscular,following the line of the body or slightly curved.
Legs: Strong,clean boned,sinewy,close scaled,not fat and gummy like other fowls,not stiffly upright,or to wide apart,and having a good bend,or angle at the hock.The bend of the hock, or rather the juncture of the metatarsal bone with the tibia, may be compared to the bent hocks & muscular thighs of the hare & kangaroo, in furnishing them with such wonderful propelling power. In cocks of this perfect conformation there is nothing wasted in these bones, which are constructed to enable him to move with force & velocity commensurate with their distance from the centre of the action, this is the reason the stork-legged bird has no force in his blow; & the cock with legs set wide apart and straight thigh bones is dry heeled, his blows do not wound or kill his adversary.
Feet: Toes,thin,long,straight and tapering,terminating in long,strong,curved nails,hind toe of good length,and strength,extending backwards in almost a straight line.
Spurs: Hard,fine ,set low on leg. In a Game cock the spurs should be set low,this enables the bird to strike its opponent accuratly.
Plumage: Hard,sound,resilient,smooth,glossy and sufficient without much fluff.
Carriage: Proud,defiant,sprightly,active on his feet,ready for any emergency,alert,agile,quick in his movements.
In Hand: Clever,well balanced,hard,yet lightly fleshed,corky,mellow and warm,with strong contraction of wings and thighs to the body.A bird that is balanced in the hand is said to be "clever"The "clever" bird can be moved aroundand tipped up and down in the hand but will still be in control.A "corky" bird feels hard even though light.A it bird will always feel warm to the touch.
Serious Defects: Thin thighs or neck;flat sided;deep keel,pointed,crooked or indented breast bone;thick insteps or toes,duck feet ;soft or rotten plumage;bad carriage,or action; any indication of weakness of constitution.
The 'British Poultry Standards' book states :-"The judge of Oxfords does so with the bird facing away from him to assess the correct balance." - When an oxford judge judges a bird he/she holds the bird facing away from them so as to assess the birds handling, balance, contraction and heel, these are fundamental points of a game fowl. Purity of breed is also of prime importance, (crossing something into the breed in order to meet the standard is defeating the purpose-the standard is there to maintain perfection and purity) -any indication of cross-blood in a fowl should be penalised accordingly in a show, and certainly shouldn't be bred from. Colour is irrelevant, a good gamefowl is so regardless of colour.
Points are allocated as such:-
Head, beak and eyes :- 10 points
Neck :- 6 points
Body, Breast, Back and Belly :- 20 points
Wings :- 7 points
Tail :-6 points
Thighs :- 8 points
Shanks, Spurs and Feet :- 10 points
Plumage and colour :- 9 points
Handling :- 15 points
Carriage, Action and Activity :- 9 points.
(That was the modern standard.)
In the true Game Fowl colour does not matter, apart from as a personal preferance. There is no such thing as a bad colour. However, with the advent of showing it is an easy way to split birds into classes for judging. However, the colour catagories are for clasification only and how closly a bird adheres to the standard of that colour should not matter. As an old poem on Cocking says :-
The scarlet coloured cock my lord likes best,
And next to him the Gray with thresle-breast.
''This knight is for the pile, or else the Black.
A third cries; "No cock like the Dun, Yellow back."
The Milk- white cock with Golden legs and bill,
Or else the Cuckoo, chuse you which you will,
Don Magnus swears (of all)these are the best,
They heel (says he) more sure than all the rest:
But this is all mere fancy and no more,
The colour`s nothing, as I said before.
The Game Fowl comes in a very wide range of colors made confusing with regional variations for the same colors. There are two main color patterns, Crow wing and Duckwing. Crow-winged Fowl have wing ends the same color as their ground color, and Duckwings the same color as their top color.
In the Crow-wing family we have:
Black Breasted Black Red: These have black eyes,beaks and legs and are Gypsy Faced. Hackle Saddle and Shoulders a vivid Dark Red : The rest of the body jet black.As Crow winged no distinct wing bays. The hen has a brown body,mixed with umber brown , hackle striped red,breast red-brown,tail and primary wing feathers black. In both sexes: fluff (the down at the roots of the feathers next to the skin) black.
Black Breasted Dark Red: These have dark eyes,beak and legs.The color the same as for the above , but a shade lighter and there may be black ticking in the hackle. Noted breeders of this colour in the past where Sant of Derbyshire and Colonel Mellish.
Streaky Breasted Dark Reds:: These differ from the Black-Breasted in not having a blue bar across the wing,which is instead of a light bay, the breast is streaked with brown , and the hackle and saddle a ginger red ; the hens are a light reddish color , eyes red ,yellow or daw , and yellow legs.
Furnace : Dark eyes and legs . The male golden colored feathers across the shoulders which are supposed to resemble a furnace rising from a coal black background. Black breast and saddle , body fiery red often tinging hackle and wing. Some of the hens show a little gold on some shoulder feathers otherwise black.
Polecat : These are black but have more red than Furnaces and of a lighter shade,sometimes extending to hackle and saddle. The hens are dark or black , with hackle to match cock.
Brown Red Colors:
Brown Breasted Brown Reds: The breast, thighs, belly and closed wing mahogany brown;hackle and saddle almost similar ;shoulders crimson; primaries and tail black or dark bronze. The hen dark mottled brown with light shafts to the feathers. In both sexes: fluff black. Face deep crimson or purple. Eyes and legs dark. A famous strain of these bred by Dr. Bellyse where created by crossing a Black-Red with a yellow-legged Pyle from Cheshire.
Streaky Breasted Brown Red
Streaky Breasted Orange Red: Hackle orange or ginger ; shoulders red; remainder black but breast usually laced; wing bays black. The hen has a black body with brown mingled ; hackle black with yellow stripes.
Black Breasted Orange Red
Black Breasted Dark Grey: Like the Black Breasted Red,except hackle , saddle and shoulders a dark silvery grey often striped with black. The female is nearly black, with grey striped hackle, or body very dark grey. In both sexes Fluff black ; Beak , eyes and legs black. Face gypsy or purple.
Mealy Breasted Mealy Grey : Black eyes , beak and legs.
Mealy Breasted Clean Mealy
Yellow Birchen : Yellow eyes, beaks and legs. Hackle and saddle feathers a pale straw color, having a shade of birchen showing throughout ; the wings brown , as are the secondaries , wanting the bar across and white space as seen in Duckwings.
Dun Breasted Dun: Has dark eyes,legs and beak.The color should be level and uniform and hen whole colored to match.
Dun Breasted Blue Dun: Breast,belly,thighs, tail and closed secondaries the color of blue slate,sometimes the breast marked with the same color two shades darker;hackle, saddle , and shoulders , and sometimes the tail coverts and the primaries two shades darker (like a slate color after being wetted.) The female: Blue slate color, with dark hackle like the male, often marked or laced all over with the darker shade. In both sexes: Fluff slate blue. Eyes,face and legs dark.
Streaky Breasted Red Dun: Breast slate , streaked with copper red; hackle and saddle stripped with slate or dark striped; shoulders crimson; wing bars and closed secondaries slate, or marked a little with brown; tail slate or dark blue. The female is slate all over, or laced in a darker shade; hackle golden striped, and sometimes marked with gold on the breast. In both sexes; Fluff dark slate. Legs dark or yellow.
Streaky Breasted Yellow Dun
Streaky Breasted Honey Dun
Dun or Streaked Breasted Silver Dun
Black Breasted Blacks:Black eyes,legs and beak,Gypsy faced. Both male and female should be free from any white or coloured feathers ;Fluff black.
Black Breasted Brassy Wing: Black or Red Eyes,Bronze legs.
Black Breasted Furnace: Dark eyes , dark legs.
Black Breasted Polecats: Dark eyes,dark legs.
Cuckoo Breasted Cuckoo: In both male and female the bird resembles the Plymouth Rock with markings of a blue-grey barred plumage. The face and eyes red; legs of various colors.
Cuckoo Breasted Red Cuckoo
Smock Breasted Smock or Pure White: Pearl eyes, white legs and beak. Both the male and female should be free from any coloured feathers. The fluff is pure white.
Spot Breasted Pied
Spangle Breasted Black Spangle
Spangle Breasted White Spangle
In the Duck-Wing group we have:
Dark Black Breasted Red
Black Breasted Red
Black Breasted Light Red- Red , yellow or Daweyes. Legs, white , yellow or carp. Secondaries when closed , chestnut.
Streaky Breasted Light Red : Hackle and back a shade lighter than the Black Breasted Red male and sometimes red wing bars. The hen Wheaten, a pale cream color (like wheat) with clear red hackle ; tail and primaries nearly black. The Red Wheaten the color of red wheat, or light brick read in body and wings ; hackle dark red ; tail dark. In both sexes Fluff white and legs white or yellow.
Ginger breasted Ginger Red : Clear brick color or ginger breast, hackle a shade darker, back and shoulder red, tail bronze. The hen buff with bronze and black markings. In both sexes the legs and eyes are dark and face generally purple in this strain.
Streaky Breasted Ginger Red
Black Breasted Silver Duckwing: In the male resembles the Black Breasted Red in his black markings and Blue wing bars;rest of the plumage clear silvery white. The female has a white hackle,lightly stripped black;body and wings even silvery grey;breast pale salmon; Primaries and tail nearly black.In both sexes the Fluff light grey. Face red, eyes pearl. Legs and beak white. Or eyes red and legs dark.
Yellow or Golden Duckwing : In the male hackle and saddle yellow straw ; shoulders deep golden ; wing bars steel blue ; secondaries white when closed ; rest of plumage black. The hen`s breast a deeper, richer color and body slightly browner tinge than the Silver hen ; legs etc to match male. In both sexes ; Fluff light grey. Face red. Legs yellow , willow or dark.
Black Breasted Birchen Duckwing: In the Male hackle deep rich straw, may be lightly striped ; otherwise same as Yellow. The hen a shade darker than the Yellow Duckwing ; hackle more heavily striped with black , and often foxy on the shoulder. In both sexes the face slightly darker than the Yellow; Legs yellow or dark.
Ginger Breasted Yellow Birchen Duckwing
Blue Breasted Silver Duckwing
Blue Breasted Yellow Duckwing
Smock Breasted Bloodwing Pile: This is marked exactly like the Black Breasted Light Red,except that the black and the blue wing bars are exchanged for a clear cream white. The hens are white with salmon breast and golden striped hackle , or streaked all over with red. In both sexes ; Face and eyes red. Legs white, yellow or willow.
Streaky breasted Ginger Pile.- Eyes red, with yellow legs.
Smock Breasted Custard Pile
Smock Breasted Lemon Pile
Blue Breasted Blue Pile
Ginger Breasted Yellow Pile: The breast ginger or tawny in color , yellowish-red hackle and saddle , white flights and tail mostly white. Yellow eyes,beaks and legs.
Smock Breasted Ginger Pile
Brown Breasted Yellow pile
Black Breasted Brass Back Duckwing
Cuckoo Breasted Golden Cuckoo
Cuckoo Breasted Silver Cuckoo
Cuckoo Breasted Spangled Cuckoo
Smock Breasted White- Pearl eyes, white legs and beak.
Spangle Breasted Spangled Red
Great names from the past.
One of the first names that would spring to mind would be Edward Smith Stanley, the Earl of Derby with his famous Black Breasted Reds , with white legs. This strain had daw eyes(grey) and partridge hens. They also have some white or grizzled feathers in wing and tail and white under-plumage. They where also called Knowsley Fowl , Knowsley being the seat of the Earl up to his death in 1834.His Grandfather also a "Patron of the Sod" was the one who brought the strain to Knowsley form Devonshire. The person in charge of his fowl was Thomas Roscoe and his son. The birds weighred about 5 1/2 lb for cocks and 5lbs for hens. The Earl was said to breed up to 3000 birds each year giving him an advantage over many opponents, and the Roscoes had to be given horse to get round all the birds. His successor took no interest in the fowl and Thomas Roscoe took acock and six hens which he breed from till his death. The new Earls steward a Captain Hornsby started showing them and by crossing them made them usless for their original purpose..Atkinson states that there were no birds left that had more than a fraction of the old blood.
In the Earls obituary in the Sporting Life magazine on his death 21st October, 1835 said:-
"he was without question the most celebrated cocker of either ancient or modern days,and in this light we may say we say never had his equal, and during his life fought more mains, and very generraly succesfully, than any person ever known."
Its said that even a few hours before his death at age 82 his private chaplin and his servants hauled baskets of cocks up through his bedroom window and he watched a main while laid dying in bed.
Ther was a Mr Gurney, well known for his `Pied` cocks. He was a Quaker banker from Norwich. It is said he thought nothing of seending one hundred and twenty picked cocks , in charge of his valet,Springall, in a specially hired coach, to London, and his feeder Nash would pick sixty one for a weeks sport in the Tufton Street pit.
A sporting Parson, a Parson Batchelor of Norwich,was famed for having Blacks which cut out a white hackle.One Sunday it is said a well known feeder , a `Potter` Partridge of Bloxwich, was passing his church, on his way to Darleston with some cocks. The Parson caught sight of him through the window, left his sermon in the middle and ran after him to find where the fight was. When he found out he returned and finished his sermon!