A Bit Different Photo Albums

Antiques Roadshow: Chicken Edition

I was at GIRO, our recycling centre, when Pauline introduced herself. She is one of my Facebook Bitchin’ Chickens followers, but I’d never met her before. We got to talking and she mentioned that she had an old sketchbook with drawings of chickens. Never one to turn down the opportunity to check out chicken stuff I arranged a visit to her place.

She has not one, but two, identical sketchbooks – the kind of nondescript scribblers that we used as children. Turns out they were used by kids: her great-grandfather, Alfred Clark, and his brother, John, her great-uncle.

It’s a delightful collection of drawings – mostly chickens, a few pigeons, woodland birds, and local buildings including their home, Red Load Farm. Looking at them made me think of the days when children used their hands and were taught skills: whittling, playing musical instruments, needle work and the ‘domestic arts’.

I’m always amazed when I see the level of skill demonstrated in samplers made by very young girls. In the days before television, computers and electronics children (and adults) spent their time on domestic chores, which, in many ways, were outlets for creative expression.

John’s scribbler, dated 1886 when he was 15 years old, mostly contains sketches of fancy pigeons and buildings. Alfred, three years his junior, drew different breeds of chickens and then, for some unknown reason, interspersed between them, are pictures of what must have been exotic animals at the time: rhinoceros, oxen, beaver, bison, zebra, hyena and guinea pig. They’re not Michelangelo’s youthful doodles, but they do represent something charming and nostalgic.

Pauline is a genealogist and provided me with some background and photos of the two brothers.

John around 1900
John c.1900

John Clark (1871-1942) and his brother, Alfred (1874-1955) were the youngest of nine siblings brought up in Redmayne House, on a 16 acre mixed farm near Gressingham, in the Lune Valley in northwest Lancashire, England. They worked on their family farm and then in 1890, both brothers moved south to farms on the outskirts of Darwen, a small cotton town to work. Alfred was a cowman and John worked with horses, which were required before the introduction of mechanical tractors.

Redmayne House
Redmayne House, built in 1802, where they lived in the 1880s

In 1890, Alfred was living in Arkholme at Red Load Farm, a Grade II listed building built in 1722, which is still standing today.  John had found work on a nearby farm.

In 1904, Alfred got married, settled in Darwen and bought a confectionery shop.

Alfred had three daughters.  When his eldest left home in 1933, he and his family moved to Rishton, where his other two daughters started a bakery. By all accounts he was a stern man and the family remembers there wasn’t much joy in the house until Pauline’s father came to court her mother. He lived in Rishton until his death in 1955.

John continued working as a farmhand and died in Darwen in 1942.

Pauline was kind enough to scan a sampling of the chicken drawings from the sketch books. I have added some notes about the breeds. The first sketch is by John, the remaining drawings are by Alfred. Enjoy!

old style game cock

game cock and hen
Game fowl were introduced to England by the Romans in the 1st century A.D, which started a long history of cock-fighting until it was banned in 1849. Old English Game chickens descended from ancient fighting cocks and have changed little in 1000 years. The traditional Old English has a compact, muscular body, broad shoulders, with hard, glossy feathers. In North America, Old English Games were selected for speed, are smaller, narrower and softer feathered than their British counterparts. Today most OEGs are raised for exhibition.
dorking cock and hen
Dorking Cock & Hen
White Dorking Pair
Dorkings, an ancient breed, were brought by the Romans and first developed as a landrace in southern England. These large bodied, short legged, 5 toed chickens come in several colours. Dorkings were popular in the USA prior to 1840 and were at the first American poultry show in 1849. By 1904 they were the most popular breed in their native England.
la fleche cock and hen
La Flèche chickens are medium-sized black birds with black plumage, white earlobes, and a distinct V-shaped comb. A large population of La Flèche chickens made their way to the USA in the 1850s, but were soon replaced by hardier, newly introduced breeds.
dominque cock and wyandotte hen
First named American Sebright, and later changed to Wyandotte when they were admitted into the APA Standard of Perfection in 1883 were developed using Dark Brahma and Spangled Hamburgs. Wyandottes have a rose comb, are calm and cold hardy. They come in both Standard and Bantam size and various colours. The Dominique chicken, recognized as America’s first chicken breed, may have come from birds that were imported from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now known as Haiti). They were medium sized, with black and white barring and either rose combs or single combs. Common in the eastern United States as early as 1750 their SOP only recognized the rose comb. The single combed birds were used as the basis of the Plymouth Barred Rock.
Cochin Cock and Hen
Cochins and Brahmas, both originating in China, were at the heart of “hen fever”: a national poultry obsession that overtook the USA and England around 1850. Cochins are well feathered with feathered feet, which make them suitable for cold climates, prone to going broody with gentle personalities. They come in Standard and Bantam size and a number of colours.
Brahma Cock
The “King of All Poultry,” the Brahma chicken is known for its size. They were developed in the USA from giant fowl imported from China and Bangladesh.
Pair of Orpingtons
During the late 1800s, “Hen Fever”, the great public interest in strange and wonderful new chicken breeds from around the world, started to subside and in its aftermath a love of poultry remained. Dual-purpose American chicken breeds were just reaching England. Orpingtons were created by crossing Minorcas and Black Plymouth Rock hens, and then their offspring to clean-legged Langshan chickens.

All photos and sketches courtesy of Pauline




4 comments on “Antiques Roadshow: Chicken Edition

  1. Anonymous!

    Wonderful article Claire and I like the way you approached the topic. Glad I bumped into you at Giro!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really enjoyed hearing about the family history!


  3. Wonderful! Love the sketches!


  4. I currently live at Red Load, it was a delight to find the sketch of the place, which as you showed, is not much changed. I believe there was an older son to, Nimrod (fabulous name) and their mother Barbara. Although the current house dates from 1722, we have records of it as far back as 1658 and possibly to 1636.

    Liked by 1 person

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