Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dorking Cockerel

A new booklet on Dorkings comes to us from the Dorking Museum in Dorking, Surrey: The Dorking Cockerel. It's written by David Burton, who recently joined the museum's staff. He found an old booklet and decided to update it.

Mine arrived promptly and it's delightful. He includes interesting tidbits of Dorking history, such as the fact that Edward Lear included references to "milk-white hens of Dorking" in his nonsense song, The Courtship of Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo in 1877.

Lots of great illustrations, including a page of various emblems and badges which feature the Dorking. All poultry fanciers, especially those who hold the Dorking in a special place, will want a copy.

David writes of his experience:

Even though we kept chickens when we first moved to the area many years ago, it was only quite recently that I became aware of the international renown of the local breed, the Dorking.
 Helping out with a few things in preparation for the Museum’s re-opening in autumn, I (got) volunteered to give a bit of a face-lift to a leaflet on The Dorking Cock.  The original, a 4-pager produced in 1985 by the Local History Group, was now looking rather dated.  I spent some time in the Museum’s archive, followed up Mary Day’s research and the references from the 1985 leaflet, then got phoning and Googling – and got hooked!  

What resulted is now a 20-page booklet, with much new material and extensive illustrations, updating the story of the Dorking Cock – not just the breed but its place in the history of the town.  It starts with the origins of ‘the five-claw’d-un’, dating back to Roman times and the 1st century writings of Columella.  Its reputation for quality grew across the centuries.  By the 17th century, Dorking was “the greatest Market for Poultry in England” and Dorkings had travelled with the early settlers to America.

Victorian times saw a passion for poultry breeding, with Dorkings held in high regard – a winner at the first Zoological Society poultry show in London in 1845.  Queen Victoria particularly favoured the Dorking, and the breed featured prominently in famous prints by Harrison Weir and J. W. Ludlow – as well as in one of Edward Lear’s nonsense songs.  Much in demand in the US too, it finally took the assistance of a Dorking clergyman to secure a shipment in 1847.

Now, sadly, the breed is ‘at risk’, but survives thanks to the efforts of preservationists and a few enthusiastic breeders – there are breeders’ clubs around the world.  But the Dorking Cock has become a symbol for everything Dorking, from a piquant sauce advertised in 1855 to the controversial – and award-winning – 10-foot high Dorking Cock standing on Deepdene roundabout, and the Cockerel Press, publishers of this booklet.   

The booklet contains much of interest about the Dorking breed and the town, as well as a little of the trivia picked up along the way – the Dorkings offered to the Obamas for the White House Lawn and the horror caused by the theft of a cutting of the acclaimed Dorking Cock geranium at the 1971 Chelsea Flower Show.  

The Dorking Cockerel is available, price £2.50, from Dorking Museum & Heritage Centre, 62 West Street, Dorking RH4 1BS (telephone 01306 876591 or e-mail admin@dorking and through the Dorking Museum Facebook page and Amazon. 

No comments: