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When Skylarks Sang For Copper Kettles

When Skylarks Sang For Copper Kettles

Burnley Express & News

Date unknown

I know some people won't believe the headline, but this is a true story from around 1910 - 1920.
I was only a young lad when I first saw two men actually catch a skylark in the field near the small pond known as "Small Tail" in Briercliffe.

Owd Nathan

one of the men was well known in the village as "Owd Nathan." On that occasion I didn't know the other man, but I saw Nathan several times trapping with one of his elder sons.How they knew there would be a lark in the vicinity I don't know, but they would be ready if one alighted either in that field or on the nearby old recreation ground.
The net which they used was about 10 feet square, made of fine net. At each side it was connected to a long string about 50 yards long, one end being held by each man on opposite sides of the field.
The men would, if possible, walk under shadow of a wall and, dragging the net in the grass towards the bird, would then try to throw the net over it - and, belive me, they often succeeded.

Wasps' Nests

When they caught a bird, it was taken home and kept in a cage. During the day, the bird would be taken in its cage, placed under a wall and covered up with a dark cloth.
There it would be able to hear another skylark singing and eventually would sing in competition to it.
This went on for a few days, one of the men always being in the vicinity to hear and guard it.


On two or three occasions I watched Dick Jackson, Owd Nathan's youngest son, as he robbed wasps' nests for the grubs to feed to the captive skylarks.
This, to some readers, may seem dangerous, but to Dick it was a work of art.
He had some kind of powder (I heard it described as gunpowder), which he damped with water and rolled into a ball.
He then set the powder alight, put it in the entrance to the nest, and put a sod of turf over the hole to close it up.
The smoke killed the wasps and, within a minute or two, he dug the wasp cakes out of the nest, put them into a bag and hurried away from the robbed nest, because wasps that were outside when the nest was robbed were now returning and were dangerous.
I never knew Dick get stung, yet all that he wore were gloves on his hands.
I don't know where the competitions were held. I have heard local pubs mentioned, and also places as far away as Hebden Bridge. The bird that sang longest was the winner.

Legal Then

The first prize was generally a copper kettle, and I know that Owd Nathan had some copper kettles.
Today, catching the skylarks would be illegal, but I don't think it was illegal in those days, because it was so easy to see the trappers at work, although they wouldn't let you get anywhere near.

Th'Owd Syker

With kind permission of The Burnley Express.

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