The Cockpit has been around for a very long time. The quirky triangular building has been standing as a pub on this corner since the 16th century, and while its current incarnation is a down-to-earth place to grab a beer and watch the game, an inquisitive eye will spot the remnants of a history most fowl. The pub stands on the site of the Blackfriars Gatehouse, purchased by William Shakespeare in 1613.
What is now a traditional pub was once a major venue for cock fighting before the bloody sport was banned in England and Wales in 1849. While for a time it was refurbished to hide its shameful past, in more recent years they have uncovered the balustraded galleries, changed the name back to “The Cockpit” from the innocuous “Three Kings” alias it had donned and embraced its history, turning the distasteful lineage into kitsch.
An ancient blood sport that is still flourishing in many countries, cock fighting was outlawed in the British Overseas Territories under the Cruelty to Animal act in 1835. Two roosters, usually bred and cared for as athletes, are thrown into a ring together, often with spurs or knives attached to their feet. The males have a natural propensity for aggression towards each other, and as raucous crowds cheered and placed bets, the birds fought in a frenzy until the victor had either killed or maimed his opponent.
The Cockpit may not act as a venue for bird bloodbaths any longer, but once you know the history, it’s hard not to picture the seats currently occupied by football fans hollering at the big screen filled with a mob in a fevered pitch as feathers flew up toward the 18 foot ceilings and coin was on the line. If there was any doubt that the pub had embraced its disreputable past, you can leave it at the door, which is adorned with a proud looking stuffed fighting bird, chest puffed out and head high, the victor frozen in time.
Visit London with Atlas Obscura Trips
London Science Weekend: Medicine and Science in the Press
Join New York Times Journeys and Atlas Obscura for three days of scientific learning, special access and exploration in London. Accompanied by Times journalists and scientific experts, meet people contributing to the history of medicine and scientific journalism. This two-track program includes panels, exclusive visits and access to some of the best scientific minds available to concentrate on science reporting or medical history.