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Badsey Bat-Fowlers - sparrow hunting around 1910

Have you ever heard of the Badsey bat-fowlers? I came across them in the book 'Cotswold Lad' written by Sid Knight some 40 years ago. He was a Broadway man who emigrated to South Africa after WW1. He writes of his youth in Broadway before that war (about 1910).

Anyway, the Badsey bat-fowlers were actually sparrow-trappers. The locals in those days called sparrows 'dicky-spodgers'. They were also known as the 'poor man's pheasants' and were skinned and roasted over an open grate. The old fashioned iron trivet was hung on the bottom bar of the grate with a tin on it to catch the grease. The birds were impaled on a toasting fork and roasted in front of the fire. Popular fare in the autumn being fat from the corn they had stuffed in their gizzards.

The Badsey bat-fowlers carried clap-nets made of strong twine with the mesh too small for the sparrow to get through. The nets were secured to two long ash-poles and then held up against the ivy covered walls of houses and shaken. The disturbed sparrows flew out and were enmeshed in the net and then bagged and sold. The sparrows were destructive for they fouled gutterings, pecked the mortar out of walls, ate the corn in the fields and woke up people before it was light.

He describes the Badsey bat-fowlers as a tough mob. On their way to Broadway : 'With the ripe-smelling autumn night closing in, up the road they came, a ragged company, singing ribald choruses to the accompaniment of mouth-organs, tin whistles, Jews' harps and comb and paper, shouting out rude remarks to the old grannies who came to their doors to see what all the row was about. The heavily laden boughs of the pear and apple trees overhanging the road were stoned to bring down the fruit, and any labourer plodding his weary way homeward was chivvied and chaffed until he was out of earshot. He grinned to himself, for he had probably done the same when he was a boy, but the old folks in Saintbury, Willersey and Weston Subedge said, 'Drat the Badsey bwoys' as the gang passed through.'

Brian Jennings, Harare, Zimbabwe

Will Dallimore comments: Did you know that locally the sparrow is still known by the name 'spodge' (pronounced spod-gee)?