Child’s Toy Found by Detectorists (3)

28th July 2014 — 1 Comment

It’s taken some time, but I have managed to fix another popular post from 2012 relating to that curious children’s toy, the shy cock. Alas, all the comments and some of the updates have been lost. 

The original title was a big mistake, but very popular with search engines directing thrill seeking surfers to my blog. Because I didn’t want them to be too disappointed, I changed the title to Child’s Toy Found by Detectorists.

Since then of course, I have become just a little more computer savvy and conscious of the fact that the title of a post is important if it is to feature in searches connected with the hobby. Although sometimes cumbersome, you will notice that the phrase metal detecting’ or similar wording is often included in the heading.

The UKDFD – the detectorists’ database – is a fine resource. You may have noticed that I mention it whenever the opportunity arises. A few years ago I used to do a Searcher column called Just for the Record that highlighted finds found on the database. Today I plunder those scribblings and choose and talk about an item first mentioned five years ago. It’s reprise time!


Courtesy of the UKDFD and Sally Atklinson


Sally Atkinson, a good friend of mine and ace detectorist from Suffolk found this rather crudely cast TOY SHY COCK, made of lead and standing on a firm base. There is detail on one side only and it probably represents a cockerel, although other birds are sometimes found. So, what is it exactly?

One of the more unsavoury pastimes enjoyed by our forebears was pelting live and tethered cockerels with stones and other missiles called ‘cock shies’. The bird was tied to a post and people took turns at throwing cok-steles (special weighted sticks) at the bird until it died. Children, as ever, sought to emulate adult activity on a make-believe basis, and accordingly miniature lead ‘shy cocks’ were produced to meet their needs.

Toys, Trifles and Trinkets, by Hazel Forsyth and Geoff Egan explains:

These curious objects may have been derived from the Shrove Tuesday pursuit of casting stones or cudgels at a live cockerel, which was tied down or buried up to its neck … this barbarous pastime was a regular feature of London life.

When detectorist Paul Cowburn found his shy cock, he thought it was a toy farmyard animal, but after submitting it for identification he was thrilled to learn that his find was a little more interesting.



Courtesy of UKDFD and Paul Cowburn

You will notice that this example is not as crudely made and bears a striking resemblance to the one depicted in Dutch painter Jan Steen’s picture, The Feast of St. Nicholas, shown below.

The cockerel in Paul’s example also appears to have a base on which it could stand if the stick was removed, but  I am puzzled about the function of that stick. Perhaps it was to give the option of elevating the target if required. Sally’s find doesn’t seem to have such a provision. Evidently, similar objects were sold by hawkers in London during the late 17th century.

In the detail I have selected from the Steen painting the little girl is carrying a shopping pail full of toys and you can clearly see the cockerel on a stick … well, now that I’ve highlighted it!


Jan Steen – The Feast of St. Nicholas – detail – courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Cockfighting was outlawed in this country because of its barbarous nature, but history tells us there were customs even more inhuman and ghastly. What could be worse than the popular sport of throwing sticks at birds thus causing a lingering death?

Just goes to show how a seemingly uninteresting find may, with just a little research, prove to be quite fascinating and part of our social history. I wonder if one of the ways we now alleviate aggression is by hurling balls at defenceless coconuts. It’s a thought!



John’s chickenless head!

My friend John Mills tells me that an acquaintance of his found a super shy cock recently, complete with base. I’m trying to get a picture for you.

The best that John has found is shown opposite. He says, “I suppose a chickenless head is better than a headless chicken.” I‘m still trying to work that out! Click to enlarge.



Originally, I think that the updates formed a separate and additional post, but I can’t remember them all. Here’s just a couple …

Reading about the toy found by friend Paul Cowburn prompted Simon Annis to show one that he had (possibly) found from the same site.

shy cock2-640

© Simon Annis

Dan Pulls a Bird!

I was able to help young Dan identify an object he’d found whilst detecting with his Dad in the North East of England. It was a possible shy cock! Dan’s name on the forum is FunkyChicken, which seems rather appropriate. Here’s a couple of pictures of a triumphant Dan and his find.


Dan’s Pulled a Bird © ??


Dan’s Shy Cock. © ??


Rob Langdon from Virginia in the States and a moderator on Tom’s Treasure Forum viewed my post and contacted me saying, “thought you might get a kick out of seeing this relic”. Below is what he posted on the forum, which attracted a lot of attention. I am NOT suggesting that it’s a Shy Cock, but it does resemble one:


© Rob Langdon

Rob didn’t have much to say about the bird, except that it was made of lead and he thought it might be an eagle. In a New York accent he suggested it might be similar to one of these: Toity poiple boids / Sittin on da koib / A-choipin an’ a-boipin / An’ eatin doity woims. Do thy really talk like that in Brooklyn? Rhetorical question only!

I asked Rob to tell me more and he said: “It’s a tiny little thing, measuring only 32mm tall … and looks like a turkey crossed with a bull dog … poor little ugly thing.
 Not sure what it is, but perhaps an old game piece.”

Another forum member pointed out that it didn’t represent a turkey because the neck was too short, and said that it looked like a grouse.

Liz’s Little Cracker

Liz, an Assistant on the BMD Forum, had always thought that the shy she had found in Rutland was a farmyard toy. Now she knows better, of course! The size is about the same as the one held by young Dan and is remarkably similar to the ones shown by Paul and Simon. Thanks for allowing me to share your find Liz … it’s a cracker!

Liz Shy

© Liz

Jack’s Surprise

Jack Sparrow, also of the BMD Forum has been cavorting with the bigger birds and reports:

Well, I’d never heard of these until I read your blog post last night, and by some strange coincidence I went out this evening and found one!

If you could make your next blog post about gold coins, that would be great!

Sparrow copy

© Jack Sparrow


John – Interesting bit of British history….it just goes to show how barbaric most people were not that long ago….and for that matter still are in many ways to this day. Thanks for sharing with the readership. Regards + HH / Bill from Lachine (Canada).


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One response to Child’s Toy Found by Detectorists (3)

  1. Good to see this resurrected John. I’m sorry I never did manage to get a photo of my acquaintances shy cock.

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