Heritage: The club where killing sparrows en masse was sport

Sparrows sketch by Jill Fowler
Sparrows sketch by Jill Fowler
  • The Tring and District Sparrow Club was founded in 1891
  • The club were reported to have killed thousands and thousands of the “destructive little pests” as described at the time
  • Nests were sought to be destroyed and prizes handed out
  • “Complete annihilation” planned in 1891 failed and club did not last past the early 1920s

The idea of having a club with the sole purpose of killing as many sparrows as possible would seem strange today, if not utterly bizarre.

The Tring and District Sparrow Club was founded in 1891. The Bucks Herald of May 28th 1892 reported:

Tring and District Sparrow Club made a record of destroying 5,345 sparrows in the last five months. 20,000 were destroyed over the whole area and prizes were given.

The Bucks Herald, May 28th 1892

“Tring and District Sparrow Club made a record of destroying 5,345 sparrows in the last five months. 20,000 were destroyed over the whole area and prizes were given.”

Just a year later the paper went into more detail: “Tring and District Sparrow Club have killed 8,000 since last October. The effort of the members are now being directed to their nestlings with a view to extermination. Should the efforts of club members be as successful this year the farmers in the locality will be freed from 11,000 of these impudent destructive little pests. Since the clubs formation in October 1891 16,000 sparrows have been destroyed by members or their employees. Prizes have been awarded to Messrs J. Fulks of Hastoe, J. Pratt of Marsworth, T. Mead of Aldbury and W. Mead of Gamnel.”

It would seem that the farmers were satisfied with the slaughter of the birds as the club appears to have been discontinued until the start of 1914. On January 31st under the heading “Formation of a Sparrow Club”, the Bucks Herald reported:

“A good number of farmers and others met at the Rose and Crown Hotel to consider forming a Sparrow Club in the district. The society will pay 3d a dozen for all heads sent in by members. The subscription was fixed at 5/- for honorary members and 2/6d for farmers.”

The war started later that year and the club continued, no doubt feeling that the killing of the farmers’ “pest” was essential to the war effort. In the paper of February 9th 1918 it was reported in the Tring column:

“The AGM of the Sparrow Club was held at the Rose and Crown on Friday evening. The accounts showed that 4,276 sparrows have been killed in the past year for which the sum of £4-9s-0d had been paid. Eight new members had joined the club in the past year. A vote of thanks was given to Mr W. N. Mead for so ably presiding “

In March 1921 the paper said:

“Sparrow Club Dinner. At the Rose and Crown on Monday Mr T. W. Fountaine, the Hon-Secretary, announced that £1-6-10d had been paid for 966 sparrows heads. When the club commenced the usual number of sparrows killed was 2,000 or 3,000. From this years figures it would appear that practically all the birds had been eliminated (laughter). The sparrow not only did an enormous amount of damage but prevented those birds which did good from living in the neighbourhood. Mr Clark submitted the toast “Sport”.

The Sparrow Club does not seem to have continued much further than the early 1920s. In February 1922 it was recorded that at a recent meeting the Secretary, Mr Fountaine, had decided to pay 6d a dozen for sparrow heads for the coming year.

Nowadays no-one in Tring seems to have any recollection of a Tring and District Sparrow Club. They seem to have had a rather harsh opinion of the innocent little birds and the “complete annihilation” planned in 1891 was, fortunately, not achieved. For those of us who like to see these “impudent little pests” in our gardens it was just as well.