Ferret Legging - the sport where the main skill is to "have your tool bitten and not care"!
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Yorkshire has some strange traditions but perhaps one of the strangest is the fictional sport of ferret legging
The imaginary sport involves putting two ferrets inside one's trousers, having first tied one's trouser cuffs firmly to one's ankles, lest the ferrets escape. The competitor then cinches his belt tightly, and the clock is started. Competitors cannot be drunk or drugged, nor can the ferrets be drugged. In addition, competitors cannot wear underpants beneath their trousers, and the ferrets' teeth cannot be filed or otherwise blunted. Competitors can touch the ferrets, but only from the outside of the trousers.
The sport was bought to light in an article in Outside magazine in 1987 entited King of the Ferret Leggers. This article was all about a 72 year old ex-Barnsley Miner called Reg Mellor. Apparently he became champion at the Annual Pennine Show in Holmfirth with a winning time of five hours and twenty six minutes of “keepin’ ‘em down”!
Apparently Mellor had been practicing the sport since his youth, regularly hunting with ferrets around Barnsley and putting them down his trousers to keep them warm. He admitted his trick was making sure the ferrets were well fed before putting them down his trousers. His five hour plus time became declared a world record!
He claimed that there was no skill in his feat just simply an ability to "have your tool bitten and not care"!
The origins of ferret legging are disputed but it seems to have become popular with South Yorkshire miners in the 1970’s (although some Scots claim it originated North of the border).
According to Marlene Blackburn of the Richmond Ferret Rescue League, ferret legging originated in pubs "where patrons would bet on who could keep a ferret in his pants the longest." The sport probably comes from the time when only the relatively wealthy in England were allowed to keep ferrets used for hunting, forcing the animal poachers to hide their illicit ferrets in their trousers to avoid detection by local gamekeepers.
In 1986, Reg Mellor attempted to break his own record before a crowd of 2,500 spectators, intending to beat the "magic six-hour mark. What is hilarious is that after five hours, most of the attendees had become bored and left; workmen arrived to dismantle the stage, despite Mellor's protests that he was on his way to a new record. Mellor had since organised an annual national Ferret Legging competition in his home town of Barnsley and offered a prize of £100 to anyone who could beat him.
From what I can find out his record was finally beaten in 2010 by Frank Bartlett – a retired Headmaster who you think would have known better! He hit the five hours and thirty minute mark and raised £1000 to charity. He claimed that there was no skill in his feat just simply an ability to "have your tool bitten and not care"!