January 4th

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The year 2006 is the Centenary Year for the Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling Association, for in July 1906 a conference of delegates from associations and committees interested in the Cumberland and Westmorland style of wrestling was held in the Great Central Hotel in Carlisle. They were met in the interests of honest wrestling. The Committee at Carlisle had done their best to make the ring clear, but they had not succeeded yet.

The detailed report of the meeting in the Carlisle Journal went on to give an account of the corrupt nature of the sport. When old wrestlers got to the far end of a competition they had doubts whether the money was being wrestled for or given away. This was not sport; it gave disappointment to the spectators and brought ridicule on wrestling generally.

The Carlisle Committee had gone once or twice into their own ring and expelled competitors, but they found that these competitors wrestled in other rings and didn't suffer in any great degree from expulsion. Wrestling had been brought to a state of great popularity by the Carlisle Committee. They had over 360 entries at their last sports and they ran an Academy during the winter at which they had over 100 wrestlers each week. If therefore they could take a strong stand and were able through the operations of a Central Board to take such extreme measures as barneying called for, a further great step would have been taken in popularising the game.

Most people attending came from the Carlisle and West Cumbria, but there were messages of support from Keswick and Morpeth in Northumberland. But there is a hint of bad blood between regions: Some years ago there was a feeling that Westmorland was not treated fairly by the old Carlisle Committee, and crucially, no-one from the Grasmere Committee attended. Without comprehensive support from all wrestling regions the task of the new Governing Board would be compromised.

In 1907 the authority of the Association was challenged in the strongest possible way when Grasmere Sports refused to affiliate, and the Association responded by threatening to ban from its events any wrestler who participated at Grasmere. Entries for Grasmere seemed unaffected by the threat as 190 wrestlers took part, including the main stars of the game.

Ironically, four of the last six competitors standing in the heavyweights were suspended for barneying and the final was never wrestled, so the reason for the new Association was well illustrated by the first major challenge to its authority.

The second test of the Association's authority came with the Ullswater Sports, a major event which followed shortly after Grasmere. The pessimists thought that the Ullswater Sports would be a disaster with all the best wrestlers banned, but the opposite happened. The Ullswater Committee announced they would refuse entries from all the men who took part in the wrestling at Grasmere, and immediately there came such a rush of entries from all parts of the two counties as had never been previously experienced. The fact that the programme contained the names of 302 wrestlers was of itself sufficient proof that the new era in local wrestling was one which met with popular favour.

Another change introduced that day was to draw afresh each new round instead of following the same order established by the programme. By this means the planning ahead of who should win which bouts was stopped.

Barneying was not rooted out completely by the formation of the Wrestling Association, but as the Carlisle Journal of the day said: There is reason to hope that the Association's firm determination to suppress malpractices will be attended with success.. a great step will be taken towards ridding the sport of its abuses which have seriously discredited it, and restoring it to its proper position among healthy north-country pastimes.

A hundred years later The Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling Association is still on duty.

Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (February 10th 2011)

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