If you want to watch film ............

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............of Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling as far back as 1919, then all you need to do is to press the right keys on a computer. An email from Roy Lomas, who runs the Grasmere Sports website, alerted me to a link on the Grasmere site to an ITN archive of news footage from 1897 onwards.

All you need to do is search for http://grasmeresportsandshow.co.uk/Archives.htm then find the link to the ITN site which has Pathe News items back through the years. In 1925, still in the silent film era, the title-piece of the film reads: Cumberland, The Grasmere Sports, Mighty men of the fells compete in Old English Sport..mist marred the glorious setting

The importance of Grasmere Sports is made evident by the national coverage which would be shown in cinemas throughout Britain in the week following the event. Huge crowds circle the running track which in turn circles the wrestling ring where three and four pairs of wrestlers compete at the same time. A huge grandstand takes up one entire side of the field.

Each year there is footage of pole vaulting, hound trailing, fell running and wrestling. My father used to tell me of how some pole vaulters used to climb the pole once it was vertical, before dropping over the other side of the bar. Such a feat seemed impossible to me, but now I have seen it on film.

The Guides Race was usually filmed with four cameras. The first would show the runners leaving the Sports field through a tree-arched gateway. The next shot is of a massive wall, taller than the runners, built to keep Herdwicks off the lower pastures. The runners clamber and leap before heading up through the bracken and past the camera. Then it is up to the rocky pinnacle with its flag where the runners pick up a tag to prove they have not taken a short-cut. Finally, the camera catches the winning runner crossing the line.

The hound trails concentrate on the beginning and end of trails, especially capturing the owners' mad shouting and cloth waving as the hounds approach.

The wrestling spends some time with wide-angle shots and several simultaneous bouts, but there are also finals and presentation shots. Particularly there are some good images of Big Bill Knowles, whose family is still associated with wrestling in west Cumbria. One amusing set of unused footage for 1926 shows a tall lean wrestler wearing a flat cap taking hold with a wrestler with an enormous centre-piece (both velvet and flesh!). Seven times they try to come to grips and fail. Eventually they must have managed, as the proper film shows the big man carrying flat-cap high in the air before throwing him to the ground and squashing him.

Presiding over all these events is flamboyant Lord Lonsdale always with a big buttonhole and a cigar only slightly smaller than a Cumberland sausage.

Ironically, I already have a Pathe News film of Grasmere in my study cupboard. When I first won Grasmere in 1964 and returned to university in Durham, a friend said that he had been astonished to see me on the big screen on his local cinema in Macclesfield. I found out how to order a clip of the film, but when I projected it found it was a case of mistaken identity, for the film showed the final of the Heavyweights when Ted Dunglinson felled Gordon Younger.

Even as I have been writing this article there has been a further development: another website where it is possible to view higher quality stills from the Pathe films. The website: http://www.britishpathe.com is also now available as a link on the Grasmere website.

Roy Lomas, amazingly lives in Madrid, but has served Wrestling and Grasmere well, firstly by writing and publishing the prize-winning hard-back book entitled Grasmere Sports, The First 150 Years which has a wealth of illustration and detail and secondly by setting up and maintaining the Grasmere website which is well worth a visit by anyone interested in Lakeland Sport.

Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (February 1st 2007 )


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