Good Friday was once of the biggest days in Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling

( CLICK on thumbnail to see a larger picture - CLICK anywhere EXCEPT on the larger image to return to this page)

Good Friday was one of the biggest days for Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling throughout much of the Nineteenth Century, and it happened in London of all places.

William Armstrong in his book, Wrestliana, (not to be confused with Litt's earlier book of the same name) gives detailed accounts of each year's Good Friday meeting from 1824 to 1869. Based on the memories of very old members he reckons the origins of the meeting were well back in the previous century when The natives of Cumberland and Westmorland were in the habit of meeting on Kenington Common on Good Friday to celebrate their favourite sports of wrestling and leaping with a leather belt for the winner of the All Weights wrestling and a pair of buckskin gloves, in imitation of the prizes at that time given for competition in many parts of Cumberland and Westmorland. After 1824 the event was much more seriously organised with big money prizes for the open events and silverware for the event for those who lived in London . Every so often a silver snuff box will appear on e-bay to remind us how lavish the prizes were. The growing success of the event led to bigger and bigger venues. In 1863 it moved to the Agricultural Hall, Islington, where nearly 10,000 spectators could watch, and pay handsomely towards the prize money and the large annual donation to the Cumberland Benevolent Society and the Westmorland Society's Schools.

Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling at the Lillie Bridge Grounds 1875In the 1870's the event moved out of doors to the huge Lillie-Bridge Grounds and continued there until its demise in the 1890s.

The Good Friday wrestling was important enough to have full pages of engravings of the action in the illustrated newspapers of London , and detailed accounts in the national papers. One of my favourite articles appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette on the 22nd April 1867, written by a city gent full of ignorant curiosity who gives a funny account of the friendly violence which is Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling. He talks of bodies flying through the air, plunged into the sawdust, and a body converted for the time into the likeness of a coal sack, yet one man with a bloody nose appeared to be the whole list of wounded. He was particularly impressed by William Jameson, the champion wrestler from Penrith who was like a polar bear on its hind legs huge as he is, he was entered for the pole-vault, and apparently proposed to throw this huge hillock of flesh some nine or ten feet in the air.

Four of our wrestlers, Paul Murray, Craig Naylor, Jacob Wragg, and Jack Hale, are in Brittany this week-end competing in the European Espoirs Championships. Good Luck!

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

Disclaimer ©2008 Webmaster