Archivist's Christmas Dossier

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My Christmas dossier of Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling snippets and articles from the Northern local papers arrived with a card from archivist Jeremy Godwin of Penrith. His analysis of all the articles on wrestling in the period 1909 to 1911 shows how the sport was constantly in the news. That period seemed to be a rich time for academies and there are regular accounts of the public sessions of the academies at Penrith, Keswick and Appleby ( North Westmorland ).

At one of these “while practising before the competitions at the Oddfellows Hall at Keswick, one of the ‘crack' members of the academy, Andrew Lowther, fractured his leg. He was engaged in a bout with a young man called Bennet of Thornthwaite.”

Fifty years ago Whitehaven magistrates commended PC John Rule, formerly a well-known heavyweight wrestler for the way he handled a Saturday night outbreak of fighting in the Bigrigg area, following which 23 youths and men appeared on charges.

Much less exciting were the items for 2010 when at a meeting with only a moderate attendance, Lord Lonsdale was re-elected President of Penrith Wrestling Academy and the winners of the wrestling at Musgrave Rushbearing were duly listed.

The Hexham Courant looks back to 1885 when sixteen men took part in a wrestling competition at Halfway House, Prudhoe in an attempt to win a silver cup.

In 1860 Egremont Crab Fair was going strong with loaves and money as the main reward for winning. Health and Safety had yet to ban the greasy pole climbing and Robert Tomlinson easily carried off the “leg of mutton affixed to a long pole”. “The belt wrestled for was a superb one; on one side in letters of gold was ‘To the Hero of Crab Fair Sports' and on the other ‘Palmum qui meruit ferat'.” ( Let him who has earned it bear the reward.)

In the same year at Cockermouth in the Deer Orchard, “the wrestling for which most of the local celebrities were entered, was exceedingly good and many falls were watched with great eagerness, especially towards the last.” At the end Ashworth felled Hodgson by “putting in his well-known back heel.”

And most floridly of all that year the Whitehaven News commented on the “chequered career” of William Litt, whose novel “Henry and Mary” (catchy title!) they had republished in parts. The novel has smuggling and wrestling as main themes, and is worth digging out even now for its curiosity value. Litt, “whose memory will be long cherished in his native country, not only on account of his writings but also as the prime patron and promoter of a noble and manly sport and as the man who by his example, no less than by the eloquence of his advocacy elevated a local pastime to a consideration and position that remind us not unworthily of the most palmy days of the Olympian age.” (You don't get sentences like that these days.)

Much sadder was a clump of cuttings from this year's Hexham Courant detailing the court case against Network Rail over the death of Chris Walton early in 2008. They were fined £75,000 and met costs of £36,000 for failing to implement safety recommendations from a 2005 assessment. The sad case and Chris's photo brings back the vibrant young man who stirred the wrestling world with his winning return to the ring at Grasmere in 2007 after serious injury, when he won the Under 18s. His parents gave a dignified and moving interview. Michelle said, “We want to remember Chris before the accident and try not to dwell on the negatives. The sad thing is the accident has overshadowed the positive things we had as a family. I hope Network Rail is ashamed of itself.”

After a long and fulfilled life, Jock Hall has died at the age of 94. He was famous in two sorts of ring: showing his Blackface sheep and wrestling. He came to the sport at thirty when most athletes are considering retirement, and I remember his inside and cross-clocks which dumped opponents on the backside. Peter Hunter remembers him waiting his moment, before pouncing with minimum effort and maximum effect. Although he lived above Rothbury, he was a member of Gilsland Academy and would motor-bike over with Ian Potts to Low Row where they could catch the coach to a match at Gosforth or Bootle a world away from Coquetdale. He was the sort of gentle, humorous man who shaped my childhood.

Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott ( December 23rd 2010 )

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