The Traditional CWWA wrestling costume still has its merits

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Vogue, the British fashion icon of a magazine, is not the first place you would connect with the traditional styles favoured by our wrestlers in a muddy Lake District ring, but a message came to me asking for help in a photo-shoot.

“The photographer, Tim Walker, regularly shoots for Vogue and other well-known publications and next month he has been commissioned to shoot a series of portraits on people in the UK who are still involved in Old English Folk traditions for British Vogue. He has read about the Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestlers and their embroidered costumes and is really interested to include them in the portrait shoot.”

Unfortunately for Vogue, wrestlers are not so easily prised from their jobs to flit down to London at short notice, especially not in lambing time, so a compromise was reached and even as I write arrangements are in hand to post a couple of strips down to the magazine.

In my reply I pointed out “The decoration of the wrestling strip is entirely up to the individual, and usually reflects his interests and background. One will be from Craig Naylor who lives in Wasdale, deep in the lakeland Fells. His grandfather, Joss Naylor, achieved international recognition as a mountain runner, ultra marathon type. The other is a Northumbrian lad, Jack Brown who is also a mad jockey in local races.

“The strips have no value commercially, but are highly valued intrinsically so I'm sure you will take appropriate care.”



Two hundred years ago wrestlers stripped to tight knee-britches and long, heavy duty socks, but in the 1860s Victorian athletic fashion became the rage at Grasmere. Jumpers, runners and wrestlers all wore the same neat strip. Twenty years later the athletes wore “shorts” which reached their calves, but the wrestlers stuck with the 60s fashion and have done ever since.

Although the wrestling strip is basically the same there have been slight modifications. In the 19th Century stripes seemed the order of the day, especially for the centre-piece. And no outfit was complete without the garter just under the knee. At the turn of the Century, great champions like Hexham Clark and George Steadman moved on to floral embroidery and their strips would be perfectly in place at Grasmere, a hundred years on. The enduring nature of the traditional strip meant that I, wrestling in 1980, could wear my father’s blue velvet centre-piece from the 1920s without remark.


When I was in my hey-day in the 60s and 70s, traditional events had “Neatest Costume” competitions, and I used to win my share of those with a plain strip with black velvets and the only embroidery being an RR on my vest. 


Significant change came when Mrs Molloy kitted out her three sons in magnificently embroidered strips which raised the standards to a new level. Since then wrestling strips have been much more a statement of identity rather than just being decorative.



Trevor Hodgson’s Massey Ferguson Tractor started that trend. At first he was just wearing a free publicity t-shirt from the manufacturers, but that soon wore out in the hurly-burly of Trevor’s wrestling, and he replaced it with an embroidered version.


Of course, there is debate about whether the strip inhibits participation by young lads, and no doubt some shy souls are put off by the easy jibes about our traditional strip, but it is interesting to see how our best youngsters have taken to the strip, even in the Kendal area where opposition to the old style was strongest. Many strips are purely decorative, but you will also find images of Belted Galloway cows, Suffolk tups, Fox-hunting, collie dogs and even a Lake District view, proudly worn by the newest generation of Cumberland and Westmorland wrestlers.


Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (April 7th 2011)

One of the best nights of the winter wrestling season took place in Waberthwaite village hall, with every seat taken and nearly forty wrestlers competing. Two hours of action kept the mats warm and the crowd loud and keen.
The recent Annual General Meeting of the Wrestling Association had advocated more lightweight classes to encourage youngsters, and this event did just that. Sam Wilson of Kendal is a good enough wrestler to cope with the bigger lads he met on his way to victory in the Under 13s, but he also had the luxury of a second win in the 7st group.
The toughest wrestling of the night came in the final of the Under 18 Years when William Atkinson and James Hall kept the drama going. The close nature of their bout was heralded by two dog-falls, before Hall took the lead. Back came Atkinson with a hipe and twist over the knee to level the score. The wrestlers were tiring and twice the referee stopped the action as they were liable to land on a spectator's lap. After taking hold seven times the decisive throw went to Hall who found the power and the sense of direction to fell Atkinson with an inside-hipe.
The occasion was much enhanced by strong contingents of wrestlers from the Milnthorpe and the Kendal Academies, but the West Cumbrians were there in force and had their successes. Andrew Woodend seemed down and out in the 11 stones, and was on the verge of retiring hurt, but he rallied and took a popular home win. Stephen Mason, too, gave the home crowd something to shout about when he felled another local, Kevin Hartley in the final of the 13 stones.
The last word, though, went to Matthew Atkinson, who was blown aside in the 13 stones, but came back more determined than ever to win the All Weights. Mason looked to have cleaned Atkinson with an inside-hipe, but a quick cling-on back heel trumped the hipe and sent Mason onto his back. Tom Porter does well to organise and sustain such a dynamic academy, remote as it is from the other main wrestling centres. He involves youth to the full, so we saw young men, not long out of the junior classes taking responsibility for the refereeing and judging, until it was their turn to compete.
Anyone interested in a blast from the past, when Alf Harrington was All Weights Champion and I had dark hair, should click on where a nostalgic treat awaits: one of the best and most complete television programmes ever made about our Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling.

Under 9 Years 1, G Lawson.
Under 11 Years 1, D Bradley; 2, A Atkinson; 3, C Bradley.
Under 13 Years 1, S Wilson; 2, G Wilson; 3, L Hunter.
Under 15 Years 1, W Atkinson; 2, I Hammond; 3, A Hilton.
Under 18 Years 1, J Hall; 2, W Atkinson; 3, D Fleming.
7st 1, S Wilson; 2, L Follit; 3, L Hunter.
9st 1, J Hodgson; 2, L Follit; 3, S Wilson.
11st 1, A Woodend; 2, D Fleming; 3, T Johnson.
13st 1, S Mason; 2, K Hartley; 3, M Atkinson.
All Weights 1, M Atkinson; 2, S Mason; 3, J Ewart.
Girls 1, T Hunter; 2, A Hopkinson; 3, L Hartley.

Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (March 31st 2011)

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