Down Memory Lane



My routine was broken this year. Skelton Show was cancelled because of mired car-parking fields, so I missed my annual reconnoitre and chat with Jeremy Godwin, a retired archivist, who still keeps me informed of wrestling references in the local newspapers. Nevertheless, at Christmas card time an even larger dossier of newspaper cuttings than previously arrived with his card.

The increased volume came from three main sources: the Westmorland Gazette based at Kendal, the News and Star based at Workington and the Whitehaven News. The West Cumbrian papers do not cover wrestling wherever it happens, but when there is an event on their patch, such as the shows at Ennerdale, Eskdale, Wasdale Head and Buttermere, there is always a big photo-montage including the wrestling and the results. The Whitehaven News, being a weekly paper has more general articles on occasion, such as a lavishly illustrated account of a day of wrestling at Arlecdon School when Craig Naylor and Jack Ewart “spent a whole day with us carrying out separated coaching sessions with each year group”.

The Whitehaven News also runs a “Down Memory Lane “ column each week, looking back to previous editions 25, 50, 75, 100, 125 and 150 years ago. Furthest back, in 1862, was an opening of a “cellar” at the Globe Hotel, Gosforth, when there was pigeon shooting for a prize of £4 and 76 youths entered their names for the wrestling. In 1887 at Parton a silver cup was put up for a wrestling competition each Saturday where “the cup is to be won three times before it becomes the property of the winner”. So far, there had been five different winners so the sponsor was getting his money’s worth. The wrestlers did, however, divide the entrance money each night.

The increased coverage of wrestling in the Westmorland Gazette is mainly down to the unacknowledged efforts of CWWA Governing Board Member, Chris Bland, who supplies information about the local wrestling events and the Kendal Academy. Staff photographers also cover the local shows. And there is the occasional set piece historical article in the Nostalgia section.

Similarly the Keswick Reminder and the Hexham Courant have occasional reports of wrestling, but only on their patch. Jack Brown of Haydon Bridge has been one of the star wrestlers this year with championships and plaudits galore in all areas, but remains unrecognised by his local paper.

As well as a review of the year, through cuttings, Jeremy Godwin also does an annual search through the Penrith Herald of a century ago. For the first five months of the year there is no mention of wrestling, so the academies which featured previously must have been moribund. Then there are the usual reports of the big events such as Ullswater Sports, and smaller ones like Troutbeck Sports, and the death and funeral of a famous wrestler like Thomas William Lowther of Plumpton, but what is interesting is the way that wrestlers are mentioned in other walks of life. Wrestling is part of their definition. So, in October 1912, “The well-known wrestler, Mr George W Armstrong, Bewcastle, 23, active in the C&W Wrestling championships since 1907 sails for Australia”, there to join his brothers Jacob and Walter.

A court case of the time gives an insight into the prize-money of the time. A case for compensation for an accidental shooting laid out the income of the plaintiff. He received just over a pound a week as gardener and factotum for Mrs Brown, whose son had shot him instead of a rook; he also earned half that sum as a rural postman, and for wrestling he could expect £30 per annum. Now, with a piece shot out of his leg, he sued for compensation, but “lost on a technicality of law”.

Another unfortunate wrestler was fined £1 and costs for riding on a train without a ticket on his way to Warcop Sports. He claimed, “It was too late to get one. It was stopped for me at the signal box”

Another court case featured two Penrith labourers arrested for fighting in the street. Their defence was that they were only practising the traditional arts of Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, but as one already had a face-cut, the magistrate bound them over for £10.

Jeremy Godwin’s package of cuttings is an annual reminder to me of the deeply entrenched traditions of wrestling in our county a hundred years ago, and now.

Written by © RogerRobson.

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