Treasure Chests



"What do you treasure?" That challenging question leaps at you from the first page of a new initiative by the Cumbrian Museum Consortium (CMS). Much of their effort over the years has been to gather and conserve artefacts, and then display a selection. Anyone who visited Tullie House recently to circle round inches away from the wonderful Crosby Garrett Roman helmet knows that role of a museum.
But how do you treasure a sport like Cumberland and Wesrtmorland wrestling with its fleeting nature and long history. This year at soggy Torver, when the organisers arrived, they found a grassy knowe with a labelled peg saying "Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling". Sawdust, poured from a sack, created the ring's dimensions; a speakers system allowed the commentator to summon wrestlers and spectators; a portable table and chairs became the administrative hub; the judges were called into the ring and skilful wrestling began in a circle of animated spectators, with the Coniston Fells in the background. Three hours later all that remained was a muddy pattern in the tramped grass.
For many years I have said that if our wrestling were a building, it would be listed and have a preservation order on it. Instead, our sport is part of a continuous local heritage which exists mainly in people's minds. On the CMS web site this element is equally valued: "A treasure could be anything that is meaningful to you. It might be a place, a story, a song or a recipe. It might be a personal memory or something of national or international significance." The latest "treasures" added to the list include rum butter, places like Derwentwater and Wasdale, haaf net fishing on the Solway.
Twice, since I began writing these columns, I have had a Tutankhamun moment when wrestling treasures were revealed. Once, in 1978 the widow of my predecessor, Bob Horsley, asked me to take away all his wrestling material, and I turned up with my estate car to a semi-detached house in Penrith. After polite chat and a cup of tea, Mrs Horsley opened the cupboards which filled the recess beside the chimney breast, and there, from top to bottom, was the detritus of a lifetime's interest in wrestling: books, photographs, framed pictures, scrapbooks full of articles and results, a stack of reporters' note books full of what looked like Arabic writing, and boxes of brown envelopes each full of details about people and topics he had researched. It was strange to find dossiers on myself and the Robsons of Longlea.

Photo circa 1900 of  George Steadman and trophies

The other treasure trove moment was in a grander place, up a wide staircase into the billiard room at Levens Hall, where George Steadman's trophies were laid out on the baize. I was there with Alf Harrington, the Association Secretary, to take possession of the trophies for the Wrestling Association. Here was the biggest collection of belts and silverware accumulated by one man. As with the Horsley collection, the Steadman trophies were transferred to the Cumbria Archives at Carlisle and are available to the public on request.
Another hidden gem which focuses the ephemera of a period is the Jackson Collection in the local collection at the Lanes library, Carlisle. When I researched for my book of documentary history of our wrestling, the three or four large cardboard boxes contained a wealth of information and artefacts. The daguerreotype pictures of wrestlers in the 1850s were exciting, but especially I found pleasure in finding myself with same interests and sense of humour, but a hundred years older.

Written by © Roger Robson ..... Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (2014).

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