taken from 'NORTH COUNTRY SPORTS AND PASTIMES' published in 1893

george dennison of penrith


FOR more than thirty years from 1808 to 1840 George Dennison was a well-known character in the north; trusted and esteemed by all classes as a skilful bone-setter, all over Cumberland , Westmorland, and a great part of North Lancashire . Whenever a bad case of broken limbs or dislocated joint befel an unfortunate individual, throughout this wide district, the first move in most cases was either to, "Send for Dennison," or else, "We must go to Penrith."

He succeeded Benjamin Taylor, another distinguished bone-setter, who sprang from New Church in Matterdale. Dennison, we believe, originally entered Taylor 's service in the capacity of a servant, and was often called in to assist in holding patients. Being of a shrewd and observant disposition, he picked up many points connected with bone-setting, and soon became very useful to his master. At that time Taylor had a pupil under his charge, as stolid and slow at learning as any one well could be. It was hard work to get any- thing driven into his dull pate. Taylor often lost temper altogether, and used to exclaim : "Thoo blinnd divel ! thoo can see nowte nowte at aw ; an' theer' tudder chap actually larnin' faster than I larn't mysel' ! I can keep nowte frae him /"

Dennison practised bone-setting for a life-time, throughout the north, with great success. And by concentrating his skill on one particular branch, he out-distanced the whole of the college-tutored doctors, far and near. "Cocking" was then a pastime much followed, and Benjamin Taylor's breed of game cocks were noted for their fighting properties. They were, however, (says Professor Wilson,) outmatched when sent over to Westmorland to fight in a main at Elleray. Several of the Dennison family, too, about that date, were likewise great "cockers." William Dennison, uncle to the bone-setter, by trade a nailer, figured conspicuously for several years at the Easter fights held at Alston.

GEORGE DENNISON was born and brought up at Penrith, one of the pleasantest small towns in the north country. In height, he stood five feet nine-and-a-half inches, and weighed fully thirteen stones; all over an athlete in appearance, a compact and well made man. He was an excellent striker with the right leg, effective with the "hench," and clever, also, at hyping. The most successful feat he achieved in the ring, was at Carlisle , in 1814, when he 'wrestled up with Dickinson of Alston; and at the same meeting, carried off chief prize on the second day. He did not continue to follow wrestling for any lengthened period, but wisely kept an eye steadily towards the vocation for which he was so eminently fitted.

He figured more as an amateur in the ring than as a professional, especially after the excitable youthful stage was passed. At an early period in the outset of his career, he distinguished himself by throwing the noted John Harrison of New Church , Matterdale, twice in the wrestle up at some neighbouring country sports ; and at Morland, in Westmorland, he threw Savage of Bolton, near Appleby, who was at one time looked upon as the don of a wide country-side.

In July, 1812, there was a great gathering at the village of Newbiggin , a place which had become famous for the keen rivalry displayed at its annual wrestling contests. In this year, Armstrong, better known as "Solid Oak," (provincially "Solid Yak,") put in an appearance, and came swaggering into the ring on the village green, boasting he would soon clear the deck for them. On stripping, he presented a gigantic mass of humanity, that certainly looked exceedingly formidable. He stood upwards of six feet, weighed fully eighteen stones, was solidly built from head to foot, and apparently carried no superfluous flesh. But as the Fates would have it, bounce and swagger, height and weight, and amazing strength, all proved of no avail in the scales, for in one of the early rounds, the "Yak tree" was dexterously carried off by the valiant bone-setter, and grassed amid the loud taunts and jeers of the assembled villagers. At the Penrith gathering, in October following, Dennison, then of Sockbridge, threw David Harrison of New Church, in the first round, and was thrown next time over by Joseph Bellas of Parkhouse.

We have no list to show that Dennison attended the Carlisle meeting in 1812, but the following year his achievements were very creditable. He wrestled successfully, for the head prize, as far as the fifth round, throwing in succession Robert Cowan, George Young, John Glendinning, and Robert Langhorn, and after one of the severest struggles on record was brought to grass by one of Robert Rowantree's slaughtering cross-buttocks.

In the second round, two young men, Tom Richardson, "the Dyer," and George Forster one of three brothers, all wrestlers were drawn together. The "Dyer" buttocked his opponent, and, in the fall, Forster unfortunately had his shoulder dislocated. Dennison being in attendance, there was no need to send for any bungling practitioner, or even to convey the sufferer off the Swifts. The work of setting the shoulder to rights, in the presence of 12,000 wondering spectators, was not of long duration, and the operation so successfully performed, that Forster could hardly be restrained from trying his luck for the minor prize.

On the second day, at Carlisle , Dennison, in the second round, threw George Little, a clever scientific wrestler, but immediately after, had to succumb to the superior strength and weight of John Lowden of Keswick.

In 1814, Dennison made his last and most successful appearance in the Carlisle ring. He had worked himself through the three first rounds, for the head prize, without meeting with anything like a dangerous rival. In the fourth, he came against his fellow-townsman, Samuel Jameson, a cartwright, considered to be one of the best of his trade in the county. He was a strong, bony, five feet ten man, an extremely dangerous customer to deal with. His fame as a wrestler has, however, been totally eclipsed by that of his son, William Jameson, the champion of a later period. Having successfully disposed of Jameson, Dennison next came in contact with another equally good man, in the person of William Slee of Dacre, and proved again victorious. The next and final struggle occurred with William Dickinson of Alston. A reference to a description of the fall, a few pages back, in Dickinson 's memoir, will show how the head prize was lost to Dennison, by the merest accidental slip on his part.

Having missed first honours, he resolved to fight hard and perseveringly for the second prize. This was won braveLy. Only eighteen wrestlers entered the ring, and the men who competed in the last two rounds, with the victor, were Joseph Peart and Francis Wilson, the latter named being second.

After the year 1814, Dennison then about thirty years old determined to bid farewell to the wrestling ring, excepting sometimes trying. an odd bout when officiating in the capacity of umpire. An increasing profession engrossed his attention, and he began to stick more assiduously to it. It is not often that talent is hereditary, but in the Dennison family it proved to be eminently so. His sons, George, John, and Joseph, have all distinguished themselves in the same honourabl vocation.

The cures that Dennison wrought in bone-setting were numerous and effective, and it is almost needless to remark, conferred more honour and distinction on him than any success gained in the wrestling arena. One remarkable cure may be mentioned ; and as it was wrought on one of our most renowned wrestlers, it will fit in appropriately. Richard Chapman, when between ten and eleven years old, had a thigh bone badly broken. As a matter of course, Dennison was sent for, and the cure effected was simply perfection. Any one seeing the fine elastic form and marvellous activity of Chapman, would hardly imagine or give credence to the fact, that a few years before he had had a broken thigh bone. George Dennison, sitting or standing, as the case might be, among the multitude round a wrestling ring, and delightedly witnessing the Patterdale champion, tossing about his opponents like shuttlecocks, with a science and activity rarely paralleled, used to exclaim, in the well understood vernacular of the north: "Leiik, lads, leuk ! Theer' yan o' my cures of a brokken thie' !"

At the Keswick annual sports, held in Crow Park , in 1833, a somewhat singular coincidence occurred the meeting of two athletes, and both of them indebted to Dennison for being able toappear. John Spedding of Egremont, a clever wrestler, and Richard Chapman, were called together. Now, it so happened, the former had had a dislocated hip-joint set to rights by Dennison, just about the same time the accident occurred to the latter. Some little excitement was caused by these two stripping into the ring in perfect form, when they doubtless presented a gratifying spectacle to the skilful bone-setter, who was among the throng of onlookers : "Noo, than!" he exclaimed, "leuk at my twea men. I'll bet on brokken thie'-bean, agekn hip-joint !" His opinion was quickly corroborated. "Thie'-bean" won cleverly, and afterwards disposed of John Nichol of Bothel, a formidable opponent, in the final fall, for the head prize. The winner then went to Greystoke, and won both the wrestling and high jumping; a neighbouring squire asserting: "Upon my word, Chapman can jump higher than any horse I have !"

Twenty years or more had elapsed, since Dennison and William Richardson of Caldbeck, had been brought to grief, in the Carlisle ring, by the Kingwater champion, Rowantree, when they met by chance at Springfield , on the road between Penrith and Keswick. The latter was returning

homewards from Patterdale sheep fair. It so happened that both were rather "fresh i' drink ." Nothing would do but they must have a fall or two. Each got one, when Dennison complained his arm was lamed. One of the byestanders, chaffing him, said : "It maks nea matter, Gwordie, aboot thy arm ! If it is brokken, thoo can seun set it agean, thoo knows ! "

The two veterans chatted over old times, and Dennison working himself up to boiling point, in reference to the Carlisle wrestling of 1813, exclaimed : "Wully! we sud beath been weel bray't aw t' way heam, for lettin' greit Robin Row'ntree fell us. Confoond the numskull ! Efter he'd carriet me off, I dud think 'at thoo wad ha' stopt his gallop for him ! "

George Dennison justly regretted throughout the north, died May, 1840, aged fifty -five years.