some BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF 20th century wrestlers - Thomas Longmire

Thomas Longmire was born on October 23rd 1823 at Stybarrow Cottage, a little more than half a mile from Windermere on the Ambleside road. His father Robert was a bobbin maker by trade, and so together with his brothers, Thomas started helping him out at an early age. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to George Brown at Thickholme Mill, where one of the favourite amusements amongst his friends at lunch times and in the evenings, was wrestling. In 1840, at the age of 17, he won his first wrestling belt at Threlkeld, widely recognised as the hot bed of Cumberland and Westmorland style wrestling in those days. In the same year, he competed, but did not win, at The Flan near Ulverston - so named because of the flat topped hill nearby. The Flan was one of the biggest wrestling venues in the North West and frequented by the likes of Thomas and George Donaldson, and Thomas Chapman. In 1841, Chapman won the World All Weights Championship for the 3rd time. The following year, it was Longmire's turn to wear the belt, when he became the All Weights champion at the Ferry Sports at Windermere. It was at this 1842 meeting that a contest was arranged between him and a wrestler called Nelson, at £5 a side, to take place in Kendal Castle courtyard on August 28th. He won the bout and brought his total of wins for the year to 10. In 1843, he won 9 bouts and lost 9; in 1844 - won 8, lost 7. In 1845, he won 15 and only lost 2, and had begun to travel to competitions further a field - to Liverpool for example. 1847 was an eventful year for him. He travelled to London, where in his own words -

'I went to thra' o' Lunnon, and I was in the pink of form, as hard as nails and as bold as brass. The wrestling took place at Highbury Barn, and a great affair it was. I was invited to no less than 8 dinners, but I lived simply and took care of myself. There were 68 competitors in the heavyweight competition, but I bowled my men over one after another, and then I tackled Atkinson, and had him levelled soon. And so it was I won the belt and first prize. Off to Manchester I went and here I won again, throwing Scaife twice. Later on in the year, I was at Grasmere Sports, then a little affair of the Vale, and held on the Sheep Fair day and I managed to get the first prize from Robert Dixon of Patterdale'.

He married local girl Sarah Birkett from Troutbeck Bridge in 1848, and between them they would produce 11 sons and 1 daughter. He was now a publican by trade, and after first keeping the New Hall Inn at Bowness, they later moved on to the Commercial Inn, Bowness, where most of their family was born. After one or two lean years, Longmire competed at Newcastle in 1851, where he won the belt and first prize, competing against the best wrestlers in the north. This brought his total wins for that year to 14. He continued establishing himself as one of the greatest ever champion wrestlers over the next few years. In 1857, Charles Dickens attended the Ferry Sports at Windermere, and saw Longmire win his 175th wrestling belt. He showed great interest in the local customs, dialect and sports of the area. Dickens visited Longmire at his home, the New Hall Inn, and was keen to learn more about Cumberland and Westmorland style wrestling and the holds employed by the experts. Longmire proceeded to demonstrate some holds and ended up by throwing Dickens lightly to the ground. Dickens later recalled -

'Good wrestlers rarely hurt one another. This quiet looking giant by our side, who has been champion often and often - and will be again one day, although he is nearly 40 and more than 12 years past the wrestler's prime - has never, in his 20 year's experience, once been hurt. He won his first man's belt when a lad of 16 years old, and in his house across the lake yonder - a clean, neat little inn (the New Hall Inn, Bowness), set in a wilderness of flowers - has no less than one hundred and seventy four of these wrestling zones; of all colours they are, and of all descriptions, from the broad, plain Manchester-looking belt won at that matter of fact and unornamental town, to the splendid award of Newcastle, embossed with the silver towers'.

Thomas Longmire (left) with fellow wrestler and referee Adam Walker

In 1858, Longmire met and defeated Hawksworth, another great wrestler, at Kendal, and picked up the 'pot' of £100. 2 years later at the age of 36, he retired from the ring, but not from wrestling. Both his skill and knowledge were put to good use by the newly formed Grasmere Sports Committee, who invited him to act as their Wrestling Umpire, a position he held for 30 years until his death at his home at the Sun Hotel, Troutbeck, on February 11th 1899. He was 75 and claimed never to have needed a doctor.

At his funeral it is noteworthy that 'there was a noticeable absence of representatives of the wrestling art, and of the deceased's Troutbeck neighbours'.
It is fair to say that Longmire , together with his Umpiring partner, Adam Walker, who was too ill to attend the funeral, were a major influence for good, in Grasmere's fight against 'barneying,' or the fixing of wrestling contests. With much money at stake, particularly with the surrounding betting, the Grasmere Sports Committee tended to put more emphasis on the award of wrestling belts and cups, rather than actual prize money. It was also part of their policy to spread the prize money over as wide a range as possible, over the various rounds, so that all 'winners' at whatever stage, received some prize money that would at least help to cover their expenses. Thomas Longmire is buried in Troutbeck churchyard.