'A collection of BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF CELEBRATED ATHLETES OF THE NORTHERN RING'

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

melmerby rounds

 

MELMERBY is one of the finest types of a fell-side rural village left in Cumberland , with its cheerful dwellings scattered here and there single or in groups, its old manor hall and miniature church, and its spacious green spreading over fully fourteen acres of land. The village nestles close under Hartside, one of the Crossfell range of mountains, on the direct road from Penrith to Alston, over which the pack-horse bell continued to tinkle, clear and loud, to a much more recent period than it did on the great highways of commerce. This interesting fact has not been overlooked by Miss Powley, in her ‘Echoes of Old Cumberland'.

When the staunch pack-horse gang of yore

The Fell's unbroken rigours faced,

With stores for miners 'mid the moor,

The Dane's stronghold at ten miles passed ;

Then up the steeps their burden bore,

For trackless, treeless, ten miles more.

When the staunch troop, with travel sore,

Passed up within the Helm-cloud's veil,

And 'scaped the blast yet heard it roar

Below in many a western dale ;

When they, to crown the march severe,

Denied through summits bleak and brown ;

With sudden speed, and louder cheer,

Came clattering down to Alston town,

Round which the wide fells darkly peer,

And grasping winter cheats the year.

The Melmerby folk to this day are pastoral in occupation, intercourse, and habits. Their conversation, running for the most part on rural topics, is plentifully interlarded with such expressions as "Fetchin' t' kye heam," " Fodderin' t' sheep," and "Takin' t' nag to t' smiddy." Occasionally, the blood runs warmer with excitement and curiosity, when a shrill cry like the following rings through the village streets, "Run wid t' reapes, lad ! A coo's i' t' mire !"

At the Gale, within a mile of the village, where the land rests principally on a limestone bottom, the produce of cream is not of that dubious quality known to pent-up city dames, but so rich and thick that a spoon will almost stand upright in it. The cream of this dairy has frequently been tested with one of the old copper pennies of George the Third coinage, which formidable weight it always bore triumphantly on the top.

For fully a century, and probably a much longer period, Melmerby has been known as a noted place for upholding the manly back-hold wrestling of the North. On Old Midsummer Day that is, on the 5th of July of each year this village commenced its annual two-days' sports, which consisted of prizes for wrestling, leaping, foot-racing, dog-trailing, etc. The wrestling took place on that part of the green known as the cock-pit, where many a doughty champion has been sent sprawling at full length on his back. Although the amount given in prizes was small -

("Melmerby Annual Sports will take place on Monday, the 6th day of July, 1846, when the following Prizes will be given to contend for : 2 to Wrestle for ; 2 for a Hound Race ; and handsome prizes for Running, Leaping, and other amusements, as usual. " [Advertisement. ])

- the entry of names was always large, from sixty to seventy being the average number; while more than four-score men have contended at various times. By being held at the season of the year when the days were longest, and when they wore their sunniest aspect, Melmerby Rounds were invariably attended by vast concourses of spectators. The Alstonians used to muster remarkably strong ; the miners and others coming over Hartside in considerable droves from that town, and the neighbouring villages of Nenthead and Garrigill-gates. So great became the celebrity of the Melmerby ring, that first-rate wrestlers have frequently travelled as far as thirty and forty miles to throw and be thrown upon its village green. Buying and selling was a thing unknown. One friend might give way toanother sometimes ; but, as a rule, it was purely the honour of becoming victor, for the time being, that emulated most of the competitors.

A veritable giant in height and strength, who was in his prime about 1805, being ambitious to excel as an athlete, attended these sports for several years, but never succeeded in carrying off a single prize. This was Teasdale Thompson of High Rotherup, near Alston, whose height exceeded six feet two inches, and whose weight was in proportion to his height. Among well-known men who attended these meetings, but failed to achieve success, may be mentioned Robinson of Renwick, and William Earl of Cumwhitton, the former of whom figured several times.

About a quarter of a century ago, the squire of Melmerby Hall interested himself a good deal inestablishing spring and "back-end" fairs in the village, for the sale of cattle, sheep, &c.; and on this account it was thought better to abolish the annual Rounds. Accordingly this ancient gathering came to a sudden and unexpected collapse, about the year 1850, after having existed in an unbroken link for fully a century.

The following is as complete a list of the winners of the wrestling at Melmerby Rounds, as we have been able to collect. The local newspapers were carefully ransacked for intelligence, but being found singularly barren in this respect, our information had to be gathered in almost every instance from aged fell-side chroniclers, who had either been frequent or occasional attenders at these meetings, the principal of whom was Mr. John Dodd of Broadmeadows, Melmerby.

About 1788 Adam Dodd of Langwathby Mill, won several years.

About 1798, James Fawcett, miner, Nenthead.

1799.

1800,

1801,

1802,

1803,

1804,

1809, Thomas Golightly, miner, Alston. (This wrestler afterwards removed to the West Cumberland mining district; and in'February, 1819, was killed by the fall of part of a roof in one of the Whitehaven coal pits)

About 1810, Robert Rowan tree, shepherd, Kingwater.

About 1815, Andrew Armstrong, farmer, Sowerby Hall.

About 1816, Thomas Peat, farmer's son, Blencow.

1817, John Dobson, Cliburn.

1818, John Robley, Scarrowmannock.

1819, (Robley emigrated to America several years after this date. )

About 1820, Isaac Maughan, Alston.

1821, (Maughan settled in Newcastle-on-Tyne, where he died during the cholera of 1832).

About 1823, J. Spottiswoode, miner, Alston.

1825, John Weightman, husbandman, Hayton.

About 1826, John Weightman, husbandman, Hayton. (Weightman won two years, and received a guinea and the belt each time, these being the usual awards to the victor at that date).

1828, Thomas Armstrong, Carlisle ; Elliot (perhaps of Cumrew) wrestled second. Bowman, of the Gale, won the second day's wrestling.

About 1830, Joseph Graham, Dufton Wood, Appleby.

About 1833, Jonathan Woodmas, Alston.

1838, Thomas Morton, farmer, The Gale, 1st; Isaac Farlam, Bowness-on-Solway, 2nd.

About 1839, Thomas Morton, farmer, The Gale. (On one occasion Morton wrestled through the ring without taking his coat off.)

About 1841, John Salkeld, land-surveyor, Huddlesceugh.

1844, First day: Joseph Elliot, Croglin, ist; Thomas Teasdale, Ousby, 2nd. (Sixty-five names entered, including John Buck, John Milburn, and Joseph Morton.) Second day : John Nixon, Langwathby, ist; John Slee, Blencow, 2nd.

About 1845, Joseph Shepherd, Crewgarth, Melmerby.

1847, Joseph Morton, farmer, The Gale, 1st John Milburn, VVeardale, 2nd. (Joseph Morton also won once or twice on the second day. John Milburn stopped at Melmerby on his way home from the Carlisle meeting, at which latter place he carried off the head prize the two following years.)

About 1850, Joseph Morton, farmer, The Gale. (Morton threw Halliwell of Penrith, and, we believe, Anthony Me. Donald of Appleby wrestled up with him.)

(This was the last Round held at Melmerby.)