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

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

Old English Wrestling

 

OUR acquaintance or familiarity with Old English wrestling is, as may be surmised, circumscribed. We have therefore endeavoured, in part, to introduce the southern ring in the introductory chapter. In carrying out the attempt, considerable and important assistance has been derived from having the benefit of referring to a rare and curious work by Sir Thomas Parkyns, a distinguished wrestler and writer in the early part of the eighteenth century. According to Dr. Deering, in his History of Nottingham, a copy of Sir Thomas's work was forwarded to His Majesty George I., with a manuscript dedication. Sir Thomas further intimates : "I invite all Persons, however Dignifi'd or Distinguish'd, to read my Book." So say we, for a more thorough-going and candid book we do not know; a book containing many curious home-thrusts and quaint sayings, bearing upon the art and mystery of wrestling. We can fully endorse the words of the Nottinghamshire baronet, when he says: For my own part, I transcribe after no Man, having practical Experience for my Guide in this whole Art, and intirely rely on Observations made with the utmost Accuracy."

The art of wrestling in the present day is chiefly confined to the lower classes of the people. This is more especially the case in the south of Lancashire . In the north, yeomen's sons and farmers' sons are often exceedingly clever in the wrestling ring. The sport was, however, more highly esteemed by all classes of the ancients, and made considerable figure among the Olympic games. In the ages of chivalry, too, to wrestle well was accounted one of the accomplishments which a hero ought to possess.

The inhabitants of Cornwall and Devonshire , we are well assured, from time immemorial have been celebrated for their expertness in this pastime, and are universally said to be, in their style, the best wrestlers in the kingdom. To give a Cornish hug, used to be a proverbial expression. "The Cornish," says Fuller, "are masters of the art of wrestling, so that, if the Olympic games were now in fashion, they would come away with the victory. Their hug is a cunning close with their combatants, the fruit whereof is his fair fall or foil at the least." They learned the art at an early period of life, "for you shall hardly find," says Carew, in his Survey of Cornwall, 1602, "an assembly of boys in Devon and Cornwall, where the most untowardly amongst them, will not as readily give you a muster (or trial) of this exercise as you are prone to require it."

"In old times," says Stow (in his Survey of London), "wrestling was more used than has been of later years. In the month of August about the feast of St. Bartholomew," adds this very accurate historian, "there were divers days spent in wrestling. The Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs being present in a large tent pitched for that purpose near Clerkenwell. ' But of late years the wrestling is only practised in the afternoon of St. Bartholomew's day." The ceremony is thus described by a foreign writer, who was an eye-witness of the performance. "When," says he, "the Mayor goes out of the precincts of the city, a sceptre, a sword, and a cap, are borne before him, and he is followed by the principal Aldermen in scarlet gowns wilh golden chains ; and himself and they on horseback. Upon their arrival at the place appointed for that purpose, where a tent is pitched for their reception, the mob begins to wrestle before them two at a time." (Strutt's Sports and Pastimes).

The following quaint and curious description of the row, and destruction of property after the wrestling, at the "Hospitall of Matilde", so different from our peacably conducted northern rings copied literally from Stow 's Annals of England, will, we opine, be interesting to our readers.

"In the year 1222 Henry the III. reign, on St. James daie, the citizens of London kept games of defence and wrestling, neare unto the Hospitall of Matilde, where they gotte the masterie of the men of the Suburbes. The Baihffe of Westminster devising to be revenged, proclaims a game to be at Westminster, upon Lammas day ; whereunto the citizens of London repaired ; when they had plaid a while the Bailie with the men of the Suberbesses, harnessed themselves and fell to fighting, that the citizens being foullie wounded, were forced to runne into the Citie, where they rang the common Bell , and assembled the Citizens in great numbers; and when the matter was declared everie man wished to revenge the fact. The maior of the citie, being a wise man and a quiet, willed them first to move the Abbot of Westminster of the matter, and if he woulde promise to see amends made, it was sufficient. But a certaine Citizen named Constantine Fitz Arnulph, willed that all Houses of the Abbot a nd Bayliffe should be pulled doune, which wordes being once spoken, the common people issued out of the Citie, without anie order, and fought a civill battaile, and pulled doune manie houses."

On March 3ist, 1654, the Puritan parliament passed "An Ordinance Prohibiting Cock Matches" (i.e., cock-fightings) and likewise issued excommunications against well-nigh all classes of sports and pastimes; nevertheless, we find that Cromwell relaxed the strung bow by times, and indulged himself in witnessing some Hurling and Wrestling matches in Hyde Park, as the following quotation from the Commonwealth newspaper, The Moderate Intelligencer, amply testifies :

"Hyde-Park, May I, [1654.] This day there was a hurling of a great ball, by fifty Cornish gentfemen on the one side, and fifty on the other : one party played in red caps and the other in white. There was present His HIGHNESS THE LORD PROTECTOR, many of his privy council, and divers eminent gentlemen, to whose view was presented great agility of body and most neat and exquisite wrestling at every meeting of one with the other, which was ordered with such dexterity, that it was to show more the strength, vigour, and nimbleneea of their bodies, than to endanger their persons. The ball they played with was silver, and designed for the party that won the goal."

The same newspaper continues : "This day was more observed by people's going a maying than for divers years past, and indeed much sin committed by wicked meetings with fiddlers, drunkenness, [ribaldry, and the like : great resort came to Hyde-Park, many hundred of rich coaches, and gallants in rich attire, but most shameful powdered-hair men, and painted and spotted women ; some men played with a silver ball, and some took other recreation."

Later on John Evelyn's Diary furnishes us with a view of wrestling for fabulous sums. We think a hundred pounds, given at a meeting in the present day, a large and tempting amount. The following, however, taking into consideration the value of money upwards of two hundred years ago, does seem astounding:

"1669 19 Feb. I saw a comedy acted at Court. In the afternoon, I saw a wrestling match for £100, in St. James Park, before His Majesty, a world of lords and other spectators ; 'twixt the Western and Northern men ; Mr. Secretary Morice and Lo. Gerard being the Judges. The Western Men won. Many great sums were betted."

After the foregoing brief notice of ancient wrestling, we shall proceed to crave the reader's attention to a similar pastime after the style practised in the counties of Devon and Cornwall . In doing so, we are fortunately enabled to gather important information from a rare and interesting old book, by Sir Thomas Parkyns, previously referred to, and first published in the year 1713. This work was held in such high estimation, that in 1727, a third edition had to be printed ; and as the circulation would, in a great measure, be confined to the southern parts of the kingdom, such a rapid and numerous sale must be taken to indicate extraordinary popularity. It will be gathered, the manner of wrestling differs materially from the scientific, manly, back-hold Cumbrian method.

The space, however, devoted to the "Cornish Hugg," even in a work professedly devoted to northern sports, will it is confidently presumed prove accept- able, particularly to readers who admire the "Art of Wrestling," which the Nottinghamshire baronet designates as " most Useful and Diverting to Mankind," and "Diverting, Healthful Studies and Exercises."

Such are the means by which he avers: "You will restore Posterity, to the Vigour, Activity, and Health of their Ancestors; and the setting up of one Palaestra in every Town, will be the pulling down of treble its Number of Apothecaries' Shops."

" Thus were our Britons, in the Days of Old,

By Sports made hardy, and by Action bold,

And were they, now, inur'd to exercise,

And all their Strugglings were for Virtue's Prize.

Man against Man, would not for Power contend,

No Lust of Wealth would Hugg a private End,

Nor Each would Wrestle to supplant his Friend. "

(W. T., on Inn-Play, or the Cornish-Hugg.)

 

Not content with this glowing eulogium on a sport long dear to Cumberland and Westmorland, and as emphatic as any ever uttered on the Swifts at Carlisle , the enthusiastic baronet goes on to say:

"No doubt but Wrestling, which does not only employ and exercise the Hands, Feet, and all other Parts of human Frame, may well be stiled both an Art and Science; however, I will do my endeavour, both Hip and Thigh, that Wrestling shall be no more look'd upon by the Diligent as a Mystery."

Sir Thomas finds: "Wrestling was one of the five Olympick Games, and that they oil'd their Bodies, not only to make their Joints more Supple and Plyable ; but that their Antagonist might be less capable to take fast hold of them. I advise all my Scholars ne'er to Exercise upon a full Stomach, but to take light Liquids of easy Digestion, to support Nature, and maintain Strength only. Whilst at Westminster, I could not learn any Thing, from their Irregular and Rude Certamina, or Struggles ; and when I went to Cambridge, I then, as a Spectator, only observ'd the vast Difference betwixt the Norfolk Out-Players and the CornishHuggers, and that the latter could throw the other when they pleas'd. The Use and Application of the Mathematicks here in Wrestling, I owe to Dr. Bathurst, my Tutor, and Sir Isaac Newton, Mathematick Professor, both of Trinity College in Cambridge ." He goes on to say : "I advise you to be no Smatterer, but a thorough-pac'd Wrestler, Perfect and Quick, in breaking and taking all Holds ; otherwise whene'er you break a Hold, if you don't proceed sharply to give your Adversary a Fall, according to the several following Paragraphs, you're not better than one engag'd at Sharps, who only parries his Adversary, but does not pursue him with a binding and home Thrust."

The following warnings are especially worthy a wrestler's attention :

" Whoever would be a compleat Wrestler, must avoid being overtaken in Drink, which very much enervates, or being in a Passion at the sight of his Adversary, or having receiv'd a Fall, in such Cases he's bereav'd of his Senses, not being Master of himself, is less of his Art, but sheweth too much Play, or none at all, or rather pulleth, kicketh, and ventureth beyond all Reason and his Judgment, when himself.

Ffecundi calices quam non fecere Misellum.

That Man's a Fool that hopes for Good,

From flowing Bowls and fev'rish Blood."

He goes on to remark that sticking to these observations will enable a good wrestler to "stand Champion longer for the Country, as appears by my Friend Richard Allen of Hucknall, alias Green, (from his Grandfather, who educated him) who has wore the Bays, and frequently won most Prizes, besides other By- Matches, reign'd Champion of Nottinghamshire, and the Neighbouring Counties for twenty Years at least, and about 8 Months before this was Printed, he Wrestled for a small Prize, where at least twelve Couples were Competitors, and without much Fatigue won it. Whoever understands Wrestling, will ne'er call the Out-Play a safe and secure Play; besides the Inn-Play will sooner secure a Man's Person, when Playing at Sharps, than the Out, which ought to encourage Gentlemen to learn to wrestle."

In this learning to Wrestle our ingenious author turned trainer will "admit no Hereditary Gouts, or Scrofulous Tumours ; yet I'll readily accept of Scorbutick Rheumatisms, because the Persons labouring under those Maladies are generally strong and able to undergo the Exercise of Wrestling. I am so curious in my Admission, I'll not hear of one Hipp'd and out of Joint, a Valetudinarian is my Aversion, for I affirm, Martial (Lib. vi. Ep. 54) is in the Right on't, Non est vivere sed valere vita : I receive no Limberhams, no Darling Sucking-Bottles, who must not rise at Midsummer, till eleven of the Clock, and that the Fire has air'd his Room and Cloaths of his Colliquative Sweats, rais'd by high Sauces, and Spicy forc'd Meats, where the Cook does the Office of the Stomach with the Emetick Tea- Table, set out with Bread and Butter for's Breakfast : I'll scarce admit a Sheep-Biter, none but Beef-Eaters will go down with me, who have Robust, Healthy and Sound Bodies. This may serve as a Sketch of that Person fit to make a Wrestler, by him who only desires a Place in your Friendship."

The baronet's beau ideal of a Wrestler's bodily formation is just such as we like to see in a northern ring. He "must be of a middle Size, Athletic, lull-breasted and broad shoulder'd, for Wind and Strength ; Brawny-Leg'd and Arm'd, yet clear-limb'd."

The following rules and regulations are some of them especially worthy the consideration of those who are managers in our northern rings, at the present time.

Rules and Conditions, which were to be observed and perform' d by all and every Gamester, who Wrestled for a Hat of twenty-two Shillings Price; a free Prize, which was given by Sir Thomas Parkyns of Bunny, Bart., for fifteen Years successively. The Gamesters which were allow'd to Wrestle for the aforesaid Prize, were to have it, if fairly won, according to the following Rules:

 

1. The two Gamesters that Wrestle together, shall be fairly chosen by Lot , or Scrutiny, according to the usual Practice.

2. The said two Gamesters shall Wrestle till one of them be thrown three Falls, and he that is first thrown three Falls shall go out, and not be allow'd to Wrestle again for this Prize : And it is hereby ordered and agreed, that he who first comes with two Joynts at once to the Ground, (as Joynts are commonly reckon'd in Wrestling) shall be reputed to be thrown a Fall.

3. No Gamester shall hire another to yield to him upon any condition whatsoever ; and if any such Practice be discovered, neither of them shall be capable of the Prize.

4. But he that stands the longest and is not thrown out by any one, shall have the Prize, provided he does not forfeit his right, by breach of these Rules ; if he do, the Gamester that stands the longest, and observes these Rules, shall have it.

5. If any Differences shall happen concerning the Wrestling, they shall be determined by two Men, which shall be chosen by the most Voices of the Gamesters, before they begin to Wrestle ; and in case they can't decide such Differences, then they shall be referr'd solely to the Decision of the said Sir Thomas Parkyns as UMPIRE.

6. He that Wins the Prize and Sells it, shall be uncapable of Wrestling here any more.

7. That none shall have the Prize, that Wrestle with Shoes that have any sort of Nails of Iron or Brass in them.

8. He also that Winneth the Prize one Year, shall be Excluded from Wrestling for it the Year following, but the next year after that, viz. the third inclusive the first, he may put in and Wrestle for the Prize again ; and ever after that, unless he shall Win a second Prize, and from that time ever after Excluded.

 

Sir Thomas Parkyns, Bart., of Bunny Park , Nottinghamshire, the author of the ingenious and singular work before us from which we have quoted largely upon the Cornish Hugg, or Inn-Play Wrestling, was a man who did not content himself with a mere theoretical knowledge of the art which he professed mathematically to teach. There was scarcely a sinewy and dangerous problem in his treatise, which he had not worked with his own limbs upon the Nottinghamshire peasantry of 1705 when he was young, lusty, and learned, and could throw a tenant, combat a paradox, quote Martial, or sign a mittimus, with any man of his own age or country. He was, it will be allowed, a skilful wrestler, a subtle disputant, and a fair scholar, with certain eccentricities which he could afford to indulge in. He passed a very reputable life ; doing all the good he could to the peasantry of his neighbourhood, both in body and mind; at once showing how to be strong and enabling them to be happy.

Sir Thomas Parkyns was born about the year 1678 whether at his paternal seat, Bunny Park , Nottinghamshire, or in London , we are unable to collect - probably in London , as we find him early at Westminster school, wrestling his way through the classics, under the celebrated Dr. Bushby. The epigrams of Martial appear, first, to have led him to turn serious thoughts towards wrestling and he does not relish the poet the less for finding that he himself practised this healthy art after his daily prayer and family business. From Westminster , Sir Thomas after a due course of little-to-do and Bushby, went to Trinity College , Cambridge , and studied mathematics as we gather afterwards for the chief purpose of making himself an accomplished scientific wrestler. At the then celebrated place of learning, "Students," he says, "even at the Universities, give the Exercise of Wrestling, and lie under a pecuniary Mulct for not appearing in the Summer evenings appointed for that Exercise."

Happy and long was the life which Sir Thomas led at Bunny Park . A "bold peasantry, its country's pride," by his advice and example grew up gallantly around him. He gave prizes of small value, but large honour, to be wrestled for on sweet midsummer eves upon the green levels of Nottinghamshire, and he never felt so gratified with the scene as when he saw one of his manly tenantry and tbe evening sun go down together. He himself was no idle patron of these amusements no delicate and timid super- intendent of popular sports, as our modern wealthy men for the most part are ; for he never objected to take the most sinewy man by the loins, and try a fall for the gold-laced hat he himself contributed. His servants were all upright, muscular, fine young fellows civil but sinewy ; respectful at the proper hours, but yet capable also at the proper hour of wrestling with Sir Thomas for the mastery ; and never so happy or so well approved as when one of them saw his master's two brawny legs going hand- somely over his head. Sir Thomas prided himself, indeed, in having his coachman and footman lusty young fellows, that had brought good characters for sobriety from their last places, and had laid him on his spine. (Retrospective Review)

Lord Thomas Manners, who learned the art of Broad-Sword exercise from Sir Thomas Parkyns, thus addresses his master, on May 2ist, 1720, from Belvoir :

" Happy is it for us that we have in this effeminate, weak Age of powder'd Essence- Bottles, and Curled Coxcombs, a Person of rough Manners, and a robust Constitution ; one that can stand upon his own Legs, after Droves of those modern waxen Things have fallen before him ; one that instructs Englishmen to deserve the Title, and teaches 'em to make their Broad Swords the Terror of all Europe. Men like you liv'd, when Greece knew her happiest Days. It was a Spirit like your's that instituted and supported the Olympic Games. But when their luxurious Neighbours once taught 'em to sleep till Twelve o' the Day, to pin up their Locks in Papers, to come from the Boxes of their Chariots into the Insides of 'em ; to use Almond-Paste, and Rose- Water ; in short, to quit Roast-Beef, and Hasty Pudding, for Soups and Ragouts; the Empire of the World was taken from them, and translated to the tough, sinewy Romans ; and when they ceas'd to merit these Epithets, their Eagle drooped her Wings, and the Brawny Britons were the Favourites of Mars."

A fitting conclusion to the preceding notice of the much esteemed Bunny Park baronet, will be come to by bestowing a passing notice on the monumental memorial erected to his memory, in Broadmore church, Nottinghamshire. The "ruling passion" is made apparent, even after death had given Sir Thomas the last "Hugg." On one side of the monument he is represented in wrestling attitude; on another he appears thrown a back fall by Time. The following is a free translation of the Latin inscription :

"Here lies, O Time ! the victim of thy hand,

The noblest Wrestler on the British strand ;

His nervous arm each bold opposer quell'd,

In feats of strength by none but thee excell'd ;

Till springing up at the last trumpet's call,

He conquers thee, who, will have conquer'd all."

The inscription further depicts him as an estimable landlord ; for it is recorded on the tablet, that with his wife's fortune he purchased estates, and erected for the tenants new farm houses.

Sir Thomas Parkyns died in 1751. In his will there is bequeathed a guinea a year to be wrestled for every midsummer day at Broadmore.

We venture to surmise that our north country readers more especially those interested in the sport half a century ago will be struck with a similarity in the wrestling career and character of Sir Thomas Parkyns, and one of the great ornaments and enthusiastic advocates of the northern ring, namely, Professor Wilson. To us it appears there is a striking similitude. One, like the other, ranks amongst the cleverest and most scientific in their different modes of wrestling; one, like the other, had about the same social standing ; one, like the other, somewhat eccentric in early life. One de- lighted with encouraging and upholding his favourite amusement in Bunny Park ; the other happy when he could get together a goodly muster of athletes from the villages, the valleys, and mountain sides of the Lake district, at Bowness, Low Wood, or Ambleside all within easy walking distance of Elleray, his beautifully situate Windermere mansion.