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

Thomas richardson of hesket new market


THOMAS RICHARDSON, commonly known as "the Dyer," one of thirteen children, was born at Caldbeck, about the year 1796, and brought up in the neighbouring village of Hesket-New-Market , situate between Penrith and Wigton.

Richardson 's father held situations at Rose Castle, under Bishops Vernon and Goodenough. The latter prelate, taking an interest in the welfare of young Richardson, sent him to be educated, under the Rev. John Stubbs, formerly master of Sebergham grammar school ; a man of considerable classical attainments, and of a very jovial disposition. The bishop intended his protege for the Church ; and, to attain such distinction, most of our readers will be aware, was the anxious hope of many middle-class families in Cumberland and Westmorland. In this case, the wish and aspiration were destined not to bear fruit. The lad steadily rejected all offers of advancement in that direction, his own oft expressed wish being to be brought up to husbandly, and to excel as an athlete. While the father and mother were not averse to his following agricultural pursuits, they were strongly against his wrestling proclivities. Whenever such gatherings were attended, the youngster had to "slipe off" unknown to his parents.

On arriving at maturity, Richardson developed into a fine manly-looking man, standing five feet eleven inches high, and weighing from thirteen to thirteen-and-a-half stones, with broad massive chest, good length of arm, and strongly built throughout. In the ring, he excelled greatly at hyping, and if this chanced to miss, generally followed up with the "ham."

The question has often been asked, how Richardson came to be familiarly spoken of as "the Dyer." It occurred after this manner. In the parish of Caldbeck, there happened to be several families, at one time, of the same name. This rendered it necessary to distinguish them by such appellations as "Fiddler Richardson," "Dyer Richardson," and "oald Jwohn Richardson" the last named being "Belted Will's" father. John Richardson, Tom's grandfather, was a dyer at Caldbeck, and became much famed for his blue dyes. At that time, blue-and-white checked shirts were generally worn in country districts, by middle and lower class persons ; and the women donned blue linen aprons, and blue linsey skirts. These now disused and durable fabrics, were manufactured extensively at Ulverston, Kendal, and, on a lesser scale, at many other places in the north. It was a sine qua non that the blue colours should be "fast."

John Richardson served his apprenticeship in Kendal, under the Wakefields, and was there during the rebellion of '"45." When the first section of the Pretender's army retreated northwards through Kendal, it was market-day, and as a matter of course, a multitude of people were collected together, who mobbed the rear-guard of the troops. During the excitement which prevailed, one of Wakefield 's dyers seized a gun belonging to a Highlander, and boldly and determinedly wrenched it from his grasp. This only proved the forerunner of more direful onslaughts. As the rebels were turning down the Fish-market, a musket shot fired from a window above, brought one of them lifeless from his horse, and two others were taken prisoners.

Being thus provoked, the Highlanders turned about and fired on the multitude. A farmer, named John Slack, of New Hutton, was killed in the open street; and a shoemaker, and an ostler, were seriously wounded. When the Duke of Cumberland's army had passed through Kendal, John Richardson having proved himself a trustworthy servant was decorated with a cockade, and employed to carry despatches between the Wakefields and Colonel Honey wood, who was wounded in the skirmish on Clifton Moor, near Penrith.

In after life, Tom Richardson's father kept an inn, and the blue flag which floated over his tent at wrestling and other meetings, was the means of indicating his whereabouts to friends and customers.

In the year 1813, when Richardson was about seventeen years old, he felt a strong desire to attend the races and wrestling at Carlisle . His father being much against the outing, some bickering took place between them. However, after breakfast, on the morning of the races, watching his opportunity, the lad slipped out unseen, and had to run part of the way, in order to be in time the full distance to the border city being something like thirteen miles. Reaching Carlisle , he succeeded in getting his name entered for the head prize. This effected, he was soon called out against Joseph Slack of Blencow, a skilful wrestler, but getting past the meridian. After an exciting tussle, the youngster proved victorious. Next time over, he met George Forster of Denton , and buttocked him cleverly. Forster's shoulder was unfortunately put out in the fall, but set again quickly, as described in the sketch of George Dennison's career. In the third round, Richardson 's further progress was cut short by one Robert Langhorn. Our youthful aspirant for fame, then entered for the second day's prize, but was thrown in the second round, by Simon Armstrong.

The following year 1814 he again attended the Carlisle wrestling, and met with about similar success as before. For the head prize, Samuel Jameson of Penrith disposed of him in the third round. In the second day's entry, William Slee of Dacre did the same in the first round.

In 1815, the "Dyer" appeared in the Carlisle ring for the third time. He threw Andrew Armstrong of Sowerby-hall, in the second round ; and was thrown next time over by Tom Todd of Knarsdale, near Alston. For the second day's prize, he disposed in succession of his neighbour,

William Clark, the miller, Joe Abbot of Thornthwaite-hall, and Robert Forster of Denton ; and was brought to grief by Edward Forster, a brother of the last mentioned.

The weather at the Carlisle meeting held in September, 1816, turned out to be extremely wet and uncomfortable, on both first and second days. As a natural consequence, there was a much thinner attendance than ordinary. The Earl of Lonsdale, the Marquis of Queensberry, Sir Philip Musgrave, and others of the nobility and neighbouring gentry, were present ; but after the first day, scarcely any equipages, and very few ladies, were to be seen on the course. There was a fair average of good men entered ; but the account we have to give of the wrestling is conflicting and unsatisfactory, presenting a finish lame and impotent in the extreme.

In the first and second rounds, Richardson was called out against John Earl of Cumwhitton, and John Weightman, respectively. He succeeded in throwing both of these formidable antagonists. The former was an old veteran in the Carlisle ring, and the latter a powerful young man of twenty-one, with an eventful career before him. In the fourth round, Richardson and Joseph Graham were drawn together, and had an unsatisfactory bout. Respecting this fall, Litt says : "Being a spectator that year, we do not hesitate to say that the conduct of the umpires was extremely blameable. In the course of the wrestling, a fall between Thomas Richardson of Hesket, and Joseph Graham from Ravenglass, was given to the former. We assert that Graham was not allowed a fair hold, that it was a manifest snap, and after all it was a complete dog-fall. On wrestling when there were but four slanders, Richardson was indisputably thrown; but such was the gross partiality shown towards him, that he was allowed to compound with the person who threw him." Disposing of George Coulthard, in the fifth round, Richardson was then called against Tom Todd of Knarsdale, to wrestle the final fall.

As a somewhat different statement has been sent abroad in Wrestliana, we think it only right that the "Dyer's" own plea should be set forth. Well, after Todd and he had stood fronting one another, in the ring, for some time, but had not been in holds, '"turney" Pearson called Richardson to one side, and offered him a considerable sum of money if he would only take his coat, go out of the ring, and say he ''darrent russel," or he "dudn't want to russel." To this proposal, Richardson indignantly replied : "No ! I'll nowder dezl sec a lilce thing for yee, nor nivver a man i' Carel toon!" It was currently reported, by the way, that Pearson had bet a good deal Todd would win the prize. After some further squabbling, a row took place, and the ring was completely broken up.

(Henry Pearson, solicitor, was a rare upholder of wrestling, but too much given to betting to do full justice to all parties. It was currently reported he ventured so large a sum on Carter at the Gretna fight, that when Oliver was likely to win during the earlier rounds, he evinced a state of the greatest nervousness imaginable. An old stager has a distinct recollection of him as he stood "fumlen wid his fingers iv his inooth," betraying the nervous "twitch" peculiar to men undergoing great mental excitement, and looking as if he might have gone off at any moment like touchwood or tinder.)

It was then given out that the two men were to wrestle next morning the following day being Thursday. When Thursday morning, however, came, the meeting was put off till next morning. When Friday came, it was again put off, on account of the great fight between Carter and Oliver, at Gretna . Richardson stayed three whole days in Carlisle , over the affair, and never received a penny! Whatever "gross partiality" might be shown towards him in wrestling through the ring, he seems only to have fared badly in the end. Let those who can, answer for the treatment he received. The second prize advertised by the Carlisle wrestling committee, curiously enough, was not contended for at all ; why so, was best known to the committee themselves.

During the years 1817-18-19-20, there was no wrestling at Carlisle , in connection with the races.

The proprietor of a circus certainly filled up the gap creditably, in 1817; but the three remaining years following were entire blanks.

At the Langwathby annual Rounds, held on New Year's day, in 1818, Richardson carried off the head prize of two guineas, finally throwing John Dobson of Cliburn.

While wrestling seemed altogether defunct at Carlisle , it was taken up with renewed vigour at Keswick. In August, 1818, the head prize offered was a purse of five guineas, which brought a great gathering of spectators, and all the best athletes of the day. The onlookers had the gratification of witnessing many keenly contested falls. The last two standers were Richardson, and William Wilson of Ambleside, then just coming out. Before going into the ring for the final struggle, some chaffing took place, the "Dyer" saying to Wilson in a swaggering sort of way , "I'll throw thee, noo, thoo'll see, like I threw t'last chap!" After a good deal of higgling, on Richardson's part, about wanting a " good hod," the two men finally closed, and Wilson being impatient to be at work at once, lifted his opponent to hype him, but missed his stroke. Some manoeuvring then took place, and the "Dyer" having materially improved his hold, threw in the "ham" quickly, and curiously enough succeeded in bringing over his dangerous rival, in the very manner he had "bragged" of doing.

In answer to a paragraph which appeared in the Cumberland Pacquet, Richardson issued the following notice :

SPORTING ADVERTISEMENT. Thomas Richardson, who won the principal prize at the last Keswick Regatta and Races, having observed it mentioned in the Whitehaven paper of the first instant, that he refused to "play again with the man he threw, for five guineas, though challenged," begs to contradict such statement, as being a gross falsehood; and he is sorry such an offer was not made to him. He now challenges his opponent, alluded to in the Whitehaven paper, to wrestle him for ten guineas, at any time or place. Hesket- New-Market, Sept. 2nd, 1818.

As this match never came off, it is impossible to say what the result might have been ; nevertheless, we have strong leanings to the belief that the "Dyer" would have gained nothing, at that date, by coming into personal contact with Wilson , the best of five falls. As a hyper, the "Dyer" was admirable, and dangerous, too, among even the best Cumbrian wrestlers ; but, in this particular respect, he was far behind Wilson in quickness of stroke and brilliancy of execution.

On one of the days after the races at Keswick, Richardson had a match with Tom Lock of Ravenglass, and threw him cleverly.

Some years after, the " Dyer" rambled away from home as far as Low Wood, to attend the annual wrestlings at Windermere. For some reason or other, he entered his name "Thomas Porter," and passed quietly through two or three of the earlier rounds as an unknown hand. Being called against Joe Abbot of Bampton, the latter bounced into the ring very full of stopping the further progress of the stranger. No sooner had they approached one another, than Joe opened his eyes very wide, stood as one petrified for a moment, and then exclaimed, "D'n ! it's thee, Dyer, is it!" The two then took hold, but Joe made no effort towards getting the fall, and "Thomas Porter" obtained fall after fall until he succeeded, we understand, in carrying off the belt.

Liberal prizes for wrestling and other sports were given at Greystoke Castle , by the Howards, and the meetings were always well attended by the nobility and the neighbouring gentry. Richardson won there one year, William Earl of Cumwhitton wrestling second.

A close acquaintance existed between Richardson and Weightman. The former was master at the beginning of their career, but afterwards the latter became too powerful for him. In all they met eleven times, and out of that number of falls, Weightman scored six, and Richardson five. Among other places, the latter threw the Hayton champion at one of the Kirkoswald "worchet" meetings, and got the compliment returned at Wreay soon after, where the fallen man lamed his side.

Sitting among the crowd that lined the Carlisle ring one year, the " Dyer" was called out against a big, raw-boned fellow, an awkward-looking customer, but one, nevertheless, who appeared young and inexperienced. "What's t'e gaen to mak' o' yon 'an, Tom?" asked Weightman. "Oh," replied the "Dyer," in a tone of mock humility, "I's just gaen to fell him reet off hand, an' than he can ga heam till his mudder, pooar lad !"

On another occasion, he was called out against Wilfrid Wright, at a meeting on Penrith fell. "Noo, Wiff, " said he, "I's gaen to throw thee streight into yon furrow yonder!" and did so cleverly. When Wright had recovered from his astonishment, and was gathering himself up, he exclaimed : "Gush, man ! I dudn't think thoo cud ha' deim't hofe sa clean ! "

Richardson continued to wrestle for many years, in the Carlisle and other rings, with moderate success. Later on, he lived at Penrith with a sister, who kept an inn there. When approaching fifty years old, he became so overgrown, that his weight appeared to be seventeen or eighteen stones, forming a marked contrast to what he was a quarter of a century before then a lish, active, thirteen-stone man.

He died at Penrith, about the year 1853.