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

tom todd knarsdale


TOM TODD, a Northumbrian by birth, was born and brought up at " The Bogg," in Knarsdale, near Alston, where his father was well known as a sheep breeder. He stood fully five feet ten inches high ; his general wrestling weight being about twelve stones and a half. Todd's contemporaries have spoken of him as a most accomplished and scientific wrestler. He could buttock cleanly, hype quickly, and excelled in most other chips. Weighing and watching his opponents' movements narrowly, he seemed to anticipate what was coming, and prepared accordingly, both for stopping and chipping. In taking hold, like most good wrestlers, he stood square and upright ; but in consequence of having a very peculiarly shaped back, like half a barrel, it was next to impossible to hold him easily, or to grip him with any amount of firmness. Like Richard Chapman, he could always "get out," if so minded, at starting.

About the summer of 1810 or 1811, Tom Todd, then just merging into manhood, attended the annual "boon" mowing-meeting of John Bell of Kirkhaugh, the noted bone-setter, where as many as twenty or thirty strong men often congregated together. When the grass had been cut down, it was usual to broach a barrel of ale, and drink the contents on the green sward. During the time the nut-brown home-brewed was being handed round, the Alston band enlivened the scene with music; and then followed the most attractive part of the day's programme, namely, dog-trailing, jumping, and wrestling. At this rural festival Tom Todd won his first belt ; and a lad, named Robin Carruthers, a farm servant, from the Bewcastle district, wrestled second.

In 1815, Todd figured in the Carlisle ring, probably for the first time ; and came against Tom Richardson, the dyer, in the third round for the principal prize. Being both young men, and not unequally matched in size, strength, and science, they had three desperate tussles before the struggle could be decided. Finally, the fall ended in favour of Todd. In the fourth round, Todd's career was cut short by George Forster of Penton. In contending for the second prize, Todd threw a clever wrestler, named Thomas Peat, a farmer's son, from Blencow, in the third round ; and Armstrong, the "yak tree," in the fourth. Not being able to come to terms about holds, in the final fall, with Edward Forster of Penton, the two never wrestled out, but, says Litt, in dividing the money for first and second, Todd received more money than his opponent, it being the opinion of the umpire that he was the fairer stander.

Todd made his appearance again in the Carlisle wrestling ring of 1816, where he played a conspicuous part. Meeting with no one particularly worthy of being called a dangerous competitor in the first five rounds, he went through with considerable ease, throwing in rotation, James Johnson, R. Armstrong, J. Scott, T. Hodgson, and William Clark of Hesket-New-Market. After the fifth round, the only two men left standing were Todd and Richardson, the dyer ; and the fall which ought to have been decided between them, resulted in nothing but discreditable quarrelling and ill feeling. A fuller account of this unpleasant affair will be found in the sketch of Thomas Richardson's career. Todd's friends, as a natural, consequence, thought that he was the better man, and ought to have won. Todd himself, after the event, seemed to be under a bond of secrecy on the subject. We have no desire to sully his memory, with the charge of a settled determination not to go to work with equal holds. We do not wish to twit him with taking a mean advantage of his opponent, in order to deprive him of the chance of a fair contest. We believe he had a soul above such an unwarrantable proceeding. It will, probably, be nearer the mark to say, he acted unwisely and unbecomingly, by conniving with his principal backer, as the sequel will show.

Todd's usual remark was when the subject chanced to be broached and discussed that Richardson's backers pressed him very much to "lay down," which he declined most definitely to do. But a week or two before his death, a far more disagreeable fact oozed out. He then acknowledged, to an intimate friend, mentioned hereafter whom he rescued at the Gretna fight that he received half the money, offered for the head prize, in 1816. This, of course, was paid through the agency of one of the principal promoters of the Carlisle ring, in a left-handed manner, with an understanding that it should never be made public!

About two years after the dishonourable act narrated, had broken up the annual wrestling at Carlisle, Todd used to tell of meeting Richardson , in the third round at some village sports, where he threw him easily.

After this and during the discontinuance of the popular gathering on the Swifts, for three years we know nothing of Todd's career as a wrestler, until the Carlisle Meeting of 1822, when he again made a gallant but unsuccessful struggle to carry off the head prize. Being engaged as a gamekeeper, in the service of the Earl of Carlisle, on the Naworth Castle estates, he entered himself under the assumed name of "John Moses of Alston." Todd displayed considerable science and activity in the course of the day, and distinguished himself much and deservedly, by throwing several dangerous hands, among whom may be especially mentioned, John Fearon of Gilcrux, seventeen stone weight, John Liddle of Bothel, a fourteen- and-a-half stone man, (winner of the head prize at Keswick, a few weeks previously, where he finally disposed of William Cass of Loweswater) and Robert Walters of Carlisle, a light weight, but an accomplished scientific wrestler. In the final fall, however, with Cass, the cup of success was again dashed from his lips. This time the weight sixteen stones and strength of the Loweswater champion, proving too much for twelve-and-a-half stones.

Scarcely had the cheers died away which greeted the West Cumberland man's victory, when Louis Nanny of Haltwhistle an enthusiastic frequenter of wrestling rings offered to back the Knarsdale man in a match against Cass for a hundred pounds. Todd thought this sum too much to risk even handed, against such a powerful antagonist; but was willing to be backed, and contend at all hazards, for half that amount. The two east countrymen, however, had it all their own way, so far as the challenge was concerned. At that time, Cass being new to the Carlisle ring, and almost unknown as a wrestler, no one seemed bold enough to stand forward on his behalf; and, moreover, like a quiet, inoffensive man, he was perfectly content to rest upon the laurels he had just gained.

This year Weightman "aw ower his oan daft nonsense" was thrown by Fearon of Gilcrux, in the first round, tor the principal prize at Carlisle . Not being eligible, on this account, for entry in the second day's competition, Tom Todd stood on one side for him; when Weightman, in order to retrieve lost ground, took pains, and threw his men as fast as he came to them. "Talk aboot russlin'! " exclaimed an eye witness, " Wey, man, he just went thro' them like th' wind ! "

As time passed on, and Weightman came more prominently to the fore, Tom Todd found himself absolutely nowhere in the giant's grasp ; he therefore thought it wiser and more prudent to retire from the ring, without making any further efforts to carry off first honours.

When Todd was a young man, he kept a tight well-made little trail-hound, trained to the name of " Stand back," but which was entered at the different trails as "Towler." Harry Kirkby of Kirkhaugh, the clergyman's lame son, used to tell a tale about Todd and himself taking the hound one year to Melmerby Rounds. When the dogs were coming in, they looked to the spectators, "aw iv a cluster," as they neared the winning post. At this crisis, Todd roared out in a loud voice : "Standback ! Standback !" apparently appealing to the crowd, and ran fussing about immediately in front, with his arms flying in the air. "An 1 dar bon ! " said the priest's son, "the dog com' in like stooar, an' wan easily ! "

This artful trick has been often practised since, if not earlier than that time, at dog-trails successfully on more than one occasion by the late Richard Gelderd of Ulverston, a keen dog trailer. He had a " Standback," and at the Flan and other neighbouring sports, was trained to rush forward to the winning post, when the crowd were ordered in a stentorian voice : "Standback! Standback! an' let t' dogs cum in can't ye ! "

At the great northern fight, between Carter and Oliver, at Grttna, in 1816, John Slack of Carlisle, shoemaker, then a young man in his teens, was thiown to the ground by the surging of the immense crowd, and might easily have been trampled to death. Seeing the impending danger, Tom Todd, and John Barnes, the constable, both powerful men, elbowed their way through the crowd, and succeeded in rescuing the fallen man, before he was seriously injured. On lifting him from the ground, Todd exclaimed, "Marcy, Jwohn ! is that thee ? My faiks ! but thoo'd a narrow squeak for thy life theear !"

Some time after the year 1822, Todd left the north of England , and went into the Highlands of Scotland, where he became gamekeeper to Sir Charles Ross of Belnagowari Castle , Ross-shire, and continued in that capacity for something like twenty-four or twenty-five years.

Returning again to his native district, he settled upon the farm rented by his brother John, at Moscow , near the fashionable watering-place of Gilsland. A few years before he died, he gradually lost his sight, and at times grew "varra canker't an' twisty." Once when one of these fits was upon him, his denunciation of wrestlers and wrestling rings was hurled about in such unqualified language, that one was apt to think the transgressions committed in the Carlisle ring of 1816, still haunted his waking dreams not probably for anything done personally, but for being made a cat's-paw at that time, by his principal backer.

In the month of September, 1875, Todd, then in his eighty-fourth year, went to the house door, beckoned to the farm-workers that dinner was ready, and immediately after passed quietly away. From the fact of the Knarsdale athlete having attained this great age and he was only one of many who did we may draw pretty conclusive evidence, that the northern pastime of wrestling does not, as a rule, shorten life.