thanks to Stephen for donating this interesting article. As part of
his work in trying to ressurect English Wrestling Styles, he will
be running some seminars later in the year. As soon as we know more
we will let you know.
|Wrestling is the oldest and purest of personal
combat sports. Men have been trying their strength and unarmed skill
since the beginning of time. Egyptian murals on the tombs of Beni
Hasan, dating back to 3000 BC shows wrestlers in combat and we know
that this sort of competition was part of the early Olympic games.
In fact, it is said to have been introduced at the 18th Olympiad about
Wrestling has for a long time been part of the English sporting pattern;
for instance it was customary in London to hold wrestling matches
on Lammas Day.
With Cudgel Play, Quarterstaffs and Sword Play, wrestling was one
of the main sporting activities at country fairs and revels right
up to the 19th century.
It was through the introduction into England of the Greco-Roman style
of wrestling that public interest in the sport declined. Despite its
name, this style of wrestling has nothing to do with the classic style
of wrestling. It is in fact, an import from France.
In this style of wrestling no holds are permitted below the waist
and the wrestling could continue on the floor, the bouts could be
of considerable duration often lasting for many hours. A tedious performance,
even for enthusiastic spectators.
Traditionally wrestling has two main centers in England: in the West
Country, where the Devonshire and Cornwall styles were developed,
and in the Northern counties, the home of the Cumberland and Westmorland
Abraham Cann in the early 19th century was backed against any man
in England for £500. Cann was a wrestler of the Devonshire style.
He and others from his county, such as Jordan, were often objected
to for 'showing the toe' - kicking. This was an acknowledged method,
quite within the rules, in Devon but not in Cornwall, and there were
many Cornishmen who would not 'go in' against a Devon opponent. The
Devonshire style exponents justified their somewhat brutal methods
by explaining that their style was more classic and that the Greeks
themselves used to kick in their bouts.
The Eagle Tavern in the City Road, London has been immortalized in
the children's song 'Pop Goes The Weasel', but this was not its only
claim to fame. In the 1820s the public house was a wrestling centre.
One writer of the period describes the differences between the men
from Devon and Cornwall after visiting the Eagle:
The florid chubby- faced Devon man was all life in the ring, holding
himself erect, and offering every advantage to his opponent. The sallow
sharp-featured Cornwall man is all caution and resistance, finding
himself in such a way, that his legs are inaccessible to his opponents,
and waiting for the critical instant when he can spring in upon his
Cornish style originates from the Celts and is always held in the
open air, and in a ring. The umpires are known as sticklers and usually
four or six of these officials are appointed.
The legs of the wrestlers are bare from the knees and they wear canvas
jackets that may be used in the holds.
Traditionally the challenge takes a form of throwing a cap in the
air, and whoever wants may pick it up.
The object is to throw one's opponent so that he lands with both hips
and one shoulder, or two shoulders and one hip, squarely on the ground.
Illustrating Cornwall's close connection with wrestling was the banner
of the Cornish troops in the Hundred Years War, which showed two wrestlers
The other main division of traditional English wrestling is known
as Cumberland and Westmorland style, a form of contest said to have
been introduced by the Vikings.
Mr. H. A. Matthews of Haltwistle, Northumberland, recalled the village
green wrestling he took part in as a small boy at the turn of the
century. All the competitors' caps were thrown into the air and matches
were made depending upon the way the caps fell - those falling next
to each other being paired off regardless of weight.
The aim is the 'best of three falls' as it is in most matches of the
20th century. The loosening of the opponent's grasp also constitutes
a fall, the combatants clasping hands behind each other's shoulders.
One of the giants of the Cumberland style of wrestling was George
Steadman of Whitehaven, who wrestled and won at the Grassmere Games
at the age of 51 years in 1896, having embarked on his wrestling career
The Grassmere Games continue to this day attracting wrestlers from
all over the world.
Kicking was a part of wrestling everywhere except in Cornwall. Shinning
or Cutlegs was a recognized sport and even today schoolboys play a
variation which is called stampers - as its name implies, it calls
for stamping on each other's toes.
Lancashire style wrestling is a form of Catch as Catch Can, which
allows considerable freedom of movement and is similar to the free
style seen at the modern Olympics. It has a reputation of being particularly
barbarous, although the rules specifically bar throttling or the breaking
of limbs. There are few restrictions and wrestling continues when
the contestants hit the ground.
The Badminton Library has a quote on the Lancashire style of wrestling
A Lancashire wrestling match is an ugly sight: the fierce animal passions
of the men which mark the struggles of maddened bulls, or wild beasts,
the savage yelling of their partisans, the wrangling, and finally
the clog business which settles all disputes and knotty points, are
It is not in dispute that wrestling was not only a sport in England
it was also a very good form of unarmed combat. If you had lost your
sword or singlestick you needed to defend yourself - wrestling was
Today England has also adopted Guile from India, Sombo from the Soviet
Union, Kurash from Uzbekistan and Judo from Japan.
Sombo, Kurash and Judo are not unlike Cornish wrestling as a jacket
is worn and the competitor tries to throw his opponents to the ground.
In Sombo, wrestling can continue on the ground, but in the other two
styles competitors must remain standing.
Guile is not unlike freestyle wrestling but has over 400 moves, which
have to be learned before a man can be called a 'Pulwan' or expert.
England has a long tradition of wrestling but the folk styles of Devon,
Cornwall, Lancashire and Cumberland and Westmorland are dying and
are being replaced by more the more modern styles from Eastern Europe
It is my wish that we keep the old folk styles of England alive and
add the newer styles to the history of English wrestling.
If anyone is interested I am forming The English Folk style Wrestling
Federation, membership is free and the intention is to keep the old
It is my intention to hold tournaments in the summer, in the open
air, on grass, in a ring and using the original rules.
Also once a year I will hold the English Folk style Wrestling Championships.
The winner will receive the English Champions Belt
Lets be proud of our English heritage and keep it alive.
A great deal of information was taken from a book written by Brian
'Heritage of the Past - Sports and Games'.