Wrestling is a distinct Cornish tradition that survives to the present day.
The history of Cornish Wrestling goes back so far it is lost in the midst of time. The first mention of Celtic Wrestling appears in the ancient book of Leinster, referring to the sport being included in the Tailteann Games which date back to at least 1829 BC. We know Wrestling was established in Cornwall before the Roman invasion and that the Cornish meetings on Halvager Moor were held during the dark-ages.
The Cornish contingent with Henry V at Agincourt (1415) marched under a banner depicting two Wrestlers “in a hitch”. The banner needed no words; the pictures of the wrestlers was enough to let anyone know the men of Cornwall were behind it.
During the famous meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France (on the Field of the Cloth of Gold) a team of wrestlers representing the English king defeated the champions of France. This contingent, which humbled the French team, consisted entirely of men from Cornwall. Godolphin the chief wrestler had received the Royal command direct to bring his men to uphold the king’s honour at Calais.
Wrestling is our national sport in Cornwall, a direct living link with our ancestors handed down through an un-broken chain, from father to son, brother to brother and friend to friend for over 3,000 years.
Many times, Cornish Wrestlers have displayed their prowess before a royal audience. King Charles II believed that the Cornish were “masters in the art of wrestling” after attending a tournament at Bodmin while on his way to the Isles of Silly. It was during his reign that Tomas Hawken of Cubert threw Lyttleton Weynorth, who claimed to be the champion wrestler of “all England”.
Richard Carew, famous for his survey of Cornwall (1602) said that at about 1590 even their Breton neighbours did not match the Cornish in the art of Wrestling. Men from all walks of life took part in the sport. One of the best known wrestlers of the 17th century was Richard Stevens, the head master of Truro Grammar school; inventor Richard Trevithick was another. In the 18th and 19th centuries for which information is more readily available, we see records of tournaments that ran for a week to find the standing men to contest the semi-finals and finals on the Saturday and Sunday. With crowds of upwards of 10,000 for such finals or big name challenge matches, large sums of money often changed hands
Here are the photos taken by Ashley Cawley at the Royal Cornwall Show 2014.
Cornish Wrestlers perform demonstrations at the Royal Cornwall Show twice a day for all three days of the event down in the Country Side area.
One of the most famous encounters between wrestlers of Cornwall and Devon must surely be the great wrestling bout of 1826. Any match between Devon and Cornwall was most certainly hotly disputed, and always bore a pridely grudge, and this was no exception.
James Polkinghorne was to meet Abraham Cann. James Polkinghorne although born at St Kevern, is usually associated with St Columb for it was there he was landlord of the Red Lion Hotel and from there that he set forth to uphold the honour of Cornish Wrestling against Cann the challenger.
The match was to find the champion of the West of England and took place at Tamar-Green, Devonport on the 23rd of October 1826. The ultimate result of which has never really been agreed and has remained a matter of great controversy ever since.
It was from St Stephens he set off in his gig on the long trip with his brother to Tamar-Green, Morrice Town, Devonport.
From such information as is still available it seems that controversy surrounding the very outset is to be found. In an article in wrestling it’s heyday and decline, especially written in July 1960 for the 150th Anniversary supplement of the West-Briton who had incorporated the royal Cornwall Gazette, the late reverent Leslie Jolly a recognised authority on wrestling, even wondered if Polkinghorne was infact the proper person to meet the rather impudent challenging Cann.
Mr Jolly who’s grandfather of Penscawen, St Enader, was a renowned wrestler during the early part of the nineteenth century, made a case for Parkyn of St Columb Minor who’s reputation had remained unquestioned for 20 years, to have accepted Cann’s challenge and been Cornwall’s representative, even though then Parkyn was 52 and Polkinghorne a mere 38. Parkyn’s claims were upheld by many followers of the sport, even by some at St Columb but never the less it was Polkinghorne who eventually went across the Tamar.
During a long period of negotiations that followed the challenge that, according to the reverent Mr Jolly, Polkinghorne had made his first mistake by consenting to a kind of contest more likely to favour Cann than himself.
Polkinghorne should have insisted on a meeting where each man would have to win through to the final pair in open contest, similar to the way in which Parkyn had defeated Stiffy of St Just the mystery man of wrestling in 1809 in Falmouth.
By this means Polkinghorne, who was a man of great strength but did not have a lot of stamina for the protracted wrestling required by the conditions, would have met lesser men on his way up to the final, or as was perfectly permissible, at that time engaged substitutes to secure his placing.
West Briton’s account of the match, published on October 27th 1826 reported that, Quote “When Cann entered the ring, he went up to Polkinghorne and the competitors immediately shook hands, when they retired to equip themselves for the contest.
To be continued!…
Devon and Cornwall wrestling without shoes, will take place at Mr H.Brodings, Royal Standard Pleasure Grounds, Shepards Walk, City Road. On Easter Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr G.Rooke, of the Pied Horse Tavern, Chiswell Street, Manager, Begs to return his sincere thanks to lovers of this manly and athletic exercise, for all past favours and hopes to be favoured with their kind support on the present occasion. The central and commanding position of the ground surpassed every other place in London for amusements as it is surrounded with a gallery boxes, alcoves, and the venius of the mount entna, Veus and other distinguished mountains and views, the whole forming quiet an amphitheatre. £25 are already subscribed and more is expected, which will be devided into prizes and contested for at the above grounds.
Source: To be confirmed.
Fair play to all.
NB. Should any young men from Devon or Cornwall feel disposed to come to London for the purpose of wrestling they will be accommodated at the Pied Horse free of expenses during the wrestling.
A case of direct intervention was recorded by the west-Briton in 1844 at St Just in Penwith, where wrestling and hurling were popular. For two or three weeks in May a Tournament had been in progress to decide who among the standards should contest the finals. On the day when these were to be held for the customary prize of a gold laced hat, which gave certain protection from unwelcome attentions in these days of the press gangs, the wrestler’s had no sooner gathered then two wesleyan ministers, with several of their friends came on the scene.
The ministers immediately addressed the ring-leaders of the games, kindly offering to pay them the value of the prize to be divided among the standards, and so to stop the practice of wrestling in future. But their proposal being declined they commenced singing and prayer and were soon left by the wrestlers in possession in the ring. A Clear victory for the Methodists or so it appears but it is highly likely that the wrestlers just went to any nearby level field or meadow and continued the hitches.
The crowd at this Tournament was reputed to be nearly as large as that of that at Penzance a dozen or so years before when the sport was at it’s zenith.
On the first day at Penzance wrestling there were five thousand spectators on the second day, twice that number.
The attraction of the wrestling brought out a number of young persons from Bodmin, one of whom entered the ring and threw two Roach men. This success was immediately followed by an attack on the Bodmin man, and a general riot commenced. After having, for some time, contended in the pugilistic style, the combatants armed themselves with bludgeons from a large wooden rick in the church-town. Thus equipped, the fight was renewed with furry, heads were laid open, teeth knocked out, and the field of battle was quickly strewn with the maimed.
After the contest had continued for about two hours and when twilight had commenced, victory still hung doubtful but about this time the Roach and Luxillian men were reinforced by a considerable detachment from neighbouring mines.
The fresh body of forces soon decided the fate of the day. The Bodmin men were forced to fly in disorder, perused by the shouting victors, being unable to cover the retreat of their wounded, who were forced to limp off as well as they could!
Source: To be confirmed.
Date: To be confirmed.
On Tuesday George Oliver alias ‘The Little Roper’, was brought up on a charge of drunkenness (at Truro). Policeman Fitzsimmons was called upon to expel the defendant from at home, where he was making a disturbance. When the ropemaker, although a little man is a practiced wrestler, resisted the law and threw the policeman several good “turns” without difficulty.
He was fined 20s and costs.
Source: To be confirmed.
Redruth annual wrestling at South turnpike, on Tuesday and Wednesday 22nd and 23rd of August.
The following prizes will be awarded, first price a silver goblet value £7, second ditto, a silver cup value £4, third ditto a silver cup value £2.10, forth ditto a gold laced hat, fith ditto a silver laced hat.
Parties who have taken the directions of this wrestling in hand wish it to be known that T.Gundry of Sithiney will be accepted from contending for any of the above prizes, as he (Gundry) has not for a succession of years met with anything like an equal match, at any of the wrestlings he has attended, from which circumstance, his presence as a player has had a disparaging effect on the generality of wrestlers, therefore justice demands for him the well earned title of “Champion of all the English Wrestlers”
Source: To be confirmed.
Hodge, of Tywardreath challenges Richard Davey of Egloshaye to wrestle the first two back falls out of three for any sum from £1 to £5. And if Davey should think proper to bring a second man from his neighbourhood, Hodge is prepared for a man to meet him for similar stakes.
The Match to come off at either St Austell or Bodmin as may be decided upon. Hodge only waits Davey’s answer to have a meeting to settle preliminaries.
Source: to be confirmed.