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!…