CORNISH-L ArchivesArchiver > CORNISH > 2002-07 > 1026033197
From: "George Pritchard" <>
Subject: [CON] 1965 Cornish Wrestling Article
Date: Sun, 7 Jul 2002 10:13:17 +0100
The article below was written in by Michael Tresillian and appeared in the
October, 1965 issue of the Cornish Magazine. I thought it may be of
interest. I remember going to watch Francis St. Clare Gregory wrestle as a
professional at Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester where he was always one of
the crowds favourites.
On the boxing side my grandfather used to train boxers in the North East
where a lot of Cornish miners had settled and a famous Cornish light
heavyweight champion Len Harvey used to use his gym when fighting in the
Wrestling by Michael Tresillian.
WRESTLING'S origin is impossibly obscure. Jacob wrestled with an angel. The
Greeks wrestled at the Isthmian and Olympic Games, and a ring was
constructed in the Amphitheatre of Rome. The sport in those distant times,
though, was a slippery business, for the protagonists wore no clothing and
smeared their bodies with grease.
Cornish wrestlers, in comparison, are more substantially clad. They wear a
wrestling jacket, made of sturdy sail cloth, with short loose sleeves, and
fastened at the front by cords; shorts-and some even don socks.
True Cornishmen refer to the sport as "wrastling." Chaucer used the word and
Shakespeare in As You Like It wrote: " It is young Orlando who tript up the
wrastler's heeles and your heart, both in an instant." And at the Battle of
Agincourt, where the banners depicted the different county contingents, the
Cornishmen had two wrestlers on theirs.
In the heyday of Westcountry wrestling, the Devon style was considered the
tougher. According to the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers, S.
Baring-Gould, the Cornish brand was" less brutal... no kicking allowed. The
Devon wrestlers wore boots soaked in bullock's blood and indurated in the
fire, and with these hacked
the shins of their opponents who wore, as a protection, skilli-begs
or bands of hay twisted and wrapped round their legs below the knee."
Present day Cornish wrestling a more civilised contest. At Bodieve
Park, in August, I saw an abundance of skill, strength and determination,
but I have seen bloodier exchanges on the football field. Cornish wrestling
in 1965 gives the smaller man a fair chance. In the words of J. N.
Rosewarne, one of the joint Presidents, "... mauling on the ground, until
submission is complete, gives too great an advantage to the man whose chief
feature is strength or weight, and there is little doubt that this is why it
is not allowed . . . In our great-grandfathers' time, Cornish wrestling
still had its brutal features, but, in common with most other sports, rules
now exclude them, and any tendency towards brutality on the part of any
wrestler would be immediately suppressed by the sticklers. Accordingly, the
risk of injury is reduced to a minimum."
The word stickler appears in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, meaning umpire or
arbitrator. One of the sticklers at Wadebridge was Francis Gregory: a name
which means the same in wrestling as that of Bob Fitzsimmons in boxing-to
Cornishmen, anyway. Now 55 years old, and looking extremely fit, he runs a
pub in Manchester. We talked behind a television camera perched alongside
I asked him about his own wrestling experiences against the Bretons.
"I wrestled against them for seven years: went over there four times and met
them in Cornwall three times-undefeated in those seven years."
"How did you begin?" I asked.
"My uncle in the ring now." Francis Gregory pointed to one of the sticklers.
"He was a wrestler and we used to go out every evening training; you didn't
have the money for proper jackets in those days, you used sacking instead.
There was a lot more interest in the pre-war times; nearly every village had
its wrestling tournament on the village green and you'd get 3,000 or 4,000
people turning up. There's no dedication to sport these days; there's no
spirit among the young people; you find them hanging round juke boxes and
"I came from St. Wenn, started wrestling when I was working on a farm . . .
had my first match when I was only 13 ..yes, I can still remember it; was
at Bugle, in the Youth Tournament, and I won second prize. St. Wenn, of
course, was a real nursery for Cornish wrestlers; we had the Chapmans
Rugby Was Tough
Francis Gregory also had a spell as a boxer and a Rugby player for Redruth.
"Rugby was a tough sport in those days. I suppose Rugby helped my wrestling
and wrestling helped my Rugby - a bit of each." But it was as a professional
wrestler that he really made his mark- as Francis St. Clare Gregory.
"I put a lot into wrestling "- an ear bears the professional trademark -"
but I got a lot out of it, too. I had contests in Belgium, France and
Holland, and I took part in a tournament in Germany and came second. I did a
tour of South Africa as well, and was defeated only once in 13 contests."
Though he appeared on the first wrestling match ever televised, Francis
Gregory has a poor opinion of much of television wrestling. "There's too
many stunt men, people with gimmicks, masks and things like that. Up North,
wrestling's treated as a joke, these television antics are killing the
It was only two years ago that he retired from the professional ring. "I was
13 stone for years and years; varied very little. Funny thing is, I only
started to feel aches and pains when I stopped!"
Two days before the Cornu-Breton Inter-Celtic
Championships, I telephoned Captain W. T. Hooper, the Secretary of the
Cornish Wrestling Association. He advised me to get to Wadebridge on time.
"You shouldn't miss the opening ceremony," he said. I'm glad I didn't, for
the ritual, prior to the opening bout, was most impressive. Wrestlers and
officials paraded in the ring in front of the grandstand, under the eyes of
television cameras and surrounded by a shoal of photographers-it was good
to see David Hughes back in action and looking in fine fettle. At the head
of the procession were English, Cornish and French flags and a kilted
I later met David Derrington and asked him about his instrument. "It's
the Binou-Koz," explained the 19-year-old Cornishman, who, this autumn,
goes up to Oxford, " . . . the Breton Little Pipe and I was playing 'The
March of The Wrestlers,' a Breton tune. It's difficult to compare this
instrument with any others; perhaps the nearest is the Scottish bagpipe,
though, of course, it is much smaller and has only one drone." During the
opening ceremony, the Wrestler's Oath was said in four languages: English,
Cornish, French and Breton:
"I swear that I will wrestle fairly,
Without any treachery or false move,
For my honour and that of my country.
In testimony of my sincerity
and following in the way of my forebears
I shake my opponent by the hand."
Crowd of 10,000
These Inter-Celtic contests date back to 1928, when a team of Cornishmen
crossed the English Channel and wrestled before a crowd of 10,000
spectators. Pioneers of that inaugural fixture were Dr. Cottenec, of
Quimperle, Brittany, and the late William Tregonning Hooper, father of the
"We have staged 15 Inter-Celtic tournaments since 1928," Captain Hooper told
though the honours have been reasonably even, the Bretons are the more
versatile and probably the better wrestlers . . . whereas we have only a
limited number of men who take an active and keen interest in the sport of
some 40-odd wrestlers, in Brittany they have something like 150 wrestlers
and stage 60 tournaments a year.
Since 1963 the two teams have competed for a silver cup: a memorial trophy
presented by Mrs. W. Tregonning Hooper. Brittany won in 1963 and 1964, and
completed the hat-trick this year.
But at Wadebridge, in the words of one Cornish patriot, the Bretons had "to
wrastle damn 'ard!" Four Breton victors and two Cornish. There were, in
fact, six categories :-Boy, Cornwall being represented by S. Hick, of Truro
Cathedral School; Youth, J. Treglown, of Wade-bridge; Light, N. Cattran, of
Penzance; Middle, P. Nunnen, of Camelford; Light Heavy, P. Sheldon, of
Padstow; and All Weights, K. Hawkey, of St. Wenn.
The two Inter-Celtic champions from Cornwall were Nunnen, who beat R. Simon
by 19 points to 17; and Sheldon, who won the light-heavy title.
Nunnen, with a shock of red hair and the fury of an Atlantic gale, produced
the biggest laugh of the afternoon, when he retorted "Hey?" to the French
stickler's foreign tongue.
Reading the programme and mingling with the crowd, I quickly
discovered that Cornish wrestling has a language of its own. There are terms
like: Back Crook, Back Strap, Heel and Toe, Pull Under, Under Heave, Fore
Hip Lock Arm and the classic Flying Mare.
As I had driven along the shining, rain-smeared roads that led to Wadebridge
earlier in the afternoon, I had tried to guess the kind of spectators I
should find at Bodieve Park. I visualised rather aged men from the farms and
villages, weather-beaten faces, and suits reserved for Sunday and special
occasions. I was only half right. Such characters were present, but it was
essentially a cosmopolitan crowd. A blond, with slacks that were neither
shorts nor real trousers; a rustic, swigging at a bottle of beer; a bearded
father, in kilt, proudly holding his tiny offspring-these were only some who
helped to make the diverse gathering.
For the Devotee
During the course of the afternoon, more than once, my eyes switched from
the wrestlers in the ring to the spectators themselves. This sport of
Cornish wrestling is one for the devotee. You need a technical knowledge
and, I suspect, a measure of Celtic blood. Here and there I heard a
disgruntled voice. "Not enough action," complained one. "Tame, after the
stuff we see on the telly," lamented another. But generally I looked into
faces that had concentration and tension engraved.
The crowd, though, surprised - and disappointed - me in one important
respect. Cornish Rugby crowds are famed for their unashamed patriotic
fervour. I anticipated something similar here, but their reaction was
comparatively quiet-almost polite. Later in the afternoon I talked to Peter
Sheldon, in the Wadebridge Soccer dressing room, and we touched on this
aspect. "Personally, I don't take very much notice of the crowd," he said,
"but there's certainly a livelier crowd in Brittany; they're cheering their
men on . . . we don't get a lot of this in Cornwall."
Twenty-three-years-old, and now training as a quantity surveyor at St.
Austell, Peter Sheldon, like Hick and Cattran, began his Cornish wrestling
career at Truro Cathedral School.
"I thought I'd have a go at school" Sheldon recalled, "and had some coaching
under Mr. Candy. . . and Art Warne, he helped me, too."
I asked him about the qualities of a Cornish wrestler.
"Oh, dear, that's quite a question I Strength counts for a good deal, but
skill and knowledge of the throws are of paramount importance . . . and
the very fact that you've got a jacket, you use it, and it can take time to
get a satisfactory hold.. . that's why the spectator needs to know a bit
about it, otherwise it looks as if nothing's happening for a while."
On the health of the ancient sport, the new Inter-Celtic champion had
slightly mixed feelings. "This has been a bad year for Cornish wrestling in
that Chacewater and St. Columb have given up staging wrestling - matter of
funds. It's a great pity, because the wrestlers are very keen. The wrestlers
are here, and new faces keep appearing, people willing to have a go - but we
need more contests; the more action we get, the better the standard of the
|[CON] 1965 Cornish Wrestling Article by "George Pritchard" <>|