Showing posts with label wrestling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wrestling. Show all posts

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Wrestling Legend


I had some credits to spare at 'Find My Past' so I trawled the newspapers and found some references to my 'celebrity' ancestor, William WREFORD (introduced here).

In the Western Times (Tuesday, February 27, 1866):

The eyes of all classes of politicians are now on the pretty town of Tiverton,
but we believe it is not generally known that there is now residing among us
the greatest of living wrestlers.  We allude to that respectable old yeoman,
Mr. William Wreford, who may be truly said to be the hero of a hundred contests
in the wrestling ring.  The admirers of this most manly and ancient sport will
be glad to hear that Mr. Wreford, though several years above seventy, still
carries his manly figure erect, and has the most retentive memory.  Mr. Wreford
suddenly shot up to the height of fame by throwing the terrible Jordan at a
great contest at Crediton, in 1812, when he was but nineteen years of age, and
his huge opponent was in the prime of life.  Mr. Wreford is a noble specimen,
both as regards personal strength and social qualities of the good old English
yeoman.

Later that year, the following was printed in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (Friday, 07 December, 1866):


DEATH OF A RENOWNED DEVONSHIRE WRESTLER. - On Sunday last the veteran William Wreford died after a very short illness at the house of one of his children, in
the metropolis.  Mr. Wreford bore a name familiar to all the lovers
of wrestling, both in the provinces and the metropolis.  Indeed, there is
probably none who appeared before the public so frequently and for such a long
period as he did, for though by profession he was, like his ancestors, a
farmer, yet he passionately loved the most ancient of all pastimes, and for a
period of nearly thirty years generally contrived to be present at all the
great wrestling matches in Devonshire, and almost invariably maintained the
high reputation which he gained before he was twenty years of age.  Mr. Wreford
was born at Morchard Bishop, near Crediton, the inhabitants of which have been
from time immemorial noted for their great stature and strength.  Indeed, the
father of Abraham Cann, the champion wrestler, was a native of Morchard Bishop,
and according to the testimony of the ancients was in many respects a superior
wrestler to his renowned son.  At 18 years of age, Mr. Wreford attended a great
wrestling match at Crediton, and at its close stood high in the prize list;
this was in 1811. The next year his name became a household word throughout the
whole county, for having again contended at Crediton, nearly at the close of
the play he found himself pitted against the terrible Jordan, a man of gigantic
stature and strength, and who according to one author was so feared in the
Plymouth wrestling ring that the committee at last excluded him in their
advertisements from contending for the prizes offered by them; but at Crediton
Jordan was destined to play the part of Goliath, for after twenty minutes
contention, Mr. Wreford succeeded in throwing his huge adversary such a
tremendous back fall, that hte crash occasioned thereby was almost similar to
that produced by the felling of an oak tree, and young Wreford amid the
deafening applause of an immense concourse of all classes was triumphantly
carried on the shoulders of several stalwart men to the Ship Hotel, in
Crediton, there to receive from the committee something more weighty, if not so
verdant, than that which the Grecian heroes of old were crowned.  In 1813 Mr.
Wreford visited the metropolis and contended with the champion Fouracres, whom
he threw the best Cornish wrestlers at Plymouth, and, with one or two others of
their party, bore off very heavy prizes.  In 1825 the writer was personally
witness to a great gathering of renowned wrestlers at Credition, when there was
a vast assemblage of gentry and yeomen, who betted freely on their favourites.
At this memorable match Mr. Wreford had to contend with the renowned James
Stone (who on account of his prodigious strength and activity was nicknamed by
one of the London daily papers "The Little Elephant") and a terrible encounter
ensued, for the men grappled with each other in such a way as almost to realise
Homer's description of the struggle beween Ajax and Ulysses.  In truth the
first shock resembled the meeting of two fierce bulls.  At first Mr. Wreford
appeared to have the advantage, but before ten minutes had elapsed he was
literally hurled into the air, and fell with terrific violence on his back; yet
he was quickly on his legs again, declaring that he would seize the first
opportunity of recovering his lost laurels.  Not long after he and Mr. Stone
again met at Southmolton, when for the first half hour they contended with
varying success, after which it was apparent that the strength of the "Little
Elephant" was the most unduring, and at the end of seventy minutes, Mr. Wreford
having been much shaken by repeated fallso on his side, was reluctantly
compelled to give over the contest through his opponent with his usual
magnanimty offered to forego claiming the prize until the next day, thinking
that his friend's indomitable pluck and well-known elasticity of body might
possibly then enable him to renew the struggle.  That this was no fanciful
picture, the fact of Mr. Wreford throwing, six or seven years afterwards, teh
celebrated Cornish wrestler Francis Olver, though several of his ribs were
broken before he took his opponent by the collar is, we think, conclusive
evidence.  Until the last few months Mr. Wreford has been residing at Tiverton;
and when we saw him in January last he was as erect as a bean-stick, and in
every respect appeared twenty years younger than he really was.  He then gave
us an extraordinary proof of the retentiveness of his memory, for testing his
many statements by teh records of hte Crediton Old Wrestling Club, we
invariably found them correct.  Mr. Wreford was a well informed, genial-hearted
old man, full of anecdotes of celebrated wrestlers and of scenes of the old
coaching days and he and Mr. Robert Stone, brother of Mr. James Stone, and
himself a renowned wrestler, quite laughed at the general idea of the "dangers
of the wrestling ring," and well vindicated the practice of wrestling, which
had been handed down in rural districts from father to son for many hundred
years, and both, to the writer's great amazement, declared that their legs were
wtihout a blemish, though they must have received thousands of severe kicks. -
Morning News

What a find! *pleased face*


Sunday, 16 May 2010

Celebrity Ancestor

For a change of 'scene', I decided to look a bit deeper at some of my English ancestors. 


Devonshire Wrestlers

An old family pedigree mentioned that my ancestor, William WREFORD "settled in Tiverton and was well known in the last century as a noted wrestler".  I had searched for more information a few years back and was discovered a book which mentions him in this role - Devonshire Characters and Strange Events by S. Baring Gould.

I am very pleased that I am now able to read the entire book online (or download as various files) at the Internet Archive.  The section on William reads:
Next Steps:
William Wreford, at the age of eighteen, achieved reputation by throwing Jordan over his head with such force that Jordan came down with a "crash similar to that produced by felling an oak tree." But Wreford met his match in a wrestle with "the little Elephant," James Stone. Simultaneously the men grappled each other; and although Wreford had the advantage at the outset, he was hurled into the air, and fell with such violence on his back that for a time he was incapacitated from taking part in a similar contest. Eventually the return match came off at Southmolton, and Stone was again victorious. Nevertheless Wreford remained a prominent figure in the ring, and threw Francis Olver, a Cornishman, although he came out of the contest with several of his ribs crushed by the deadly "hug." But a greater than Wreford and Jordan arose in the person of Abraham Cann... (p519)

Hoping to find more mention of William, I searched for James Stone - the 'little elephant'.  This lead me to a page bursting with information about wrestling - in particular, the Abraham Cann mentioned above.  The Heard Family History site records:
In his history of Crediton, Venn (Venn, T.W., History of Crediton. Typescript. 1972) tells us that the activities of the Devonshire wrestlers in London were reported enthusiastically in the Society gossip columns. Dressed in the latest fashions they would promenade in the famous Vauxhall pleasure gardens, where much curiousity was shown to catch a sight of "these extraordinary Devonshire wrestlers". Along with the bare-knuckle fighters, the wrestlers must have had the popular appeal of football stars of old, if not quite the overblown celebrity status accorded them in today's tabloids. Certainly local papers reported their comings and goings, and we read of a triumphant return to Devon on the express coach Celerity in 1827, when the wrestlers were greeted by cheering crowds in Exeter (Heard Family History).
It's funny to think of William, who is listed simply as 'farmer' and 'labourer' in the 1841 and 1851 censuses, as a celebrity.  Also found on the Heard Family History site was this image of the wrestlers' vital statistics at a fair in Tavistock,1827:
Wrestler Vital Statistics - Tavistock Fair 1827

William is listed as 34 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 190 pounds.  It is not often we get to know this much physical detail about our ancestors and I'm excited to have found this information. 

Next Steps:
  • Continue to research Devonshire Wrestling in and around the 1820s
  • Search newspapers for wrestling matches