“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Mat Game's Lost Years.

Researching the early history of professional wrestling is not always a straightforward task. One problem is the lack of very much reliable written history. An American writer pretty much hit the nail on the head in remarking that wrestling history was something more at home on the front porch rather than in the library. We are dealing with an almost entirely anecdotal history more suited to a Studs Terkel rather than an Eric Hobsbawn or an E P Thompson.
Another problem is that until very recently we had two distinct histories on offer, one for public consumption and another, oral "true" history that was the preserve of those inside the business. Some writers, such as  Charles Mascall, had an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the mat game but their position in the industry ensured that excellent although much of the work was, it had as a corner-stone the assumption that the punters must be constantly reassured about the genuine competitive nature of wrestling and must never be allowed to have their suspicions about the game confirmed.  
After many years of reading everything available and spending a fair bit of time talking to "old timers" I think that I have a reasonable grasp of British pro wrestling history but there are certainly many questions that remain to be answered. One of the mysteries that has been bugging me for a long time concerns what I refer to as the "lost years" of British wrestling; 1914 to 1930?  
We know that the golden age of wrestling started to go into decline after Hackenschmidt's defeat at the hands of Frank Gotch and that by the start of the First World War in 1914 the business was in a poor state. The outbreak of hostilities was the final nail in the coffin of big time wrestling in the UK. We also know that in 1930 Athol Oakley and Henry Irslinger introduced to the UK the "new" style of wrestling that had been popular in the USA for the previous ten years. Rebranding the product as "All-In Wrestling" Oakley, Irslinger, Garnon et all launched a major revival of the mat game that was to rival anything that had been seen during the heyday of music hall wrestling.  The question that puzzles me is what happened during the intervening years ? 
When wrestling started to go into decline on this side of the Atlantic many of the top stars decamped to America to reappear on the new circuits that were being set up by the likes of Toots Mondt. What happened to the bulk of British journeymen wrestlers that survived the war? Did they simply go back to work in the pits and mills and keep the skills alive by having a pull around with their mates? One thing is for sure the rigid and class bound segregation of professional and amateur sport would have meant that a return to the amateur ranks was out of the question.  None the less all those skilled wrestlers who made All-In the huge success that it was must have come from somewhere. Certainly the Lancashire catch wrestlers and Cumberland and Westmoreland stylists would have been wrestling for side bets and no doubt troupes of grapplers were working the travelling fairs taking on local lads in the time honoured way, but British professional wrestling in the sense of a form of entertainment for paying customers seems to have disappeared in the years leading up to the First World War only to reappear in a completely new form at the height of the inter-war depression.  1914 to 1930 really are the lost years.

1 comment:

Hack said...

Like everything on this blog this is a well written and interesting piece on an intriguing subject. The question posed has mystefied me for forty years (let me know when you have the answer).

The Wrestling Heritage site deals with the 1946-88 period, all we have in our record books for these lost years are these from the Ray Plunkett collection

19th February 1914
Duke Perkins 2-1 Al Holland(to become SOMERSET/DORSET HVY CHAMP)
Young Clifton 1-0 Bruton Boy
Ted Smith 0-0 Maurice Latchford

22nd April 1914
Bruton Boy 1-0 Johnny Gregory
Al Holland 2-1 Cyril Marks
Young Clifton 2-1 Brian Wade (SOMERSET JNR TITLE)
Duke Perkins 2-1 Jim Strong (SOMERSET/DORSET HVY TITLES)

6th June 1914
Duke Perkins 1-0 John Parsons
Jim Strong 1-0 Al Holland
Young Clifton NC Bruton Boy
Johnny Gregory 1-0 Brian Wade
Jim Strong kod Duke Perkins to win (SOMERSET/DORSET TITLE)

16th April 1922
Cecil Curtis kod John Bolton
Arthur Skard 1-0 Kenny Chant
Nogger White 2-0 Cyril Trollope to win (S WILTS TITLE)

28th June 1922
Nogger White 1-0 Ken Chant
Cecil Curtis 1-0 Cyril Trollope
Ken Chant 1-0 Cecil Curtis
Nogger White 1-0 Cyril Trollope
Nogger White 0-0 Cecil Curtis
Cyril Trollope stpd Cecil Chant

15th July 1922
Nogger White kod Ken Chard (S WILTS TITLE)
Butcher Nash 2-1 Johnny Bolton
Cyril Trollope 1-0 Arthur Skard
Maxwell Baxter 1-0 Horace Jenkins

28th November 1922
Nogger White v Butcher Nash-abandoned after 71mins of 90 min.,
due to both men being completely exhausted and hospitalised after
the bout,White for 9 days and Nash for 12 days.
Maxwell Baxter stpd Arthur Skard
Cecil Curtis 1-0 Johnny Bolton

23rd March 1923
George Relwyskow Snr v Jack O’Grady
George Smith v Young Hopey
Arthur Wilds v Young James
George Gill v Jack Burke
Seaman Carrington v Billy Hampson