Object of the Month: July 2024
It’s Ambleside Sports soon, which was first held 138 years ago in 1886. Therefore, we’ve picked these photos of Cumberland wrestling events as July’s Object of the Month.

These photos were taken by Joseph Hardman (1893-1972). They are undated but are thought to have been taken at some point from the 1920s to the 1960s. Hardman was born in Radcliffe, near Manchester, but moved to Kendal in 1911 and joined the local Photographic Society. He took tens of thousands of photos over the course of six decades, recording day-to-day life in Cumbria. We have a large collection of his work here in the museum archive.

Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling comes under the umbrella of North Country wrestling, a martial art that many believe evolved from Norse wrestling. That makes this style of wrestling over 1000 years old! It shares many similarities with the Scottish backhold and Icelandic Glima wrestling.

The style became popular in the region, although early reports of wrestling meets do not make it clear whether these contests were held as part of larger events. By the late 18th century there began to be regular ‘meets’ where men would compete against each other for prizes.
The chief meets were the Melmerby and Langwathby Rounds, which were held annually around New Year’s and Midsummer’s Day. Winners received silver cups, leather breeches, and other valuable items for fighting well. Early famous wrestlers included Adam Dodd of Langwathby Mill, Thomas Johnston of Workington Hall, and John Tinian of Holm Cultram.
Now, Cumberland wrestling is a key contest at many local summer events, with a Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling Association. More recently, women have entered the ring, and Connie Hodgson won the first Ladies all Weight World Championships in 2016.

All contests are between two wrestlers and begin with a handshake. A referee is in control of the bout and will ensure that each wrestler has a fair hold and will instruct both wrestlers to be “on guard”, then the bout begins when the referee says “wrestle.”

The aim of the bout is very simple – to put your opponent on the ground. The wrestler who touches the ground first with any part of his body above his ankle is the loser. Any wrestler who loses his grip before the bout is completed is the loser. A wrestler can use any fair means to win a bout: he can lift, swing, twist and trip to gain a fall.

Learn more about Joseph Hardman’s work and Cumbrian sports at The Armitt Museum, but don’t try this at home!

• The Armitt Collection
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