Wrestling, or, as it is pronounced in the north, ‘warstlin’,’ ‘worstlin’,’ or ‘wrustlin’,’ has a very ancient pedigree. (p. 133)….
Grasmere is to-day the Olympia for wrestling in the North. There was a time when it was ten chances to one that Keswick would be the centre. The ring on the Swifts, at Carlisle, was closed for four years, and the wrestling was removed to Crow Park in 1818, by the banks of Derwentwater. Then and for a few subsequent years, largely owing to the exertions of Mr. Pocklington of Barrow, Keswick became the gathering ground of the most important wrestling in the North. (p. 135)
It may be safely said that the Grasmere sports to-day, in so far as they are a popular gathering for the gentlefolk of the county, owe their popularity to Christopher Wilson. He not only made a practice of trying a fall with the winner at the Ambleside or Ferry Ring, but, backed up by the son of the Bishop of Llandaff, of Calgarth, Richard Watson, he got all his friends amongst the resident gentry to take an interest in the wrestling and to attend meetings. Still in the farm houses may be seen the simple challenge belt presented by the steward of the Windermere Regatta, and still men speak of the “girt professor wha was a varra bad un to lick.” (p. 135)
But Christopher Wilson’s personal example has not been followed, and it is a thousand pities that we never see in the wrestling ring at Grasmere the gentleman amateur as opposed to the professional wrestler. This is mainly owing to the fact that this grandest of games of skill has never been fostered at any of our public schools, and the sport has been left to the fellside shepherd and the farmer or miner of the countryside. (pp. 135-136)
It is a good thing for the nobility and gentry to be interested in this noble athletic sport. It is a better thing for England that the love of wrestling is not dependent upon their patronage. The really interested spectators at Grasmere are not the carriage folk who come together largely to see one another, but the fellsiders who sit on the grass or the wooden seats round the ring. (p. 136)….
It is true that football and cricket have tended to oust wrestling from the towns, but in the far-off fellside farms the barn floor still sees twinkle of legs and feet, and echoes to the result of ‘hype’ and ‘buttock’ in spare times after work. And though the thirst for money prizes and the gambling craze has brought in ‘barneying’ and the buying and selling of falls in professional rings, there is still, as may be witnessed at Grasmere, a large number of the breeches and flannel-shirt order who have no wish to be promoted to singlet and drawers, and who love the sport for the sport’s sake, and wrestle for pure joy in the skill of the game. (p. 137)….
We are all just now a little Japanese-mad, and one of the things our allies are teaching us is the worth of self-mastery. We cannot learn this better than in the wrestling ring. To be able to meet your man with a smile, and after tremendous exertion to be thrown right over his shoulder or clean off the breast, and then to rise and shake hands, as if one felt one’s friendship was the stronger for the fall:—this is fine discipline; and to know that the least loss of temper during the agony of struggle means loss of victory is in every way a gain to character (p. 139)
It is true that the old Viking power to endure all things, makes for the self-mastery necessary in this sport of their sons in Cumberland and Westmoreland, but if the gambling instinct is kept out of the ring the fellside farms can be trusted to go on giving us just the stuff in bone and sinew, in mind and temper, which has made famous the name of Cumberland and Westmoreland for the past two centuries, and the nation will be the gainer. In no other trial of actual bodily skill does art have such chance against mere brute force. A little man, whose arms are so short that he actually cannot make fingers meet round the girth of the vast back of his opponent, will grass his man as if by magic. It is a day when this gospel needs preaching. We must not leave it to Japan to be the only gospeller. The Grasmere ring may have the message for us all, that science and not bulk, spirit and not force, shall have the mastery. (p. 139)
(Months at the Lakes, pp. 133-139)