Ultimate History of Pro Wrestling - A Time Line of Every Major Event in Pro Wrestling History - 1798

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool, karl@whenitwascool.com)

Much of the text of this entry comes from issue 82 of the DragonKing Press Newsletter available as a downloadable .pdf in the digital downloads section.


In Northern England a carnival wrestler named William Richardson wins his first wrestling match.  Richardson supposedly goes undefeated from 1801 to 1809.

The following is written about William Richardson in the book titled... and I swear I'm not making this up- Wrestling and Wrestlers : Biographical Sketches of Celebrated Athletes of the Northern Ring; to which is added notes on bull and badger baiting.  

The entry also gives a possible early date origin for the use of championship belts in wrestling.



WHEN Professor Wilson wrote a review of William Litt's popular "Wrestliana," for Blackwood' s Magazine he stated that WILLIAM RICHARDSON of Caldbeck, the winner of two hundred and forty wrestling trophies or "belts," was "better entitled than old Howard of Castle Dacre himself to the cognomen of 'Belted Will.'" From this sweeping dictum of the presiding spirit of old Maga, we are inclined to dissent. William Richardson doubtless
gained his formidable list of prize "belts" mostly in well contested but harmless fields of strife, and is fully entitled to the proud distinction of having his familiar Caldbeck patronymic, "Will Ritson," elevated into "Belted Will." How, however, he is "better entitled" than the grand border chieftain of the Howards one of the most celebrated heroes
that shone in the long and deadly feuds which prevailed for generations between the rival border houses of Scotland and England we are at a loss to conceive. Besides, they earned a similar designation in such different fields.

One is rendered for ever famous as one of the most renowned actors in the fierce border raids that were wont to arise between England and Scotland a historic celebrity handed down to all time ; and whose sword and belt still preserved amongst the Howard relics
astonish everyone attempting to handle them. It is inconceivable that any one ever existed with sufficient strength to wield such formidable weapons, without we fall back to that giant of a "long time ago," yclept Samson, or to the other strong man of heathen mythology, Hercules. Richardson, holding a high place in the wrestling arenas of the north, and formidable from his overpowering strength, contended only in fields where, it is true, there was keen determined rivalry, but of an entirely harmless description to life or limb plenty brought to grass in a rough, tumble-down, unwelcome manner, but not ending with the death-struggles of infuriate moss-troopers, hating each other with a savage
bitterness almost inconceivable at the present day.

William Richardson was born at Haltclift, in Caldbeck parish, in March, 1780. In the rural
districts of Cumberland, families were frequently numerous. The Richardsons were of this description the subject of our present memoir being the eldest but one of thirteen children. In his own neighbourhood, indeed almost throughout Cumberland, he became familiarly known as " Ritson," or "Rutson." In order to make his way in the world, he was brought up to the occupation of a joiner, and continued to follow the business for some years; but having a strong inclination for farming, and breeding Herdwick sheep, he gave it up, and settled on an estate called Netherrow, near Caldbeck. This farm was in the occupation of his father and himself for eighty years. 

Richardson measured in height, five feet nine-and-a-half inches, and weighed fully fourteen stones. He was a man well and strongly built from "top to toe;" slightly round shouldered and round backed; with a fine, broad, expansive chest; possessing tremendous strength of arm; and had a " neck like a bull." He lived till February, 1860, having attained his eightieth year; and it became a common remark that up to nearly the
final shuffling off this mortal coil, he had the lightest foot, and was the "lishest" walker of any old man in the neighbourhood of Caldbeck. At Faulds Brow sports, when a hale hearty stager of more than three-score-and-ten years, he challenged to wrestle any man in England of his own age.

We once witnessed, too, at Newcastle, in 1861, another septuagenarian, named Thomas Fawcett, from the neighbourhood of Kendal, challenge any man in England or Scotland of a like age. He stood six feet one inch, appeared uncommonly active, and straight as a maypole. Real "grit" these, our transatlantic cousins would say. Yes, it is such men that make Cumberland and Westmorland athletes superior to all the world. 

The hype became Richardson's main chip; and a favourite method of stopping an opponent at which he was allowed to be a great adept was to give him a sudden click "kind o' bear him off his feet" and then lift and hype. If an opponent should attempt buttocking, his unrivalled strength of arm enabled him to gather his adversary up with
a vice-like grip, anything but pleasant. Indeed, he never was buttocked but once, in the whole of a long career, and that once by John Nicholson of Threlkeld, in private practice one summer night in the neighbourhood of Ousebridge. 

"Will" scored his first prize when only eighteen years old, at Soukerry, in his native parish. The sports held there annually ranked amongst the oldest and best local gatherings in Cumberland, and being in the midst of a good wrestling country, several noted men attended yearly. From the manner in which the youngster disposed of all comers, he was pronounced to be a promising "colt" for future work. After gaining this, his first victorious effort, in a strong entry, Richardson wrestled with marked success through many rings
of course, like others, getting a "topple over" now and then. When about twenty-one years old, he entered into the spirit of the sport with wonderful enthusiasm, and determination not to be beaten. Two remarkable circumstances, in a prolonged career, are worth relating. He was never "felled" a single fall, by any mortal man, between the age of twenty-one and twenty-eight; that is to say, from 1801 to 1808 or 1809, during which period he attended almost all the sports held between Calderbridge on the south-west, Pooleybridge on the east, and all through the north to the Scottish borders. 

And he was never "felled" two falls together but once in his life, when a mere stripling, at Harrop sports, between Embleton and Lorton. Job Tinnian of Holme Cultram (one of a distinguished wrestling and fighting family, a good striker, and proficient with the buttock), and Richardson, were matched for a guinea, the best of three falls. Job got the two last, and his opponent the first. Tinnian who measured six feet six inches in height doffed
his shirt, and had his back so thoroughly soaped, there was no holding him. Previous to the match, Richardson had thrown him for the head prize at the sports, and then again next day at a "Bride wain" at Southwaite, about two miles from Cockermouth, on the Lorton road. Job Tinnian had a daughter, who, we believe, grew to be such a giantess, 
that she was taken about as a show, and exhibited in the Blue Bell at Carlisle, and various other places. 

During the latter part of the last century, and in the early part of the present one, the head prizes at the various wrestling meetings were of a most primitive description, consisting either of a homely leather "belt" with an inscription, giving name of place, date, and name of winner or a "brutches piece," a suitable length of buckskin or broadcloth, for making a pair of breeches ; and occasionally, but very rarely, a silver cup. Unlike the present day, liberal money prizes did not tempt competitors on the village greens. 

While the century was still young, some enterprising individual announced that a "golden guinea" the first ever given in Cumberland for a like purpose would be presented to the winner of the head prize at Highmoor sports, near Wigton. The offering of such a gilded bait quite a novelty naturally drew together a strong field of active young athletes. William Richardson of Caldbeck, among the rest, put in an appearance. Much resolute wrestling occurred, as round after round passed over. When the ranks became thinner and thinner, the two last standers proved to be one Todd, a spirit merchant from Wigton, and Richardson. The former was familiarly spoken of in the neighbourhood as "Brandy Todd." He was a powerful built man, nearly six feet high, and a great enthusiast in wrestling, pedestrianism, and dog-trailing. The two men should have been matched on several previous occasions, and this being the first, indeed, the only time they ever met in any ring, the excitement became intense. The Wigtonians being in great numbers, "crowed very crouse." Some of the more boisterous ones tried to banter and upset the self-possession of Richardson, by shouting in derision " Browte up wid poddish an' kurn milk ! what can thoo deu, I wad like to know? Go bon ! Brandy 'ill fling thee oot o' t' ring, like a bag o' caff!" The men stood up ready for action. Holds were obtained, after some delay in fencing ; a brief struggle ensued, and the huge spirit-merchant measured his full length on the green-sward. His friends were dumb-foundered at the sudden fall of their hero. The opposite party, highly elated, cried out, much to the discomfiture of poor Todd " Ha ! ha ! Codbeck kurn't milk's stranger ner Wigton brandy efter aw t' rattle !" 

When Richardson was in his prime, sports or races were held at the Beehive Inn, Deanscale, near Lamplugh. One Shepherd Pearson, from about Wythop, made a curious and, to look at the terms, foolish wager. He bet a ten pound note that he would find a man to win the wrestling ; another to win the foot-race ; and a hound to win the dog-trail, at the Beehive sports. Now, it is well known how very much odds increase on a double
event, but here are evens to win three events. Exceedingly foolish ! but nevertheless the bet was won. The chosen champion proved to be Richardson for the wrestling ; John Todhunter of Mungrisdale, near Threlkeld, for the foot race ; and "Towler," belonging to John Harrison of Caldbeck, for the dog-trail. Curiously enough, all three nominations succeeded in winning the head prize in their respective entries ; and Pearson carried
off his risky wager with a triumphant flourish. 

A feud of long standing, it appears, had existed between William Litt and Richardson. This feud no doubt gave a colour to various statements, and places us on rather delicate ground in endeavouring to do justice to both parties. Our object, however, is to speak of each man truthfully and impartially to let neither colour "the even tenor of our way."  The couple had met at several sports in West Cumberland; and on one occasion, when drawn
together, Richardson had succeeded in disposing of Litt. The latter, however, was, as he termed it, in his "novitiate." No doubt the fall was highly unpalatable to the loser, and at length resulted in a challenge being given and accepted. The meeting ended unsatisfactorily. Both men drew up to their posts at the appointed time, Litt shewing unmistakeable signs of being "fresh i' drink." When requested to make ready for the contest, he gave a point blank refusal, saying he "wad nowder strip nor russell !" Here was an awkward fix ! What was to be done ? After a considerable amount of "higgling" had been gone through, another match was made, for ten pounds a side, to come off at the Green Dragon, Workington Litt being backed by his brother, a medical man of good standing. On the appointed day, Richardson and his friends were on the ground to the minute. For some reason or other, Litt did not put in an appearance. His brother the doctor went into the ring, and held his watch till the full time specified in the agreement
had expired, and then very honourably handed the money over to Richardson, saying: "I can give no reason why my brother has not fulfilled the conditions of his engagement." In after years, when the bitterness of old feuds was nearly, if not altogether worn out, Litt expressed regret that he had treated Richardson's merits as a wrestler somewhat scurvily in Wrestliana. 

Wrestling Book.JPG

A sketch from Wrestling and Wrestlers : Biographical Sketches of Celebrated Athletes of the Northern Ring; to which is added notes on bull and badger baiting.

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