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Archiver > DEVON > 1999-08 > 0934141479


From: "John Milsom" <>
Subject: Wrestling in Devon - CANN
Date: Sun, 8 Aug 1999 20:44:39 +0100


Lois and David both claim descent from champion wrestlers: William WHITE
(b. in Milton Abbott c1836) and John DREW (b.1786).

I've also come across a wrestler, said to be related though I'm having
great trouble proving that!

This Abraham CANN (1794-1864) came from Colebrooke near Crediton. He
beat William Polkinghorne, the Cornish champion, at Tamar Green, Morice
Town, Plymouth on 23 October 1826 in the presence of 17,000 spectators
(10,000 paid, the rest viewed from the hills around the site) for a
prize of £200. It was, apparently, a mismatch of weights: Cann was 5ft
8.5 ins weighing 175lb whilst Polkinghorne was 6ft 2ins weighing 320lb,
though had not wrestled for some years. It was also a clash of
cultures: "kickers" from Devon versus "huggers" from Cornwall.

The contest is graphically described with details such as that Cann had
shoes (or was it only one?) described as a "monstrous pair whose toes
had been baked into flints" and Polkinghorne fought in his "stockings".
The match was the best of three back-falls, the men to catch what hold
they could. After succeeding in throwing Cann early in the fight,
Polkinghorne was later thrown by his opponent. Both fighters were
suffering by the tenth round though Polkinghorne did throw Cann to the
ground. But the throw was disputed and Polkinghorne left in disgust
only for the victory to be awarded to Cann - or was it? - one
description has it down as a draw!

Nevertheless, the victory is commemorated by a plaque on the "Red Lion"
public house at St Columb Major where Polkinghorne was the landlord.

Apparently wrestling in Devon went out of fashion once it was seen that
it was "brutal to hack the shins, and after the hobnailed boot, or boot
hardened in blood and at the fire, was discarded"!

I've taken these comments from some photocopied pages kindly sent to me.
One source was "Devonshire Characters" by S Baring Gould of which one
chapter seems to be devoted to Devonshire Wrestlers. Another was from
the entry for Cann, Abraham in "Dictionary of National Biography". I'm
not sure how old these were but suspect that both are well out of print
now. Each quotes the "Sporting Magazine, 1826/7" and "Annual Register,
1826" as sources, and one gives "Times, 23 Sept 1826, page 3".

And my problem? I'm desperate to find the parents of Robert CANN,
probably born in Sandford in 1844/5. There are at least three recorded
births and census entries which might apply and it could even be that
his birth was not registered! Given some of the recent complaints of
impatience over a lack of response to cries for help, I should add that
I've been hammering on this brick wall for about 25 years so far.
Perhaps I should bake my shoes and give it a good kick!

John Milsom

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