David Line reveals the little known connection between The Globe Inn at Blofield
and a long-lost Norfolk sport. Illustrations by Julia Line
Wrestling in Blofield
On the first Tuesday after Whitsun the "Collars and Elbow Men" gathered in the courtyards
and gardens of inns and ale houses across the county of Norfolk to show off their
skills and courage in what was a more brutal and bruising form of wrestling than
we know today.
How the sport vanished remains a mystery and these days there are references to only
two venues where the sport took place - the Globe Inn at Blofield and the Falcon
at Limpenhoe. Norfolk wrestling bore few similarities to the Cumberland or Cornish
equivalents relying on only six basic holds and the use of feet and legs to kick
the opponents out of the way.
Had it not be for the work of Charles Layton, who lived at Ber Street Gates in Norwich
sometime during the early part of the nineteenth century or late eighteenth, all
records of Norfolk Wrestling could have been lost forever.
Layton published a pamphlet called "The Whole Art of Norfolk Wrestling" which outlines
the basic holds, style of dress and social rules governing all those competing in
Layton believed that Norfolk Wrestling improved the man and his courage, unlike others
who assert "the sport makes a man contentious and quarrelsome, and only fills him
full of pride and conceit of himself". He strongly defends the sport in the opening
passage of his pamphlet. He says "It (Norfolk Wrestling) is useful; and I verily
believe if there was an army of wrestlers engaged in a skirmish, and had spent all
their ammunition, rather than turn their backs on the enemies, they would try their
efforts and grapple with them, and make them stink a little matter of shoe leather"
It was the footwear used which largely singled out Norfolk Wrestlers as unique. Shoes
had to be un-nailed with extended toes so that competitors could hook out their opponents
legs. It certainly seems lower legs suffered considerable injury during the course
of a contest as Layton describes - "I verily believe many wrestlers might doctor
their own shins when occasions requires it" and "that after the wrestling match is
over, and the prizes be decided upon, the wrestlers shall repair to the public house,
from whence the wrestle was made, and ought to have room for themselves, if it could
be made convenient, in order to dress one another`s legs".
Layton frequently refers to how the women of Norfolk disliked the art of Norfolk
Wrestling because of the amount of repair work needed to the wrestlers clothes after
the bouts. He writes - "I cannot say that I ever heard of many women who approved
our Norfolk collar-hold play. The rending and tearing of jackets for them to mend,
when they might have been otherwise employed, more to their satisfaction"
Charles Layton was not just an observer and archivist of the sport, but an active
participant. His skills earned him the title of "The Celebrated Game Chicken" and
in verse he describes how he was so named:-