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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


The Trippett

Haward’s Hank

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 the sport.


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:-


And from time to time I do declare

A wrestle took place scarce any where

But what I went if poss`bly could,

And for the prize I firmly stood;

And as I so well did bear the kicking,

They nam`d and call`d me the game chicken

The Loose Leg

The Double Touch

The Flying Hobby

The Blackguard Snatch

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