History of Sport in Cornwall
The 2016 Sport Relief evening coincided very appropriately with Constantine History Group’s March talk on the History of Sport in Cornwall, given by former Cornwall Museum Development officer and local historian Jo Mattingley, the talk was illustrated with objects to be found in Cornwall’s museums.
Cornish wrestling or “wrasslin” has a history probably lost in time. In the 1700s Sir Thomas Parkyns became fascinated by the variations in rules applied in different part of England and published a book in 1713. All of his male servants and coachman had to be participants in the sport. Another early sport was out hurling which involved 12-15 participants and toe to toe wrestling. It was recorded by Edward Lhuyds in 1700. In hurling involved 20 – 25 per side. In 1205 a sport called soule is recorded, this could well be an early form of hurling. Players of this game were known to be killed. Certainly the older established sports had a reputation for excessive drinking, gambling and violence. Not surprisingly the rise of Methodism saw chapel members protesting at wrestling matches. It is possible that Thomas Arnold developed the game of rugby from a knowledge of hurling gained from his Cornish wife. Bert Solomon, a Cornishman, scored the first try for England in the first ever game at Twickenham.
Although rugby is popular in Cornwall more football was played in the past. A highlight was the 1967 game between Manchester United and Mousehole AFC.
Bowling was a game for the upper classes and many large houses had their bowling green, the green at Lhanhydrock dates back to at least the 1690s and is one of the earliest in Cornwall. Kayles was a version of skittles played by the working class. Records of the game include complaints that men played all day instead of working and had to be brought their meals!
Cockfighting and bull and bear baiting were common until banned in the 19th century. The Bull post can still be seen in Liskeard.
Cricket by 1856 was popular in the county with all communities with over 2000 inhabitants having cricket teas apart from Saltash! In 1773 there was a match for married and unmarried gentlemen in Falmouth, whilst in 1813 the first Truro cricket ground was established on the Olympic Field. Later in Boscawen Park there was an early international game between the England and Indian Women’s teams – England one by three wickets. An analysis of scores in the 19th century interestingly shows few over 80, centuries were very rare.
Sports days were common to many communities as were the regattas around the coast. On the water events provided opportunities for gig racing and on the Tamar and Fal there were flashboat competitions. Surfing has been a sport since the 1920s, Perranporth being an early centre.
Jo finished her talk by mentioning Lerryn’s jumping postman who completed for Cornwall at Crystal Palace. He won 510 competitions and used the prize money to build a row of cottages in his home village. Winning prize money meant that this Cornish star was not eligible for the Olympics.
Chairman for the evening, Peter Tatham, thanked Jo for taking us through 300 years of history. The next talk will be on April 15th at 19.15 in the Constantine WI Hall, when Janet Axten will be speaking on the History of St Ives.