WILLIAM’S LAKE WALK
In 1824, William Litt wrote an account of his attendance at the Windermere Regatta. It was published in the local paper, the Cumberland Pacquet. I think it’s probably his best piece of writing, outside his book Wrestliana. Although I tried, I couldn’t find anywhere to include it – or even mention it – in my own Wrestliana. To make up for that, I’m going to post it here.
To the Editor of the Cumberland Pacquet.
SIR. — Were I to choose a familiar correspondent when writing upon an indifferent subject, I would invariably prefer the Editor of a Newspaper – because I should then almost feel myself warranted in multiplying, or at least doubling myself, and therefore, Sir, as some account of my late excursion to Windermere will be expected by the public, I ought to be allowed the liberty of adopting the little inconsequential editorial mony-syllable we, which I infinitely prefer, as in such a case it appears equally as important, and much less assuming than I, which sounds very pompous and egotistical, and looks not the less so from always being written in its full dimensions.
Whenever we undertake a journey for pleasure, fine weather and leisure, if in our power to choose, we always prefer to walk. The first, when stinted to time is, to be sure, somewhat risky, but on this occasion we had it in full perfection ; and as we started betimes on Wednesday, we had an opportunity of observing all along that Wheat and Potatoes had never looked better, and that Hardknot and Wrynose stood exactly where they did in 1811. This must be very agreeable to all classes, as our veracity is unquestionable; and food, good and cheap, and no probability of these stupendous mountains overwhelming any of it, are surely things not to be sneered at. We do not wish to interfere with the regular Tourists, and shall therefore only observe, that the road from the foot of Wrynose by Scalewith Bridge to Ambleside seemed much more pleasant than on our former journey, for which variation we assign the following reasons : — First, the season was better, and therefore the prospects appeared to more advantage; secondly, the day was finer, and not so near its close, and darkness, we have always observed to be a most gigantic impediment to a clear view of any country whatever; and thirdly, we had company, the advantages of which are too palpable to need description. We had no reason to complain of our entertainment on our former visit, but the house of an agreeable acquaintance, and an old brother of the ring is, to us, a second home. Refreshment – we always on such occasions prefer tea – a little chaffing relative to the ensuing sports, with some very friendly lads not altogether unknown to us, made the evening pass smoothly on, and a good bed enabled us to rise in a proper mood for relishing the pleasures of the Regatta.
Mark ye, my readers, I consider myself on terms of perfect equality with many of you. I know that you expected some account of these proceedings from me, and therefore, if I choose not to disappoint, I think myself bound to deal plainly with you, and consequently will make no pretence to describe what I did not see. The Races were over before I got to Low Wood, and concerning them I can only inform you that the account in the Westmorland Gazette is very correct. The Grand Aquatic Procession then commenced, and never did I witness anything so beautiful or picturesque. The harmonious strains of the music in the barge threw such an enchantment over the spectacle, which, of itself, was so superior and imposing to whatever had been seen upon any of the northern Lakes, as at once to delight and astonish every civilized spectator. With a meaning worthy of the Gentleman to whom the arrangement was confided, and with whom the scheme first originated, the evolutions of the procession were rendered more instructive and impressive by adopting the manoeuvres of our immortal Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. Here, there was a scene worthy of every patriotic Briton, and well may Westmorland be proud of the conduct of her resident gentry on this occasion. Every idea of party spirit was as placid as the clear element on which they rode, and those energetic feelings of the mind, which constitute the distinguished characteristics of Englishmen, determined to preserve their independence as firm as the hills that surrounded them, were as lofty and boundless as the clouds which canopied, and the breeze which gently agitated the streamers, that at once served to distinguish and ornament the most conspicuous of the varied Flotilla.
Immediately after the termination of this most delightful spectacle, the trial of speed commenced. There is no ground favourable for such an exhibition in the vicinity of Ambleside, and the combat was decided upon the highway, the competitors starting from opposite the Inn, and turning round two men, one stationed on the road leading to Bowness, and the other on that towards Ambleside. The crowd was great – the road dusty and unequal – and the prize easily won by a native of Green Erin, of the name of Campbell, but who is now married and residing in Ambleside. Campbell is a little, dark looking man, and pretty well advanced in years, and we understand entertains an idea of extending his conquests, which, it is said, are nearly coequal to his exhibitions somewhat beyond the precincts of Westmorland, and therefore, ye gentlemen of Keswick, we off to your acceptance one bottle of Ginger Beer, and one piece of the largest silver coin current in this kingdom – for we will not bet gold – on the heel, not the head of this Patlander, against any light-footed native swain, not only of your own far famed vale, but of the County which boasts your beauties as one of its most attractive embellishments. The said wager, if it please you to accept it, to be decided at the trial of pedestrian prowess which we expect to witness at your approaching Races.
The concourse of people, which was never what we, in the vicinity of the great and populous town of Whitehaven, would call large, but which on the banks of Windermere might justly be deemed immense, now separated. The Ladies and Gentlemen to partake of the respective repasts provided for them, and the commonality either to the ring, where the leaping soon after commenced, or to enjoy themselves with what they could procure in the different receptacles contiguous to the inn. The taste and elegance displayed in the selection and arrangement of the plentiful collations were creditable to Mrs. and Miss Robinson, but the company exceeded all calculation, and great number that could not be accommodated were obliged to seek refreshment elsewhere.
The leaping was meanwhile carried on with as much spirit as the dry and hard state of the ground permitted and the competitors, we understand, were pretty numerous; but, here again we can only refer to the Westmorland Gazette, as we were then present to the ordinary, where the name of the Gentleman who presided, Professor WILSON, is quite sufficient to account for the unanimity and hilarity which delighted and gratified every Gentleman present on this joyful occasion.
We come now to a circumstance which is rather embarrassing to one so extremely diffident as we are allowed to be and which our modesty would not permit us to mention, were it not so well known, that omission might occasion more conjecture to the particular manner in which it was done and received, than we are willing to be the subject of – we mean the drinking our health, with three times three, as that of a man whose efforts had contributed to rouse the attention of the great to the importance of athletic exercises – Had we omitted stating this, it would have appeared neglectful if not ungrateful in us and might probably have afforded some of our friends an opportunity of buttering us, in recapitulating our thanks for the great and unmerited honour ; but this we will avoid by distinctly stating that we had so little idea of being thus distinguished, that we were overpowered by surprise, and made but at stammering reply in return, yet we trust sufficiently luminous to convince the Gentlemen of the just sense we entertained of the high compliment paid us. – Exactly at five o’clock the Gentlemen adjourned to the Ring, where the most elegant belt we ever saw, and five guineas to the victor, two to the second, and one to the third, were contested for as follows:
James Beetham William […]
William Sands James Dixon
The wrestling was certainly not equal to what might have been expected from the very handsome prizes which were given. Sands was the only Cumberland wrestler present, and his vast superiority over the other men in the ring probably dampened their exertions. It was, in fact, Windermere to a windmill, as none of his competitors could bid him wrestle ; and if any thirteen stone man in the kingdom chooses, he may be accommodated for from ten to fifty sovereigns. Many very liberal prizes were afterwards given to chosen men, who were supposed by the umpires to rate nearly equal, and these displays were very superior to the principal wrestling, and afforded much amusement to the Gentlemen present. Yet notwithstanding this great, nay unprecedented encouragement, from any observation we could make, it will be some time before Westmorland or Lancashire will produce a wrestler of sufficient celebrity to cause any sensation in the Cumberland rings —
One of the best and most successful in the bye-matches was George Irvine. He was victor in a match with Preston, which was well contested, and he likewise won the [sum] given to the eight last standers, throwing Tyson (who won the running leap) the best of three falls. As to Beetham and Hodgson, who threw our old friend, Rowland Long, they are both very likely young men, and taller than Sands, but their faults are the same which characterized the other candidates of first rate weight. They wanted steadiness, and took hold with their joints loose and their muscles unbraced, and seemed to know nothing of the great additional energy with which a wrestler either attacks or defends before he draws his breath after the hold is taken.
We now call the scientific reader’s attention to the manner of the wrestling, or the regular method of calling the first and last men together. Ticketing has no other recommendation, even with its most strenuous advocates, than the uncertainty attending it ; and it cannot surely be contended by any man of common sense, that uncertainty can possibly be equal to a regular system. We ask the other umpires, both of whom have had much experience, if they ever saw the same number of men wrestle through in the same time? We ask the writer and the gentlemen who assisted him, if it be possible to give the names with the same accuracy, the same dispatch, or the same impossibility of confusion? We ask the Gentleman who gave the prizes if it be not much pleasanter to contradict all assertion of names being called purposely together, by referring to a regular list, than to be eternally tormented with idle and even groundless stories of the unfairness of the conductors of the sport in this respect ? We ask the Wrestlers themselves, if it be not more agreeable to them to divest either umpire or conductor of all such power? And finally we appeal to all men of common sense, if the mode we recommend does not combine regularity with sufficient uncertainty?
Now, ye Gentlemen of Workington and Whitehaven, suffer me to pay the highest compliment in my power to the Gentlemen of Westmorland, by recommending you to follow their example. Is sailing the object of your pleasure, as it is the means of your affluence? do not the waves of the Frith lave the very dwellings of your goodly towns to which Windermere, though a noble sheet of water, is but a fishpond ; and could you not, by consulting time and tide, if the weather proved favourable, command a procession, to which even the fascinating scene I have endeavoured to describe would scarcely form a shade in picture. And if you prefer Races, or Athletic Performances, are you not more favourably situated for witnessing them than the unequal, however beautiful country in the vicinity of the Lakes will ever permit? If you question their utility, we urge their importance to your own interests, the happiness of your fellow townsmen, and their tendency to extend the religion of that Established Church of which the great majority of you are members. You need not stare at our motives, they are clear and sufficiently convincing. May not the proportionate number of dissenters be estimated, in every part of the kingdom, by the extent of the practice of innocent and interesting diversions in the vicinity of each place? And are not your towns so overrun with schismatics of different denominations, that more than a majority are found to be in their ranks ? and is it not natural it should be so? If the labouring man is to be a continual drudge, and enjoy no recreation, it will depress his spirits and unhinge the energies of his mind so much, that he will listen to those only who are continually ringing in his ears, and impressing on his mind, the most gloomy pictures of this, and the terrors of a future state ? And when such ascetic doctrines are rapidly gaining ground, will they not become alarming to you as individuals, and dangerous to the National Establishments ? It is our serious belief, that well regulated diversions, while they are innocent in themselves, would tend more to enliven the spirits of the commonalty, and counteract the effects of that despicable trash which is frequently disseminated amongst them, and therefore tend more to advance the interests of the Established Religion than all the churches built, and to be built in this century, without them.