James Polkinghorne, the Cornish Wrestler, Artist Unknown
Oil on canvas, English School, 19th century. In the 15th century, wrestling was the national sport of Cornwall and historical sources have written that, at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Cornish men fought under a banner depicting two wrestlers in a lock. James Polkinghorne (1788-1854) was one of Cornwall's greatest wrestlers and his best known match, against Abraham Cann of Colebrooke in Devon, happened on 23rd October 1826 and attracted over 10,000 spectators. Though the fight finished a draw, it was not without drama and Cann's biographer relates the match in detail, noting the different Cornish and Devon styles of wrestling. The fight became so famous that a folk song was written about the event. As a Cornish wrestler, Polkinghorne was known as a 'hugger' who fought barefoot, whereas his adversary dressed in the traditional Devon style, with heavy boots soaked in bullock's blood.