Blind Leading the Blind

At the top of my ancestry ‘To Do’ list for many years now has been ‘Find out who Blind Wreford is’.

Today I’ve finally found out…

I’m not even sure where I first heard of Blind Wreford but I’ve kept an eye out for any mention of him.  Finally I found mention of him in obituary for another old wrestler, John Bolt.


He was full of anecdotes of “Blind Wreford,” a wealthy farmer of Cheriton, whodied in 1835 at a very advanced age, and who, notwithstanding his blindness, was a renowned wrestler, often followed the hounds without sustaining severe falls, and was an excellent judge of the weight and general qualities of cattle.”


According to this, he had been totally blind since he was 8. “He was a strongly limbed, well grown and powerful man, about 5 feet 10 in. in height, and was usually led into the ring by a boy, as a guide, and indulged with the privilege of taking hold of his antagonist by the collar…”

I’m really surprised that it’s been so hard to find mention of this guy as he really does seem quite extraordinary.

Wrestling Legend

I had some credits to spare at ‘Find My Past’ so I trawled the newspapers and found some references to my ‘celebrity’ ancestor, William WREFORD (introduced here).

In the Western Times (Tuesday, February 27, 1866):

The eyes of all classes of politicians are now on the pretty town of Tiverton,
but we believe it is not generally known that there is now residing among us
the greatest of living wrestlers.  We allude to that respectable old yeoman,
Mr. William Wreford, who may be truly said to be the hero of a hundred contests
in the wrestling ring.  The admirers of this most manly and ancient sport will
be glad to hear that Mr. Wreford, though several years above seventy, still
carries his manly figure erect, and has the most retentive memory.  Mr. Wreford
suddenly shot up to the height of fame by throwing the terrible Jordan at a
great contest at Crediton, in 1812, when he was but nineteen years of age, and
his huge opponent was in the prime of life.  Mr. Wreford is a noble specimen,
both as regards personal strength and social qualities of the good old English

Later that year, the following was printed in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (Friday, 07 December, 1866):

DEATH OF A RENOWNED DEVONSHIRE WRESTLER. – On Sunday last the veteran William Wreford died after a very short illness at the house of one of his children, in the metropolis.  Mr. Wreford bore a name familiar to all the lovers of wrestling, both in the provinces and the metropolis.  Indeed, there is probably none who appeared before the public so frequently and for such a long period as he did, for though by profession he was, like his ancestors, a farmer, yet he passionately loved the most ancient of all pastimes, and for a period of nearly thirty years generally contrived to be present at all the great wrestling matches in Devonshire, and almost invariably maintained the high reputation which he gained before he was twenty years of age.  Mr. Wreford was born at Morchard Bishop, near Crediton, the inhabitants of which have been from time immemorial noted for their great stature and strength.  Indeed, the father of Abraham Cann, the champion wrestler, was a native of Morchard Bishop, and according to the testimony of the ancients was in many respects a superior wrestler to his renowned son.  At 18 years of age, Mr. Wreford attended a great wrestling match at Crediton, and at its close stood high in the prize list; this was in 1811. The next year his name became a household word throughout the whole county, for having again contended at Crediton, nearly at the close of the play he found himself pitted against the terrible Jordan, a man of gigantic stature and strength, and who according to one author was so feared in the Plymouth wrestling ring that the committee at last excluded him in their advertisements from contending for the prizes offered by them; but at Crediton Jordan was destined to play the part of Goliath, for after twenty minutes contention, Mr. Wreford succeeded in throwing his huge adversary such a tremendous back fall, that the crash occasioned thereby was almost similar to that produced by the felling of an oak tree, and young Wreford amid the deafening applause of an immense concourse of all classes was triumphantly carried on the shoulders of several stalwart men to the Ship Hotel, in Crediton, there to receive from the committee something more weighty, if not so verdant, than that which the Grecian heroes of old were crowned.  In 1813 Mr. Wreford visited the metropolis and contended with the champion Fouracres, whom he threw the best Cornish wrestlers at Plymouth, and, with one or two others of their party, bore off very heavy prizes. In 1825 the writer was personally witness to a great gathering of renowned wrestlers at Credition, when there was a vast assemblage of gentry and yeomen, who betted freely on their favourites. At this memorable match Mr. Wreford had to contend with the renowned James Stone (who on account of his prodigious strength and activity was nicknamed by one of the London daily papers “The Little Elephant”) and a terrible encounter ensued, for the men grappled with each other in such a way as almost to realise Homer’s description of the struggle beween Ajax and Ulysses.  In truth the first shock resembled the meeting of two fierce bulls.  At first Mr. Wreford appeared to have the advantage, but before ten minutes had elapsed he was literally hurled into the air, and fell with terrific violence on his back; yet he was quickly on his legs again, declaring that he would seize the first opportunity of recovering his lost laurels. Not long after he and Mr. Stone again met at Southmolton, when for the first half hour they contended with varying success, after which it was apparent that the strength of the “Little Elephant” was the most unduring, and at the end of seventy minutes, Mr. Wreford having been much shaken by repeated falls on his side, was reluctantly compelled to give over the contest through his opponent with his usual magnanimty offered to forego claiming the prize until the next day, thinking that his friend’s indomitable pluck and well-known elasticity of body might possibly then enable him to renew the struggle.  That this was no fanciful picture, the fact of Mr. Wreford throwing, six or seven years afterwards, the celebrated Cornish wrestler Francis Olver, though several of his ribs were broken before he took his opponent by the collar is, we think, conclusive evidence. Until the last few months Mr. Wreford has been residing at Tiverton; and when we saw him in January last he was as erect as a bean-stick, and in every respect appeared twenty years younger than he really was.  He then gave us an extraordinary proof of the retentiveness of his memory, for testing his many statements by the records of the Crediton Old Wrestling Club, we invariably found them correct.  Mr. Wreford was a well informed, genial-hearted old man, full of anecdotes of celebrated wrestlers and of scenes of the old coaching days and he and Mr. Robert Stone, brother of Mr. James Stone, and himself a renowned wrestler, quite laughed at the general idea of the “dangers of the wrestling ring,” and well vindicated the practice of wrestling, which had been handed down in rural districts from father to son for many hundred years, and both, to the writer’s great amazement, declared that their legs were without a blemish, though they must have received thousands of severe kicks.

-Morning News


What a find! *pleased face*

To Let or Not To Let?

Hare and Hounds TO LET notice
Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post
22 April 1858
This notice was found on a visit to the Exeter Library a few years ago. It relates to the letting of theHare and Hounds Inn of Witheridge in 1858 – only a few years before my WREFORDs inhabited it in 1861.  Perhaps the WREFORDs took over this letting in 1858? 
The text is very difficult to read but I have uploaded it here (with a transcription of what I could make out) in case anyone has any suggestions.
Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post
Exeter, Thursday, April 22,1858 (p1)
TO LET by Tender, for a Term of …… [years] from Midsummer next, all ……[establish]ment called the HARE AND [HOUNDS] [encompassing?] a dwelling-house, malt- …… and also a garden and two fields? … the occupation of Mr. William … 
… [business is now?] being carried …
… be sent on or before the 1?th …. to Mr I M?H C?mins?, Solictor, …
Front page the above notice was ‘clipped’ from

UPDATE – I have found evidence that the family actually kept the Commercial Inn – see post here

Bombay Love Story

After receiving an email asking whether Drusilla WREFORD (the 14 year old innkeeper originally mentioned in my post Pub Crawl) met her husband, Thomas WILLS on the voyage to NZ, I delved further into this family.  It was a good question and one I hadn’t really thought of since she was not my direct ancestor and I have so much to research on my genealogical plate.  However, my curiosity was piqued and I donned my detective cap to find out more.

After some apparent hard times, George & Harriet WREFORD, who had apparently ran the Hare & Hounds Inn in Witheridge, Devonshire (c1861), emigrated with their 8 surviving children to New Zealand aboard the Bombay on the 26 Nov 1864.  Sadly, their youngest daughter, Mary Ann died on the voyage, aged 2.

My first step was to consult the 1864-5 passenger list for the Bombay voyage these WREFORDS took and funnily enough there was a Thomas WILLS on board aged 23.  Drusilla was 17 at the time so quite possible they could meet and take a fancy to one another.  Or perhaps they were already betrothed before leaving England?  I diverted course to search for Thomas on the UK censuses but without having any more information about him abandoned that search and turned instead to the fabulous NZ Papers Past website.
Sisters Augusta, Drusilla and Sarah Grace
Although I was initially searching for marriage notices, most of my day has since been spent reading the articles and snippets which mention my ancestors and their neighbours, revisiting old avenues of research and getting to know the other members of this family.  My search also led me to the NZ Births, Deaths & Marriages online where I was able to locate the WREFORD sisters’ marriages (or at least their registration numbers).
WREFORD sister marriages including Drusilla’s to Thomas WILLS
So proof that 14 year old innkeep, Drusilla married somebody called Thomas WILLS.  The 1865 marriage made it seem likely but there was still no real evidence to suggest it was the same Tom on the Bombay with the family.
Drusilla’s Death Notice
(also mentions sister Sarah Grace)
Until… serendipity stepped in.  Tweaking the newspaper search words to ‘bombay’ and ‘wreford’ led me to the obituary notice for Drusilla
Obituary Notice for Drusilla WILLS (nee WREFORD)
transcribed below
(Auckland Star, Volume LXV, Issue 140, 15 June 1934, p3)

The death occurred on June 13 at Onehunga of Mrs. Drucilla Wills, aged 89 years.  She was a daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. George Wreford, and came to New Zealand with them when a child in the ship Bombay.  Her late husband, Mr. Thos. Wills, was a passenger on the same vessel. They were married at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Onehunga, by the late Rev. Dr. Purchas, and settled at Awhitu, where Mr. Wills engaged in the gum trade for many years.  When he retired from business Mr. and Mrs. Wills went to reside at Onehunga.  Mrs. Wills is survived by two children. Mr James Wills and Mrs. D. Evans, and 15 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren.

Ta – dah!

Grace Brock

I’ve had a lot of trouble finding a marriage between John STILING and Grace FREED and thought it was due to the lack of  Devon records on the IGI.  Thanks to the selection of Devon Parish records on findmypast, I find it’s possibly because it was mistranscribed or that Grace FREED is actually Grace BROCK:

I can imagine how Brock and Freed could look similar in faded, pre-regency period handwriting.
This was one of three John STILINGs that came up in the search but the only one with a Grace for a bride. 
Their oldest child was born in 1811 so the dates also fit.
Oh, how I wish I could see the original record right now.