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 with Death (places)

William WREFORD was my famous (in those times) wrestling ancestor hailing from Devon (previously mentioned here and here).  So, the fact that the only likely death entry for him was registered in London was a bit worrying for me.  Could I be confident this was really him?
Luckily, I had found a newspaper article mentioning he had died ‘in the metropolis’ to help put my mind at ease:

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. (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (Friday, 07 December, 1866)

The Wreford Pedigree also notes that he died 26 November 1866 aged 74 which matches the death record, so I’m confident this is my William WREFORD.


The death record states William, a yeoman, died of ‘Natural decay’ on 26 November 1866 at 5 New Street, Bishopsgate [London].  However, the informant is listed as Thomas Cusiok/Cuscok (also living at 5 New Street), NOT one of his children.
Two of his children were living in London around this time.  William’s son, also named William, had been living in London from at least 1840 – he had married at St Dunstan in the East, and was in the censuses until 1861 as living in the court behind St Clement’s church, Eastcheap. (He was in the police force but by 1871, he was a ‘coffee house keeper’ a little further north in Paul Street.)


Also, his daughter, Elizabeth had married a mariner (Alexander SMALL) in London, 1853 and was a widowed lodging house keeper by the 1871 census (where she lived further north in Tower Hamlets – I’m yet to find her on the 1861 census).  Could Thomas Cusiok have been one of her lodgers?

Next steps:
  • Who is Thomas Cusiok/Cuscok?
  • Find Elizabeth SMALL (nee WREFORD) in 1861 census

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*

Celebrity Ancestor

For a change of ‘scene’, I decided to look a bit deeper at some of my English ancestors. 

Devonshire Wrestlers

An old family pedigree mentioned that my ancestor, William WREFORD “settled in Tiverton and was well known in the last century as a noted wrestler“.  I had searched for more information a few years back and was discovered a book which mentions him in this role – Devonshire Characters and Strange Events by S. Baring Gould.

I am very pleased that I am now able to read the entire book online (or download as various files) at the Internet Archive.  The section on William reads:

Next Steps:

William Wreford, at the age of eighteen, achieved reputation by throwing Jordan over his head with such force that Jordan came down with a “crash similar to that produced by felling an oak tree.” But Wreford met his match in a wrestle with “the little Elephant,” James Stone. Simultaneously the men grappled each other; and although Wreford had the advantage at the outset, he was hurled into the air, and fell with such violence on his back that for a time he was incapacitated from taking part in a similar contest. Eventually the return match came off at Southmolton, and Stone was again victorious. Nevertheless Wreford remained a prominent figure in the ring, and threw Francis Olver, a Cornishman, although he came out of the contest with several of his ribs crushed by the deadly “hug.” But a greater than Wreford and Jordan arose in the person of Abraham Cann… (p519)

Hoping to find more mention of William, I searched for James Stone – the ‘little elephant’.  This lead me to a page bursting with information about wrestling – in particular, the Abraham Cann mentioned above.  The Heard Family History site records:

In his history of Crediton, Venn (Venn, T.W., History of Crediton. Typescript. 1972) tells us that the activities of the Devonshire wrestlers in London were reported enthusiastically in the Society gossip columns. Dressed in the latest fashions they would promenade in the famous Vauxhall pleasure gardens, where much curiousity was shown to catch a sight of “these extraordinary Devonshire wrestlers”. Along with the bare-knuckle fighters, the wrestlers must have had the popular appeal of football stars of old, if not quite the overblown celebrity status accorded them in today’s tabloids. Certainly local papers reported their comings and goings, and we read of a triumphant return to Devon on the express coach Celerity in 1827, when the wrestlers were greeted by cheering crowds in Exeter (Heard Family History).

It’s funny to think of William, who is listed simply as ‘farmer’ and ‘labourer’ in the 1841 and 1851 censuses, as a celebrity.  Also found on the Heard Family History site was this image of the wrestlers’ vital statistics at a fair in Tavistock,1827:

Wrestler Vital Statistics – Tavistock Fair 1827
William is listed as 34 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 190 pounds.  It is not often we get to know this much physical detail about our ancestors and I’m excited to have found this information. 
Next Steps:
  • Continue to research Devonshire Wrestling in and around the 1820s
  • Search newspapers for wrestling matches