In Penrith's Museum you will find nine belts, half a dozen silver cups, and three medals that mark out William Jameson as a legend in his chosen sport of Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling.
In an era when sporting rivalries seldom strayed beyond the county boundaries, the wrestling and leaping beloved of north country folk became a big draw in 19th century London. Visitors and Cumbrians who lived in the capital would meet on Good Friday at Kennington Common to compete. By the middle of the century a crowd of nearly ten thousand would come to watch the sports, paying handsomely towards prize money, trophies and donations to the Westmorland Society's London school and the Cumberland Benevolent Society. Jameson would take the title and prize money at this event no less than five times in the decade from 1861.
The London press loved to report on the colossal rural characters throwing each other to the ground. Full page engravings of the action appeared in the papers, including the Pall Mall Gazette, forerunner of today's Evening Standard. The capital's journalists were in awe of 'a certain gigantic Jameson, of Penrith, who was more like a polar bear on its hind legs in a grey flannel shirt than a human being.' William, whose 17 stone weight made him a difficult opponent to throw, also enjoyed the poise and balance of a gymnast.
Born and bred locally, he pursued the joinery trade, wrestling at first in local events where his prowess was soon apparent. Major victories in 1858 at events in Armathwaite and at the Talkin Tarn Regatta marked his arrival on the big stages but he still had much to learn. Longtown gamekeeper Dick Wright was the man to beat and the following year he taught William a hard lesson at Mr Hall's Bowling Green in Botchergate. Wright threw Jameson three times in succession to take the Carlisle championships title.
Over the next ten or a dozen years the two competed on both sides of the border from Galashields to Faulds Brow and Jedburgh to Talkin Tarn. As Jameson's prowess developed he began to gain the upper hand. Eventually, at a match in Newcastle, he beat Wright four times in one day to become the undisputed king of the sport.
Aside from wrestling Jameson was clearly an all-round athlete, excelling in other sports including running and jumping, especially the pole-leap - now renamed the pole vault - clearing the bar at well over 10 feet high, with no soft mats to cushion his descent to earth.
Back in Penrith, Jameson took up residence at the former Sun Inn in Little Dockray from where he issued a challenge to the wrestling world. International bouts were few and far between, but he and his old rival Dick Wright represented their country in a London match with two French wrestlers, Le Boeuf and Dubois. Such matches would require each man to try their hand at the other's national styles so that neither were disadvantaged. Occasionally a foreign challenger would appear on the scene and records show that William and an un-named Frenchman grappled on Penrith bowling green in 1876.
In 1873 Jameson took on the tenancy of the Griffin Inn, in what is now called White Hart Yard, off Cornmarket, and later bought the premises for £1,280. All manner of wrestlers, athletes and sportsmen were attracted to the hostelry, its famous landlord and his pet ferrets. While William was landlord the Griffin became briefly notorious on account of being the site of a gruesome discovery in the headline-grabbing concealed babies' case. In 1888 William died at the inn, by then his private house. A marble and sandstone pillar marks his grave in the Cemetery on Penrith's Beacon Edge.
The collection of trophies was given to Penrith Museum in 1952 by Mr J W Jameson of Eamont Bridge.