WANNOP: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW! A guest post by Walter ‘The Cross-Buttocker’ Armstrong

Good afternoon. The Cross-Buttocker here. Your usual Grappling With History blogger, Sarah, will be fully occupied over the next few weeks with her day job and a lengthy Masters Degree assignment on the Bosnian War, which of course I know little about, having died as I did in 1917 etc. while another large international skirmish was afoot.

She’s left me in charge to post an article I originally wrote for the Sporting Life. It was published on the newspaper’s back page on Thursday 16th February 1888 and as no one alive now has probably read the thing apart from Sarah, we can thus bill it as an exclusive. I present my novel, pioneering, and not in the least bit mildly-eccentric journalism to you here in its 2,300 word entirety, with only very minor edits. Enjoy!

[If I do say so myself, the song near the end, which I made up about Jack, is a particular highlight. We shall gloss over the part where Jack lies about his age, however. We’ve all been there.]




An arrangement has been made for these two aspirants to the wrestling championship of the world to wrestle the best of three falls in the catch-as-catch-can style, no hold barred, two shoulder-blades down to constitute a fall, for £100 a-side, open for 1,000 dols a-side.

It will be remembered that Wannop repeatedly and persistently challenged all comers in the catch-hold style in the columns of the English sporting press without receiving any practical response.

Acting, therefore, under the advice of numerous friends, and prompted by his own inclinations, coupled with a strong desire to visit the Greater Empire of the West, he determined to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the Chicago Strangler, and this week will take his departure for New York, then on to Chicago, to meet, stake, and make prompt arrangements in order that this match, as proposed, shall take place during the second week in March.

Wannop will be accompanied by his backer and several friends, who will look after him during the voyage, and as he is in capital fettle at present, the final touches to his training will easily be put on after his arrival.

In order to obtain the most reliable and latest information with regard to Wannop’s proposed movements in the States, I took the opportunity of calling upon him at his residence, and obtained a lengthy interview with him, the result of which, I feel sure, will not be devoid of interest to a numerous section of your readers.

In reply to interrogatories, the following conversation given colloquially will convey a fair notion of Wannop’s proposed plan of campaign:

Cross-Buttocker: Well, Jack, as I shall miss you for some months, and as you have determined to try your luck in America, tell me how you have sketched out your programme, but before going into that, just refresh my memory as to old times. What is your exact age? Where born? Your best weight when trim? Who are the best men you have met in the wrestling ring? How many men have floored you, and how many prizes have you won?

Jack Wannop: Well, that’s nearly enough for a start. I am twenty-nine years of age, I was born at Carlisle, Cumberland, my least weight off and on is about 13st. As to the names of the best wrestlers I have competed against, I have wrestled so many men, and in such a variety of styles, that it would be invidious on my part to particularise any one. I have wrestled matches in the Cumberland and Westmorland, Lancashire, Cornwall and Devon and other styles and have never been defeated in the catch-as-catch-can fashion.

For several years I have endeavoured to induce the Cumberland giants, Steadman and Lowden, who each scale over 20st, to meet me in catch holds, without result. Some time ago, Tom Kennedy, the Cumberland demon, did “take me on” but at the end of the first fall Kennedy retired, crying “Hold, enough.”

I certainly have been floored in the Cumberland style, but despite that my prize record is far in excess of my defeats, and the victories on which I pride myself most were obtained over such champions as William Blair (the Border celebrity), Sam Rundle (the Cornish champion), Tom Cannon (who is now in Australia, and whom I would like to meet again), Tom Kennedy, Jack Moffatt, Bill Matthews, Jack Smith (the Devon champion), and others too numerous to mention.

When Jack Carkeek was in London last we agreed to wrestle in three styles, for £50 a-side, and the money was posted at the Sporting Life, but to my intense disgust Carkeek managed to get out of the match, and drew his deposit, owing to the articles not stipulating who was to be the appointed judge. Mr Atkinson, of the Sporting Life, gave him his choice of several competent gentlemen to fill that capacity, but without avail, and Carkeek made the best of his way to America as soon as he had recovered his stakes, evidently glad to escape from my clutches. On arrival in America, after I have done with Lewis the Strangler, I shall use my best endeavours to cut Carkeek’s comb on his own dunghill, but I must first tackle the Strangler.

CB: How long do you intend to stay in New York, Jack?

JW: Only a day of two, as I want to get straight away to Chicago in order to post my first forfeit of 500 dols at once, so that the Strangler shall have first chance in own style i.e. no hold barred, catch-as-catch-can.

CB: Have you any friends in New York, Jack?

JW: Only my brother Joe and Mr. John Harris, of Brooklyn, both of whom I expect will meet me, but hope to make a few more friends before I return to the Old Country again.

CB: Well, Jack, you have recently turned your attention to boxing more than wrestling. When did you find out you were a “scrapper?”

JW: Well, Professor Walter Watson was the first man who put the gloves on me, shortly before he left for America, and he said I would do.

CB: You have won some boxing competitions, of course, Jack?

JW: Yes, one. The last heavy-weight competition, open to all comers, that has been given in England. The competition took place at Professor Waite’s Fencing Rooms, in the West End of London. I beat three men the same evening, Woolf Bendoff being my last opponent, whom I knocked out half-way through the third round, a man who stood up before Jem Smith, the champion, for forty-eight minutes, and kept Jack Knifton, the “81-tonner” at bay about the same length of time.

CB: Since then you have been trying very hard to get a fight on with bare knuckles, I understand.

JW: Yes, that is the game, as I can bring my wrestling into play. I have repeatedly issued challenges to fight any one for £200 a side. I have staked a forfeit at the Sporting Life office to fight Charley Mitchell since his arrival in this country, but the “handsome one” has declined the offer, saying he would fight Sullivan and no one else, and the same luck has attended all my efforts to bring responses or rather deposits from the boast of self-styled champions.

CB: I suppose you want a “go” in the States with the bare knuckles?

JW: Yes, certainly, and although not loaded with money I am prepared to put up a forfeit of 500 dols to fight any heavy weight in the States after I have done with the wrestlers.

CB: When do you think of starting?

JW: I shall try to leave Liverpool on the 16th by the National Line Company’s steamer, I think the Egypt, and I shall be accompanied by my backer, Mr Harry I. Hoare, and hope to arrive in New York about the 24th or 25th. I don’t think the passage will take anything out of me as I am a good sailor, and shall keep myself hard at work on deck during the trip.

It may be added that Wannop is the only known man who has ever combined the two qualifications of wrestler and boxer in a superlative degree. His early education as a wrestler pure and simple supplied him with advantages, especially in close quarters, which few of his compeers possess.

“Experience teaches,” so it is said, and it is well proved and exemplified by the science frequently displayed by this prominent boxer and wrestler. With regard to Wannop’s chances, his backers are extremely sanguine, and as to his probity, his previous unsullied career is sufficient evidence, if evidence were required, that in the past so he will in the future, act with credit to all concerned.

His return to England, whether with the laurels of victory or otherwise, will be hailed with delight by all his friends here, a delight that will be shared, on hearing the news of his safe arrival in old England by the numerous friends he is sure to gain on the other side of the Atlantic.


This distinguished wrestler and boxer took his departure from Euston Square Station by the 12.10 train yesterday, en route for Liverpool, whence he sails in the National Line steamer Egypt, for New York.

Wannop’s deeds of arms have been frequently chronicled in the pages of the Sporting Life, consequently there is no need to repeat them here, especially as Wannop has requested that no fuss should be made of him. Jack is the most retiring of men, and knew nothing much of his superlative abilities until, like Lord Byron, he rose up one morning and “found himself famous.”

Sullivan, it appears, has said that the “Strangler” on whose trail Wannop has embarked, will wring Jack’s neck. Very well: the present scribe, who knows Jack Wannop in a wrestling and boxing sense probably better than any other contemporary created being, will chance the Cumbrian. Wrestlers on paper, and wrestlers and fighters too in the belted ring those especially of the gassy order, seldom run in comfortable harness, and we have seen some of the wrak-kneed “dyke-back-‘uns” those fireside performers, the paper-mache delinquents, make a very indifferent figure when placed at the scratch.

There are a sufficient number of cowards knocking about and trading on their mangled [unreadable] to warrant the remarks made the other day by the distinguished gentleman who presides over the destinies of the Sporting Life. Personally, and otherwise I have not read anything so much to the point for a long time. So particularly true, if truth can possibly have any kind of degree of comparison. The high falutin nonsense which has been launched upon that limp fabric of the Press, which, in its feebleness, will print anything so long as it is scurrilous, is enough to raise the bile and ruttle up the dander of the humblest individual who frantically clutches at the fragmentary fumes of what is supposed to be journalism.

Journalism, say I, be blowed, let’s get on to Jack Wannop.

Well, about half-past eleven the “boys” began to file in; previously, it appears, a visit had been paid at the Jubilee, where Jack was the centre of attraction. This was a bad move, as it let the cat out of the bag, and the consequence was that an immense crowd followed Wannop and his friends up to the station.

Nobody could have a better send-off than was accorded to Jack. His sterling friends, Messrs. Sam Sloper, John Bennett, and John Watson were in the front rank to see that the “boy” wanted for nothing, and among others assembled to see him off were Billy Springhall, accompanied by his genial friend Mr R. Watson, of the Victoria Hotel, Queen’s Road, Wandsworth, landed on the scene to lend their countenance to Jack’s departure.

Now here follows a list of names probably unrivalled on such occasion, viz. Sam Sloper, John Bennett, W. Springhall, Richard Watson Fisher, Edmondson, John Watson, J.J. Hudson, Geo. Brown, Phil Lidstow, Charley Ford, Tom Walker, Dick Leary, Tom Thompson, Dan Morris, C. Ellwood, “Colonel” Baker, Bob Sutherland, L. Mallet, Harry Boniman, W. Holliday, W. Hilton, Little Fred, J. Sweeny (the sculler), Smoky Bishop, &c &c Then, too late Andy Anderson and his friend Mr W. Foster came on the scene, and last, but not least, Mr W. H. May of St Theobald’s row, came forward. Mr May is a scrapper, wrestler, and contortionist of the first water, and brimful of antics of an overwhelming description. Since he has been under Wannop in a wrestling sense, why, there is scarcely anything impossible to him. Up to the present he is all legs and wings and knows, too, how to use them.

How the crowd hived around Wannop when it got wind he was on the wing, ought to have been witnessed in order to convey a full appreciation of the widespread popularity.

“Manager?” says Jack, “I have no manager. I have what they call an agent in advance. Harry Hoare goes with me. He is about as sharp as they make them, but I am my own manager. Fellows who want managers haven’t graduated in Cumberland schools. Oh, yes, truly I’m fairly educated, and, barring somebody, I’d like to see the man who’d presume to write my letters.”

“I go direct to Bill Rickerby’s, the Camden Club, Camden Street, London Road, Liverpool, just for a chat with a brilliant wrestler, and good all-round sort.”

“Then you know,” says Jack, “Song and story will career around. You know what a good sort Bill Rickerby is,” says Jack. “Yes,” says the boy, “and one of the best wrestlers of his time.”

Our kind regards to him, Jack, and ask him to sing thus:

“Thy friends in round numbers, Jack Wannop, are near;
Those friends who shall render that triumph more dear,
Then all the best chips of Jack Wannop’s improves,
When he clutches his foe in the grasp that he loves.”

Then when Jack was landed in the train, accompanied by his friend, Harry Hoare, who will look after his interests over the “dub,” and the usual hand-shaking had taken place, the train steamed out of the station, and a hearty British cheer greeted the adventurous pair.

Several presents were handed to Jack on his departure. But of these anon. Anyway, his friends, Messrs. Sam Sloper, John Bennett, and Jack Watson, gave the “boy” a send-off that he is not likely to abuse. Jack is a thorough woolled-‘un, and not likely to abuse the confidence reposed in him.

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