Special Thanks To: Mr. Alexander (Sandy) Laird of the Bridge of Allan Highland Games.
recently I have received an inquiry from my dear friend Mr. Robbie Burrows, a wrestling history enthusiast from Leominster, Herefordshire, England, regarding the styles of wrestling which were practiced in Scotland in the 1800s.
My answer to his question will be based on my collection of various contemporary newspaper wrestling matches reports, memoirs of the individuals and on arguably the best book written on the XIX century Scottish sports, the 1891 book by William McCombie Smith called “The Athletes and Athletic Sports of Scotland, Including Bagpipe Playing and Dancing”. The Chapter V from that book called “Wrestling” (Pages 63-69) completely covers this subject.
According to that book there were three wrestling styles in Scotland in the XIX. Those included: the Scottish, the Border and the Scotch styles of wrestling.
a) Scottish, a back-hold wrestling similar to the Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling, the main difference between the two being: 1) losing the hold is not losing a fall; 2) only the flat back falls count.
The certain rules of the Scottish style varied depending on the locality, occasionally the back-hold was “right arm over and left arm under”, and sometimes the use of legs and feet for throwing (tripping) wasn’t allowed which turned contest into the trial of strength, the old Viking Bear Hug wrestling which in Scotland was referred to as the Hawick Hug named as such after the town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders, in historic county of Roxburghshire.
b) Border, a style practiced in the Border Counties, exactly the same style as the Cumberland and Westmorland back-hold wrestling.
c) Scotch, aka Donald Dinnie’s Style, according to whom it was an authentic Scottish wrestling style the ruleset of which was first documented in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1830 (that info was never confirmed nor proven).
In this style wrestlers are given 30 sec to take the over-and-under back-hold i.e. clasp hands behind each other's back in the proper manner, make a lock. If during that time the hold is not taken, they wrestle without it (without an equally taken hug), meaning they would try to catch any hold of their adversary above or under the waist (according to the 1905 interview of the Cumberland wrestling champion George Lowden of Workington, Cumbria see below), attacking him from the front, side, or from behind and endeavor to throw him to the ground from that hold (take down).
Wrestlers were allowed to break their own hold at any time, and catch the new more advantageous one. To win the wrestler not only has to place his opponent flat on his back but he also has to keep him in that position underneath himself for 30 sec, which assumes a struggle on the ground. That is according to the official ruleset, the copy of which will follow my reply, but in some references it is said that the 30 sec hold in any flat lying down position works out as well. Let’s say the wrestler who is lying on his stomach is held in that position for the required amount of time, which counted as a victory.
The collection of various references to the traditional wrestling games which were popular in Scotland in the XIX centuries is to follow my reply.
In the XX century there were only two wrestling styles at the Highland Gatherings in Scotland, the Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling and the Catch-as-catch-can. The official rules of both those styles will follow my reply.
Ruslan C Pashayev