UNEXPECTED HISTORY

OCTOBER TOWN CRIER MAGAZINE

Just opened at Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery is ‘Grunts & Grapples’ – an exhibition of a golden era of wrestling. Those of a certain age will remember wrestling on ITV at Saturday teatimes. This exhibition contains posters, costumes and other memorabilia, curated by design historian Kerry William Purcell.

The exhibition is interesting, and set me on a history quest. As expected, wrestling is a very old sport, evidence comes from cave paintings onwards, around the world. In medieval Europe competing in wrestling was popular with both nobility and working classes. Elsewhere in the world variations began, leading to, for example, marital arts in Asia. From the 17th century, the European upper classes abandoned wrestling, and it became a rural occupation.

From here wrestling became both a competitive sport, and a show time performance, that ran alongside The Strong Man at travelling fairs. By the 1930s going to watch wrestling was a popular evening activity, but an element of staged shows was involved. A lull came with World War Two. A reorganisation of the rules and regulations, and the establishment of a cartel of promoters – Joint Promotions – lead to different ideas, and running championship competitions lead to another increase in audience numbers.

In 1955 wrestling began to be shown on ITV, and became part of main stream culture. Live shows became even more popular, and wrestlers become celebrities. Watching the TV clips in the Museum, the staged aspects of the shows are very apparent, and by the time it fell out of favour again, there was very much a panto feel with elaborate costumes and performances. At a time of glam rock, and curly permed footballers, wrestling was another way for working classes to achieve a better way of life. By the late 1980s popularity had waned again, and in 1989 wrestling was no longer shown on terrestial TV.

Something else trying to gain a better life, is the building of the Museum, Art Gallery and Library. Currently Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) and Kent County Council (KCC) are working together to create a new Cultural & Learning Hub for Tunbridge Wells. This exciting redevelopment brings together in one conserved and modernised set of buildings the Museum, Art Gallery, Library, Adult Education, Visitor Information and Gateway services. The aim is to create a space to engage with the heritage of Tunbridge Wells, learn new skills, socialise and be inspired. This project has received fist stage passes from both Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England. There is a chance to be involved as a volunteer, check their website: www.tunbridgewellsmuseum.org/cultural-hub/get-involved

Tunbridge Wells Writers have also been involved with the Library, having been part of the Friends Literary Evening. We made a short presentation about our book ‘Something in the Water’, which was launched last year.

There are several events to go with ‘Grunts & Grapples’ – one on Saturday 19 November, 1pm – 4pm, gives you the chance to leave your memories. This exhibition has no memorabilia from the Assembly Hall shows, so if you have anything I’m sure the Museum staff would love to see it.

www.gruntsandgrapples.com 16th Sept 2016 – 14th January 2017

 

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