British wrestling history 

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M: Mansfield

Bert Mansfield

Any history of British wrestling must have Barnsley's Bert Mansfield at its heart. 

Bert was a top British wrestler of the pre-war all-in days.  Atholl Oakeley, the  promoter who introduced the all-in style to Britain said that it was Mansfield to whom he turned when he needed matchmaking guidance. 

Bert Mansfield was born, and Christened Herbert Arthur Manterfield,  on 27th August, 1897. Like so many families in south Yorkshire there was an expectation that Bert was destined for a life down the pits. 

It was not to be.

He wrestled as an amateur in the 1920s and recognised the opportunity presented by wrestling in the 1930s, turning professional shortly after Oakeley and Irslinger introduced the new style into Britain. Our earliest discovery of Bert wrestling is of a match at the South Elmall Rugby Ground in July, 1932. On that occasion lightweight champion Harold Angus beat Bert, which suggests that he was much lighter at the outset than the heavyweight he was to become. 

Unlike many wrestlers of the day he was soon travelling the country and did not restrict himself to his Yorkshire home. The initial defeat we uncovered was followed by a succession of victories. These were mostly supporting contests against lesser known names, but the wins mounted up and here was a man establishing the foundations of a successful career.  On 7th September, 1933,  more than 500 spectators watched Bert Defeat Harry Brooks at the Central Hall, Skegness, to win the Light Heavyweight Championship of England. From that time on the calibre of opponents improved dramatically and by the end of 1933 opponents included Carl Reginsky, Douglas Clark and the giant Carver Doone, all of whom are great names in British wrestling.

By now Bert was established as one of the country's top wrestlers, and issued a challenge to all comers. The Devon and Exeter Gazette commented, "Mansfield, who is a brilliant non-stopwrestler, constitutes a new threat to the heavyweight title, for he has skill, style, and personality, and is a 100 per cent fighter."

Not only that, he had also entered the management side of wrestling and was promoting shows in partnership with Doncaster's Harold Angus. 

Alongside greater experience Bert was continuing to develop physically and by 1935 was being described as a rugged and powerful heavyweight. Bert could certainly rough it, and was not averse to a bit of punching when he felt it was required, but he certainly displayed an ability to wrestle, and met all the top men, including Bert Assirati, Douglas Clark and Karl Pojello. When Bert wrestled Pojello in 1937 the Nottingham Journal reported that Bert was , "full of fire and created a minor sensation by gaining the first fall .... the crowd cheered him on with a concerted call of 'We want Bert.'.... The Yorkshireman was making his opponent go all out, and when they began to exchange punches honours were even."  Despite the inevitable loss against the great Pojello Bert certainly made an impression and on his return to Nottingham two weeks later was billed as the "Greatest living British wrestler."

Two months after their first encounter, on 4th May, 1937, Bert had his return contest with Pojello at Nottingham, this time with the Lithuanian's European championship belt on the line. Now fully matured into a powerful force, the Nottingham Journal reported, "Mansfield had Pojello completely bewildered with a fierce series of butts and charges," and again Bert took the first fall. Pojello equalised with a fall in the fifth round and the match ended in a draw.

Bert was now established as one of Europe's top heavyweights. His coal mining heritage was now behind him and in 1939, living in Carlton Lane, Barnsley, Bert was listed as a "Professional wrestler (travelling)" in the 1939 Register. Whilst the outbreak of war largely curtailed his wrestling commitments Bert managed to fit in bouts in the north whilst serving and was a regular at Belle Vue for the duration. 

This  powerful force was a star not only of  the 1930s  but post war into the 1950s; a very strong and skilled man indeed.  He was one of the top wrestlers that emerged from the end of the second world war to take wrestling into modern era. Bert was working for some of the most important British promoters of the early post war years, Norman Morrell, George DeRelwyskow and Wryton, when he was approached by their main rival. Atholl Oakeley was attempting to revive his wrestling promotions and turned to Bert, who he had known for many years, for help.  Oakeley's revival centred around high profile tournaments at Harringay Stadium. In "Blue Blood On The Mat" Oakeley wrote, "Without Bert's knowledge of all the wrestlers Harringay tournaments would not have survived even with Jack Doyle's drawing power." 

Bert was a contender in Athol Oakeley's 1947 Harringay World heavyweight championship tournament on  18th February, 1947.  Sixteen of the top wrestlers in Europe were assembled by promoter Athol Oakeley. From the UK were Cornwall’s Francis St Clair Gregory, Welshman Bill Garnon, Northerners  Bill Foy, Bert Mansfield, Eastern Englands Clem Lawrence, and the UK based Trinadian Phil Siki. Also taking part were Estonian Martin Butch, Belgian Gaston Ghevaert, Greek Milo Popocopolis, Canadian Carl van Wurden,  Yvar Martinsen, and pre war legends Carl Reginsky, Karl Manooign, Abdul the Turk  and Issy Van Dutz, Mansfield eliminated Abdul the Turk and Karloff  Manoogian before falling to the Danish champion  Martinsen. 

In 1950 Bert held the  American World Heavyweight champion Frank Sexton to a one fall each draw at Harringay, which earned him a return contest that he narrowly lost. 

Bert continued to wrestle, our last sighting being in 1956, by which time he was wrestling a new generation of stars that included Geoff Portz, Shirley Crabtree and Ray Apollon.

Bert Mansfield died in 1992.