The Iron Man of the
Admittedly the name is not one that comes to mind as readily as some of his contemporaries, but for those whose memories go back fifty plus years Gerry Hoggarth is a name they will remember.
Especially those who were amongst the audience in April, 1953 when Gerry beat champion Jock Ward at the Royal Albert Hall to clinch the British heavyweight championship. Ringsiders paid 30/- to watch that contest, which is equivalent to around £33 in 2012. At the time Gerry, whose muscular physique looked as though he had just stepped out of one of those Charles Atlas adverts, had wrestled professionally for less than three years, but already he had a wealth of experience against the country's top heavyweights.
The second world war broke out whilst Gerry was in his teens. Rural areas like those in which he lived played a vital role in the war effort by helping to feed the nation during these austere times. Gerry was enrolled to work for the War Agriculture Committee as a tractor driver ploughing thousands of acres, at busy times of the year for as many as sixteen hours a day.
Gerry took up Cumberland and Westmorland style wrestling as a recreational activity to keep fit, and found success was aided by his enormous strength, a trait that he claims was in his blood. Uncle Jack was said to be one of the strongest men in the country, not to mention a man reputed to drink his beer out of a bucket! Gerry's strength developed from an early age when he helped his father in the village smithy. The hammer in the smithy weighed 45 lbs and Gerry was wielding it from thirteen years of age.
The village of Gerry's birth was Lindale, in England's lake district. A farming village when Gerry was a child, Lindale was part of Lancashire until 1974 when local Government re-organisation resulted in the village becoming part of Cumbria.
Following the war Gerry married his wife Vera (they are still together 67 years later). His interest in wrestling continued and twenty eight year old Gerry turned professional shortly after winning the Egremont Fair Cup in the Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling competition in 1950. The Egremont Fair can trace its hisory back to the 13th century and winning the prestigious competition was, quite rightly, one of the highlights of Gerry's life.
Muscular with a 50 inch chest and weighing around 17 stones Gerry was an imposing sight and a formidable opponent from the moment he joined the professional ranks.
For seven years Gerry wrestled around Britain and Europe, winning the European heavyweight title along the way. Initially brought into professional wrestling by Atoll Oakeley who was at the time still trying to revive his pre-war promotional business, it was Oakeley that provided the opportunity for Gerry to challenge for, and win, the British championship.
Gerry was soon taken on to the books of Joint Promotions following their formation in 1952. Everything was going well for Gerry, wrestling around Britain and abroad, opposing, and often defeating, the best of British heavyweights, including Jim Foy, Ernest Baldwin, Dave Armstrong, Alan Garfield, Jack Pye and Bert Assirati. The photo on the right shows Gerry at home holding a programme in which he faced Alan Garfield for Dale Martin Promotions.
Gerry recalls the only time he faced Assirati and regrets that he was never granted a return contest. It was at the Eldorado Stadium, Leith, on 19th May, 1952, that Gerry faced Assirati. When he took the lead with a third round submission, using an arm and leg lock, Gerry thought he was in with a real chance against the Islington Hercules. Maybe he was, but over-confidence led to Gerry trying to repeat the move in the next round. Assirati was ready for him and turned the tables to win by a knock-out.
With broadcasters showing an interest in the televising of wrestling there was expectation that Gerry could become nationally known as one of the country's top heavyweights. Fate dealt a cruel blow. Abruptly, at the age of just 35 tragedy struck and Gerry suffered a serious arm injury whilst defending his European title against Mario Matassa. An appalling gash to his right arm brought Gerry's career effectively to an end in 1959, save for the occasional contest near his home.
Home for Gerry and his wife has always been in Cumbria. Following his retirement Gerry and Vera bought a farm at Arkholme, with 5000 hens and a herd of dairy cattle.
Gerry also worked on Morecambe's Central Pier and in holiday camps on the Lancashire coast. The photos show Gerry performing one of his strongarm entertainment feats lifting holidaymaker at the Pontins holiday camp in Blackpool.
Injury did not diminish Gerry's involvement in wrestling and in the 1960s he could be found as a referee (left), Master of Ceremonies or promoter in the north of England.
Long after retirement fitness remained high on Gerry's list of priorities, with a daily training regime well into his eighties. Now in his nineties Gerry still likes to keep active and can be found out most days walking in the countryside he loves near to his home.
At the time of Gerry's entry to the Wrestling Heritage site (October 2012) he and Vera are still living in Cumbria, supported by their children and six grand children. We wish them many more years of happy marriage.
We thank Heritage member Beancounter for bringing the career of Gerry Hoggarth to the attention of Wrestling Heritage readers.