Wrestling still goes on in Morecambe today. That is quite a stint for the town which showed it's first wrestling on August 18th 1932. Back then Atholl Oakeley fought a 1-1-draw with The Black Adonis. The Adonis was almost certainly Robert Adams, who became known principally as Black Eagle or Black Tiger. Oakeley no doubt used him to exhibit his own prowess against the magnificent physique of Adams.
The venue was not mentioned in the newspaper report and speculation is difficult because boxing was done at the Winter Gardens with it's 2000 seated capacity Ballroom Arena which would have been a logical way of providing a ring.
The Winter Gardens was originally The Victorian Pavillion Theatre which was on the prom near the Central Pier. The Pier was even older and therein lies the problem, because in 1936 Wrestling took place on the Pier which had it's own Marine Ballroom. The Pier had been victim to a fire in 1933 and it was 1936 before the new Pier company opened up again so it is pretty easy to see that this was the real beginning. I got lucky researching the Pier as I found evidence that the MC on some occasions was Atholl Oakeley.
You can always smell it when Oakeley is involved. Look at (the bill above right and left), all the champions, Europe, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey and two of England's earliest Lightweights, Babe Saxon and Ginger Burke who both went on to be champions in the 1930's, along with Jack Alker after Harold Angus moved up to Welterweight.
The real giveaway of course is the use of Oakeley's friends, Pojello and Bill Garnon. Wrestling was a tangled web though because both the bills shown indicate the involvement of Kathleen Look.
She was one busy lady running Belle Vue as well as fronting shows for William Bankier in the Isle of Man. That was the strange thing really that she worked with both Oakeley and Bankier who really were bitter rivals.
They were certainly fond of Babe's on the bill (left). Quesick being the son of Johanfesson and Young Babe Saxon was the son of Billy Charnock
Babe Saxon shown on both bills is a name I have often seen and yet thus far I don't think covered in the A-Z. Thanks to this Morecambe research I have managed to find a picture of him.
That's him on the right and the other wrestler is Tommy Mack often known as Tommy The Demon, another product of Pop Charnocks Gym. Tommy Mack often doubled up as a referee .
I have difficulty calling Oakeley a promoter. As far as I know he never owned a stadium of his own and all his ventures seemed to be short season leases. Seems to me that he preferred to be part of a syndicate and let others take the risk. I just don't know for sure how it all worked. He seems more of an ambassador to me, his talent being so inventive and imaginative and he let others front his shows. Despite running The Free Trades Hall as a rival to Belle Vue for a short period he still managed to get his foot in the door at Belle Vue and working with Miss Look they gave the fans Doug Clark v Jack Sherry Matches.
In Liverpool was Bankier and across the water in new Brighton was Oakeley, but Bankier's legacy was Liverpool Stadium that went on for decades even after his death.
For whatever reason the same thing happened in Morecambe because alongside those bills for 1937 at the Central Pier the countries biggest promoter Relwyskow was running wrestling at the Winter Gardens.The Winter Gardens lasted.
When I see Oakeley bills and then others I am easily recognizing different rosters and yet there are some clues as to how wrestlers went about their business in the 1930's.
Not many wrestlers worked for both sides. The Oakeley team were predominantly London based wrestlers. He had his loyal men like Boganski, Norman the Butcher, Karloff Manoognan, King Curtis, whilst you would not see Doug Clark or Relwyskow jr or Jack Pye with Oakeley.
Morecambe as far as I know was to be Relwyskows only Lancashire venue. It's a place I never went to until I was an adult.
Lancashire Seaside towns are not on a coast road like those in North Wales so despite being near as the crow flies it is not so easy to go from Southport to Blackpool to Morecambe. As far north as Morecambe you are near the Cumbria border and as a resort it attracted people from Yorkshire and the North East. As a child it was just too easy to get to Blackpool or Rhyl. Ironically as a young dad I took my own kids to Moreceambe circa 1989-1992 and watched wrestling in the ballroom at Pontins Middleton Tower. I even helped them take the ring down to get away quick to the next venue.
On Morecambe prom I took my kids in a Marquee for a fairground ride, only to stand face to face with Iron Man Steve Logan who was taking the money.
But back to 1937, the Winter Gardens had some wonderful entertainment. I remember well how much my grandparents loved Joe Loss and his band , and the wrestling went on for years and always a regular Thursday slot for Relwyskow Wrestling , going on side by side in 1937 with wrestling on the Pier.
1938 looks to be a different story with no wrestling to be found at the Pier. That is my point about all the ventures that Oakeley seemed to be behind. He just did not seem to sustain the momentum that he built. One could say the same about Miss Look , a few halcyon years from the mid thirties and never to be seen again once war broke out.
At the end of 1938 there did seem to be one last attempt with the re-emergence of what looks to be mainly the London based roster again. The Astoria on the seafront was a smaller version of the Winter Gardens Building built at the beginning of the century as The Alhambra Theatre. In 1930 it was converted to a cinema and became the Astoria.
This venture looks to have lasted ten consecutive weeks. For a historian it is another discovery , an unknown venue lost in the mists of time.
Nice to get a set of bills to see what went on. No mention of Oakeley or anyone else but the roster sure looks to be his handywork. Another giveaway clue is that the seats were one , two and three shillings at both the Pier and The Astoria. The Astoria also had balconies and a box was a Guinea. Another piece of history for younger members of Heritage is that a Guinea was one pound and one shilling and was replaced by the pound in 1816 , but all the posh shops kept the Guinea well into my childhood.
As it happens the Winter Gardens was advertised as from one to three shillings.
The war came and like most of the venues the Relwyskows had started, they were to continue and bring good cheer in hard times. Billy Riley and Jack Pye in the 1942 bill were typical of the Lancashire based lads that kept it all going.
I have done one or two articles now where I have stated that what Relwyskow started in the 1930's lasted and for my money , Oakeley , clever and intelligent and inventive as he was , who also left us a great book of his own account , was not as influential as Relwyskow who takes the credit for nearly all of Scotland just for starters , not to mention the fact that many of the Joint Promotions Promoters to come probably learned the wrestling business whilst working for George Rel.
Long after the war 1953 you could call Jack Pye a veteran now, twenty three years in the game and still the best part of a decade more to come.
My father-in-law described the unbelievable atmosphere of a Jack Pye /Bill Benny match , he saw them at Belle Vue round about the same period.
Guaranteed to blow the house down.
We have a fantastic memory of Heritage member Beancounter quoted from a forum topic talking about Jack Pye.
"I first saw the great man at Morecambe Winter Gardens in 1962 and his bout with Ian Campbell finished in a veritable bloodbath."
Relwyskow also put on a special in the same year at the Football club. Christie Park is gone now and is a Sainsbury's Supermarket.
A future venue was to be the Morecambe Dome It is absolutely fantastic that wrestling still goes on in Morecambe today.
Thanks for reading my tribute to Morecambe Grappling.