WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

L: Maurice Letchford

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Maurice Letchford


When it comes to significant figures who have played an important role in the development of professional wrestling on an international scale Maurice Letchford stands right up there amongst the best. Maurice can claim his place in the roll of honour of wrestlers in Britain, South Africa and Canada.

His father, Elvin Letchford, was born in Snodland, Kent, in 1878 and listed his occupation as a clerk when he emigrated to South Africa in 1901.  Living in Pretoria, he met and married a girl from Halesworth in Suffolk. On 27th August, 1908, they gave birth to their second child,  Maurice Elvin.  A third child followed in 1910 and shortly afterwards the family returned to Britain, and in 1911 were living in Fullers Hill, Great Yarmouth with Elvin working as a hardware dealer. Two years later the family emigrated to Canada with Elvin listed as an accountant.

So by the time he was six years old Maurice Letchford had lived in South Africa, Britain and Canada. The family settled in Montreal and took Canadian citizenship. 

In 1928 Maurice was selected as a Canadian competitor in the Freestyle welterweight class in the Olympic Games, which were held in Amsterdam. Wins over Britain’s Robert Cook, Belgium’s Hyacinthe Roosen and France’s Jean Jourlin secured a bronze medal for Maurice.

Maybe it was the disappointment of not being selected for the 1930s Empire Games team, or maybe he just saw the opportunity that pro wrestling was gaining popularity on  a worldwide scale, but  Maurice turned professional in the early 1930s. He was certainly wrestling in Montreal in 1933, and there are unconfirmed British matches in 1931. Our earliest definite sighting of Maurice was in November, 1934, when he lost to Mike Demitre at Liverpool Stadium. By the end of the year he was known as the inventor of a new hold, the Indian Death Lock. The Hull Daily Mail reported it as a “curious end” the the match with Richard Wills when Maurice “Locked the legs of his opponent in such a way manner with his own that it required the referee, two seconds and the M.C. to release the men after Wills had submitted.”

Reports refer to a skilful wrestler with none of the rough stuff. The Liverpool Echo described him as fast with a wide knowledge of holds and that his Indian Death Lock made him one of the most feared wrestlers in the business.

Maurice worked in Britain throughout the 1930s, except for a  visit to South Africa between May, 1936 and the spring of 1937. This was an opportunity to show his new bride, who he married in 1935, the country of his birth. Maurice remained in Britain until 1939. With war on the horizon Maurice, his wife Elizabeth, and nine month old daughter boarded The Aurania and departed Southampton on 13th May, 1939, destination Montreal. His Canadian entry card listed a distinguished feature as a Cauliflower Ear. For the remainder of 1939 and 1940 Maurice wrestled in Canada and the United States, but contests then become much less frequent until the end of the war.

Following the war, towards the end of 1946 Maurice returned to Britain and could be found wrestling in Britain in November of that year. His aspirations were also to promote wrestling, which he did under the Sports Enterprises banner. Maurice was co-promoter (along with William Smyth) of the high profile match between Bert Assirati and The Angel at Tottenham Hotspur Football Ground on 10th August, 1948. This was a huge event with 12,000 fans reported to have seen Assirati gain a controversial win. Maurice was also the promoter at Peterborough, Wisbech and Wimbledon.

On 24 April, 1952, he, his wife and now two children departed Southampton to set up home in Durban. He was to become one of the main wrestling promoters in South Africa until his death on 15th August, 1965, aged only 57.

15/08/2021 Page added