A game fit only for barbarians

It’s the weekend, traditionally the time to play and watch sport, although at the moment watching is a mite more difficult than normal. Three hundred years ago the most watched sport in Cornwall would have been wrestling. The other sport associated with Cornwall was hurling.

Here’s an extract from chapter 7 of my forthcoming Poldark’s Cornwall: an insider’s guide

In the 1700s Cornwall’s two national sports were hurling and wrestling. It is intriguing that hurling and football were mentioned separately in the above account from 1792. In fact, hurling was a regional version of the rough and ready football that had been played in towns and villages across the length and breadth of the British Isles since medieval times. Unlimited numbers would take part, the aim being to kick, carry, throw or by any other means possible convey a ball to the goals. These were sometimes a considerable distance apart and the game could range chaotically over a wide expanse of ground. With few rules, this type of hurling was often more like a battle. Moreover, at times, such hurling matches in Cornwall could involve contests between men of nearby parishes. In the Camborne burial register there is an entry from 1705 recording the death of William Trevarthen, killed during a hurling match with Redruth men ‘at the high downs’. It is hardly surprising that twenty years later Daniel Defoe memorably summed up Cornish hurling as ‘a game fit only for barbarians’.

Hurling still occurs on Shrove Tuesday at St Columb. Cars add an extra dimension to the game.

Meanwhile, the first draft of the book is now complete and I’m (slowly) revising it.

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