Exeter Civic Society

Exeter Civic Society

Cann, Abraham

1794-1864
Champion of England at Devonshire Wrestling
Cann, Abraham

Cann, Abraham (1794-1864)

The plaque, at 28 Bartholomew Street West EX4 3BN, was unveiled on 7th April 2022.

It reads:
Abraham Cann (1794-1864), Champion of England at Devonshire wrestling, landlord of the Champion’s Arms public house on this site 1828-30

Abraham Cann was born and died in Colebrooke, near Crediton. But many of his wrestling matches took place in and around Exeter, and he was at different times the landlord of two Exeter inns: the Moreton Inn in Cowick Street, and then The Woolpack in Bartholomew Street West, which he renamed The Champion’s Arms.

Abraham and his brothers were all wrestlers in the Devonshire style, but Abraham was the most successful and soon became unbeatable. He won the title of “Champion of the West of England” in 1826, and later “Champion of England”. Wrestling matches were an extremely popular, if unrefined, form of entertainment during the 18th and 19th centuries, not least for their gambling potential. Matches took place across Devon, but also further afield, in London, and as far away as Yorkshire. Champion wrestlers were famous: Cann and his group were welcomed at places like Vauxhall Gardens. He had a reputation for refusing the bribes that were commonplace in competitive wrestling at the time. One contemporary account described him this: “a man who was never beaten in his life, who never sold his back, who never disgraced his county by foul play or vicious habits”.

He ran the Champion’s Arms from 1828-1830. Sadly, the inn itself no longer exists, and must have been demolished not long after Abraham Cann moved away. But the houses on the site will have been built during his lifetime, and a good case has been made for claiming that the cellars under the present houses are those of the original inn. 

Exeter Civic Society is indebted to the owner of 28 Bartholomew Street West both for proposing the plaque, and for generously funding it.

Sources:

Heard family history website, plus correspondence with the author

Exeter Memories  for Bartholomew Street

Devonshire Wrestling Society

Dictionary of National Biography

Wikipedia

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