Our latest plaque commemorates Abraham Cann (1794-1864), Champion of England at Devonshire wrestling. It was unveiled for us by Abby Cann, a descendant of the Cann family. The plaque can be seen at 28 Bartholomew Street West in Exeter, the site of what was once Abraham’s inn, “The Champion’s Arms”.
The event was well supported by Civic Society members, but we were delighted also to have present four descendants of the Cann family, some of whom live in Coleford, only a couple of miles from Abraham’s birthplace at Colebrooke.
Prior to the unveiling, we were able to visit the Royal Albert Memorial Museum to see a contemporary portrait of Abraham Cann, thought to be done by Henry Caunter in the 1840s. This is rarely on view in the gallery, and we are grateful to RAMM for putting it on show for the occasion. Abraham is portrayed wearing a typical wrestling outfit of loose fitting jacket, and breeches, but not perhaps the specially hardened boots that the Devonshire rules permitted for kicking opponents.
We are grateful to the owner of 28 Bartholomew Street West for proposing the plaque, and for so generously funding it.
Abraham was born and later died in the village of Colebrooke near Crediton, but had connections to Exeter throughout his life: he took part in wrestling matches, in venues such as the Duke of York in Sidwell Street or the Moreton Inn in St Thomas . He had two spells at keeping inns in Exeter: the Moreton Inn in St Thomas (1824-1828), and the Woolpack in Bartholomew Yard (1828-1830), which he renamed the Champion’s Arms. Although the prizes for victory at wrestling could be substantial, it would have been precarious existence. Perhaps it was hoped that running an inn would provide a steadier income for his wife and children.
Sadly, Abraham’s wife died quite young, and he also lost several of his children. These tragedies, coupled with drink, appear to have led to a decline. In 1860, when his plight became known, the landlord of the Bull Inn in Exeter started an appeal for funds to provide him with a pension. This met with an excellent response from his admirers around the country: £200 was raised, enough to give him a decent pension. Lord Palmerston, clearly a keen follower of the sport, directed that £10 be paid into the appeal out of the Royal Bounty Fund.
He died in 1864 in Colebrooke, where he is buried.