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John Newman - Champion Cudgel Player

John Newman from Hammoon was a champion cudgel player. He was so feared and respected by opponents that it was said Somerset men would not cross the border into Dorset to compete unless he was prohibited from playing. It is reckoned he would play any man in England for any sum.

Cudgel playing consisted of two players, each armed with a cudgel, trying to draw blood from an opponent’s head, neck or face. A cudgel was a short thick stick that was used as a weapon to attack or defend against the attacker. Umpires would decide whether sufficient blood was drawn. It was a popular spectator sport at the Blandford Horse Races held annually in the 1700 & 1800s at what is now known as Blandford Camp. When the crowds saw blood, they would shout out ‘a head’! Both combatants, if they were wise, would ‘gaffle up’ that was to pad the less hardy parts of the body before cudgel playing.

John Newman was a powerful athletic man who was six feet tall which was unusual for his times and he was of a calm disposition. He claimed he never felt the hard and heavy blows he frequently received. Much respected, he was not known to use foul play or bad language. No man was ever reckoned to have ‘broken as many heads’ in a day as John other than perhaps his mentor, the ‘Butcher Matcham’ from Child Okeford.

John Newman died on 17th May 1820 at the ripe old age of 88 years. However, it does seem that the sporting pastime of cudgel playing is unlikely to make a comeback!


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