Wrestling with a Landscape
: A photographic, practice-led, research study incorporating and investigating archival images of the traditional costume of the English regional folk sport of Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling

  • David Ellison

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This practice-led, research PhD uses ethnographic research methods in photography to interrogate the embroidered motifs of homemade wrestling costume. Photographic portraits and documentary landscapes explore the inherent invention of this English costume. Delving deeper into the invention of tradition, the costume and wrestlers themselves uncover the signs and symbols of place, creating an alternative narrative to the English Lake District.
It is intended, through a dialogue between photography and the sport of Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, that a cultural understanding of photographic representations can be raised to a higher level of significance. The uniquely embroidered costumes of the sport and sites of practice in northern England present a dichotomy and a paradox between the ‘post-industrial’ landscape of Cumbria and the ‘protected’ Lake District National Park.
The spectacle of wrestlers involved in the 'performance of tradition' in intricately embroidered costumes, depicting symbols of pre-industry in the English Lake District on post-industrial sites, is the focus for this research. The outcomes of this research widen the legacy of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the English Lake District. Additionally, the wrestling costume is imagined as an abstract symbol of modernity that interrelates the maker and the depiction of a regional identity.
Archival photography of the sport is presented in the thesis itself and as part of a photographic publication – the culmination of practice-led research charting the evolution of Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling costume to further critique and reframe the theories relating to the invention of tradition, antiquity of dress and a re-alignment to a regional perspective. The contribution to knowledge is brought together as part of a multi-disciplined book, TEK HOD: Embroidered Wrestlers of the North, that is a 12-year research project which includes an essay by fashion writer, Lou Stoppard that critically underpins a series of portraits of wrestlers and costumes alongside action photographs of the sport which depict the picturesque and post-industrial landscapes of Northern England. This research links - like no other publication - embroidery, history, and sport into a contemporary framework.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for Employment and Learning
SupervisorJoseph Mc Brinn (Supervisor) & Karen Fleming (Supervisor)


  • Embroidery
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Lakeland Revival
  • Cumbria
  • North England

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