One of Mow Cop's
best-known characters was Bill Ogden, who was a professional wrestler
from the age of 22 until he quit the ring at the age of 60. Born in 1913
he came to Mow Cop when he was eight years old, as family life settled
down after the first world war.
Bill attended Woodcock's Well School until he was 14, but was always fooling around in class and getting the cane for it. Many Mow Cop people will remember Mrs Priestman, who taught the newcomers to the school. When she was a young teacher, and Bill was in her class, she went to clout him one day for some kind of mischief and he spun her round so that she staggered into an open cupboard - and then he shut the door on her. On the plus side he became patrol leader with the First St Luke's Church Of England Boy Scouts, and won a couple of first aid trophies and the chance to attend the annual jamboree in Birkenhead.
In those days fist fights were common
between both children and adults, and Bill recalls going to the Oddfellows
Inn with his pals to watch the scraps which inevitably took place between
the customers on Saturday afternoons. As they sat on the nearby wall waiting,
the kids would see the pub doors suddenly fly open and two men walk out, taking
off their caps and jackets, while the rest of the drinkers, and the landlord,
followed and formed themselves into a ring around the combatants, who would
fight like furies until they considered honour satisfied, then return to the
pub and carry on drinking. Bill was always fighting in school - "I think I
fought nearly every day; there was never a shortage of challengers," he said
- and one of his tougher opponents was another scout, a lad called Vernon
Ball, who was unique among Mow Cop children in that he passed his scholarship
and went to King's School Macclesfield.
One of his jobs was to sell sacks of coal to local folk, who would collect it themselves, sometimes pushing it home in a wheelbarrow for two miles or more. Bill's father decided that many of them would pay a few pence more to have their coal delivered, and started his own coal haulage business, which before long had spread all over Cheshire. Loading up coal at Parkhouse Colliery saw Bill involved in several more fights with queue jumpers, but at the age of 20 he took it a step further by challenging battlers at the fairground boxing booths whenever they visited the county, often coming face to face with top professional fighters of their day, who used the booths as a cheap way of training. Bill earned a reputation as a skilful fighter who was a crowd pleaser without being the gung-ho, dangerously clumsy kind of challenger the professionals felt they had to get out of the ring as soon as possible. As a result he was involved in some epic tussles, but spared the ignominy of being knocked out.
After watching the Saturday night wrestling at the Victoria Hall, Hanley, however, Bill decided to try his hand at "grappling," and began training at the Black Boy pub in Cobridge. Later, as he got more proficient, he trained at the famed Belshaw brothers' gym in Wigan, cycling there and back from Mow Cop every Sunday, a great deal sorer on the return journey than when he started out. He was billed as Coalman Billy Ogden when he made his debut at the Ideal skating rink,Hanley, in 1935, and in an eventful career fought world champions Jack Beaumont and George Kidd in title bouts. In the latter half of his career he became a ring "villain" under the name Gypsy Joe Savoldi, and was famed within the "game" as one of "The Hanley Lads," travelling around with the equally-skilled local "grapplers" Jack Santos (real name Jack Sambrooks), Johnny Hall and George Gould to venues all over Britain. To add to his earnings he became a noted "utility man" refereeing matches when he wasn't wrestling, and organising transport for the wrestlers (his massive home-built shooting brake, which would carry eight wrestlers at a squeeze, was a regular sight on Mow in the forties and fifties).
In 1940 he married Middlewich library worker Doris Lowe, and the couple had five children, John, Jim, David, Christine and Tony. He also opened a gymnasium at an old fustian mill in Mount Pleasant to train young boxers and wrestlers, among them a promising Mow Cop battler called Jack Harding, who went on to try his skills in the professional boxing ring. A later sideline was making wrestling rings at his home, Lion Cottage, in Station Road, and after his retirement he did a tour all over Germany with a wrestling show, putting up the ring and dismantling it by himself for every show. Over the years he sustained a number of injuries, the worst being a broken neck vertebra and a fractured skull, plus countless black eyes and a cauliflower ear. Bill also worked in his own and his father's businesses, as quarryman (his father opened up a quarry behind his home in Halls Road), lorry driver, and mine worker in footrails in Kidsgrove and Mount Pleasant. After retiring from the ring he became a scrap and reclamation merchant, and when he finally "retired" he became a part-time bus driver for local firms. Always a keen supporter of amateur boxing, he became chairman of Stoke-on-Trent ABC until it merged with another local boxing club. He died in March, 1992, aged 78