Wrestling with Brighton Dome's Sporting Past

Forget The Rock and Hulk Hogan, Brighton Dome has it’s own legendary wrestlers – Francis ‘the Cornish Wonder’ Gregory and John ‘Italian’ Devalto.

We've enjoyed delving into our extensive archives and stumbled across quite a surprise – in addition to our past lives as a stable, military hospital and postal sorting office Brighton Dome was once also a renowned wrestling venue!

According to an Argus article that we’ve uncovered from 1935, on 11th July of that year our Corn Exchange played host to a wrestling tournament, the highlight of which was a fiercely contested bout between Francis ‘the Cornish Wonder’ Gregory and John ‘Italian’ Devalto. In stark contrast to the vicious brawls that were common, the reporter notes that, ‘much cleaner tactics were used’ by Gregory and Devalto, with crowd favourite Gregory (somewhat of a legend in the sporting scene of the time, having achieved success as a wrestler, boxer, rugby union and rugby league player) taking an early lead.

However, it wasn’t all one-sided - Devalto put up a good fight in return, often proving, as the reporter puts it, ‘too wily to be kept down’. In fact, the award for most athletic move of the match has to go to the Italian for a hold described in wonderful detail as, ‘a grip round the throat with his right leg’. Ouch!

Egged on by Devalto’s display of athleticism, and in an ingenious attempt to combine his love of boxing and wrestling, we are told that Gregory resorted to ‘fisticuffs’ to reestablish his dominance, much for the chagrin of the reporter. The crowd, however, were thrilled by this display of sporting mixology and ‘waxed high’ as Devalto scampered away from his aggressor. So much for those ‘clean tactics’, eh Francis?

The writing was on the wall for poor Devalto and the Cornish Wonder quickly rubber stamped his victory and earnt his place in Brighton Dome’s rich history.

The tale of Francis Gregory and John Devalto is just one of the hidden stories of the Brighton Dome’s past that await you on our behind-the-scenes tours. Find out more about our monthly Brighton Dome Discovery tours.

By Kirstin Norwood