BOXING AUTHOR AND CONTRIBTING WRITER
Born in Reading in 1945, I was, as a boy, always interested in sport, especially football and athletics. It wasn't until I attended my senior school at eleven years of age that I became interested in boxing. Well not so much interested, because it was compulsory, so you had to like it! After leaving school I spent most of my working years in the printing industry, where I played football for the works team and a local side.
Certain periods in history interest me along with genealogy and although an aunt of mine has beaten me in tracing the family tree, it was a combination of history, genealogy, boxing and my grandfather that brought Old Prize Fights in and around Berkshire and Famous Pugilists of the English Prize Ring to fruition. In the Berkshire book I relate how my grandfather, who had participated in organised boxing in the army during the First World War had, after he was discharged through injury, took part in several illegal bareknuckle fights in the Reading area, to earn a few pounds as he was unemployed, married and with two young daughters to support. Coupled with this he fought with only one eye after having had the other one shot out during the war, sporting a glass one for everyday living.
Tales he related to me made me realise that these men from the 18th century onwards who indulged in this brutal sport must have been tough, hard men worth writing about.
PLEASE CHECK OUT BELOW SOME OF MICKS BOOKS ON THE SUBJECT OF BAREKNUCKLE BOXING
Famous Pugilists of the English Prize Ring 1719-1870
The book describes eighty of the most recognised top rated bareknuckle fighters from this era. It gives the reader their life details, heights and weights, their fights and their recorded ring records. All the so called Champions of England from 1719-1870 are included as well as the acclaimed champions and some of the top contenders in the other four weight classes from the time of their evolvement.
Paperback. 226 pages. Price £13.99+p&p.
Old Prize Fights in and around Berkshire
This book describes twenty two prizefights that took place in Berkshire or around its borders ranging from 1787 until 1868. Many of the participants were acclaimed champions or champions in the making and some of the fights described in the book were recognised as title fights. The book details the fighters past boxing history, their fight(s) in Berkshire and comments on their future after these fights. It also contains short descriptions on other fights plus, because of lack of records, the names, venues, results and purse money of many other local fights.
Order from: email@example.com
This book is a limited edition with only a few left.
Paperback. 166 pages. Price £7.99+p&p.
As Mick Hill is a respected bareknuckle boxing Author and Historian its a pleasure that he will be contributing articles to the website from time to time. Please check out Mick's website on the link below or clicking on the photos of Micks Books.
George Maddox V Joe Symonds
Datchet, near Windsor, Berkshire Tuesday December 4th, 1792
Both of these men were classed as prize fighters of the second order; however their scant records describe them both as men who didn’t so much enter the ring to fight but to enter into total warfare. No scientific technique was involved in these two bruisers boxing armoury, apart from just standing their flatfooted taking mighty swings at their opponents. The Fight: The fight had originally been intended to be held at a place called Langley Broom near Slough, then just inside Buckinghamshire, but the magistrates had discovered the time and place and were hell bent on stopping it. After some hurried discussions the venue was changed and the ring, erected on a stage, was hurriedly set up again just down the road at Datchet, on the Buckinghamshire side of Datchet Bridge, just east of Windsor. This sudden change of place obviously caused confusion and annoyance to the fight fraternity, who had to make a quick dash by any means of transport available, to the new venue. However, the many spectators that had gathered had waited a long time for this battle royal to come off and once settled around the ring were soon relishing the thought of these two fighters facing each other in not so much a prize fight, but probably all-out war!
They were not to be disappointed once the tradition of the preliminaries was disposed of. These two brutal gladiators of the ring menacingly squared up to each other, puffed out their chests, snorted, advanced forward like rutting stags ready to lock horns and then proceeded to let all hell loose as they began to crash in fearsome bombs at each other’s heads and bodies. Neither was prepared to give an inch of ground as they swung awesome punches, with only one thought in their heads and that was to beat the other man into submission, unconsciousness or maybe even death, but never, ever to surrender themselves. As the rounds went by with no let-up in this bone crunching onslaught, women in the crowd began to scream and cry at the sickening sight of copious amounts of what was a mixture of blood and sweat, not only flowing freely from both men’s faces, but now painting a gruesome pattern on the ring as well. This was coupled with the echoing sound of solid bone smashing against solid bone as the two men stood toe to toe, with the added terrible sight of splashes of blood peppering the ringside spectators as well. Maddox seemed to be landing twice the number of telling blows compared to Symonds, but the advantage alternated round after round, so that after two hours of total blood soaked mayhem and an estimated one hundred rounds of fighting, the fight was at stalemate.
The referee finally halted the proceedings before one or possibly both of them ended up dead, with the only decision open to him – a draw. Joe Symonds, almost unconscious on his feet, both eyes bruised, swollen and shut, his face distorted, completely unrecognizable and disfigured, body covered in black and purple bruises and racked with pain, was carried off the stage by his seconds to rapturous applause from his supporters. The also badly battered and bruised George Maddox, barely conscious himself, received the same tremendous applause from his fans, as he too was carried off the stage, arms draped over his seconds shoulders. Both fighters were temporarily blinded by the injuries they sustained to their faces and eyes. The fight was described by witnesses around the ring at the time as unparalleled in the history of the prize ring for its unrelenting and brutal savagery. One spectator to this carnage noted that just before the referee stopped it, a man in the crowd called out “in God’s name, part them, take them away, or murder will be committed this day”. It nearly was that December day just three weeks before Christmas of 1792.
This fight description was extracted from “Old Prize Fights in and around Berkshire”, by Mick Hill, a book of about twenty fights from 1787-1868. A copy of this limited edition book (four copies left) priced at £7.99 can be ordered by contacting Mick Hill on:-
Many sports people when they hear the word Corinthian usually think of the all-conquering Corinthian Football Club founded in 1882 that consisted of amateur footballers, many of whom played for England in international matches. However in the 18th and early 19th centuries the term was used to describe a sporting gentleman of any sport and they were generally the idle rich young dandies and aristocrats who took part at an amateur level, supported, backed, sponsored or gambled large amounts of money on their chosen sportsmen or sports and often indulging in all of them, however they were the financial backbone of sport. These young rakes and fops spent their days and evenings socializing, eating, drinking, womanizing and gambling enormous amounts of money on their chosen sport(s).
Royalty in the shape of George, Prince of Wales (1762-1830) was not excluded from this, in fact he was one of their leading lights in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, when, at Brighton Pavilion along with his rich, parasitical cronies such as Beau Brummell, Lord “Hellgate” Barrymore, Colonel Hanger, Sir John Lade and others they took part in orgies of indescribable drunken debauchery and dangerous, silly pranks for bets amounting to hundreds or thousands of pounds. Horse racing and prize fighting were the prince’s favourite sports and after watching a fight between Tom Tyne and George Earle, in which Earle lost his life, the prince was heavily criticized for supporting the sport. This like many other jibes were water off a ducks back to the prince, even when completely inebriated at his wedding to Princess Caroline, he had to be held up by his best man at the alter and his wedding night was spent hopelessly drunk lying in the grate.
Richard Barry, Earl of Barrymore (1769-1794) was probably the wildest of them all with the appropriate nickname of “Hellgate” which he done his best to live up to throughout his short life. As a pupil at Eton he led a mob of drunken posh boys on horseback swapping the tavern signs around in the local villages and smashing windows. At his majestic estate in Wargrave, Berkshire, apart from weekend long high society orgies, he built a theatre costing £60,000 where he put on lavish shows starring top actors and actresses of the day for his rich friends. His greatest love was the turf, although it is estimated he lost well over £100,000 in bets and following that was prize fighting, which he in turn took lessons from the various pugilists he set up in training quarters on his estate. One such fighter was Bill Hooper known as the “Tinman” who became Barrymore’s bodyguard and also engaged to clear up or smooth over any trouble or mess that his boss had caused. As trouble, reckless living and gambling increased, his fortune of over £300,000 went downhill quickly until he was reduced to partying with the lowlife’s of London, with his estate mortgaged to the hilt. He obtained a commission with the Berkshire Militia in 1793 and on escorting some French prisoners to Deal in Kent he accidently shot himself when he dropped his gun, which proved fatal, killing him instantly.
Colonel George Hanger, 4th Baron Coleraine (1751-1824), was also educated at Eton, then he joined the Prussian Army as a teenage and at the age of twenty he purchased a commission in the Regiment of Footguards. Although he was known as a womanizer he got married to a gypsy girl but it is reported that she ran off with an Irish tinker shortly afterwards, After recuperating from injuries sustained in battle Hanger became friends with George, Prince of Wales having the same interests at heart as the prince including prize fighting where, being trained by “Gentleman” John Jackson, he turned out to be a useful man with the fists, which the prince made use of when appointing him to arrange prize fights for him to watch. The prince also entrusted him in buying and training his stud as he was an expert of horse flesh, but when the prince’s debts mounted the stud went and so did George Hanger. The army also got rid of him, there was little left of the family fortune and so George returned to his old London haunts and back to his old decadent life where he was known as one of the greatest reprobates of that era until old age and fast living finally caught up with him
There were many others, like Colonel Henry Mellish (1782-1817), who could live it up with the best of them but swore he would never sink to the same level as others with their debauchery. Henry Mellish was an ardent supporter of horse racing with his horses winning the St. Leger in 1804 and 1805. Educated at Cambridge University, his money for gambling came from his inheritance of the Blyth and Hodstock estates on the death of his father, Charles Mellish of Blyth and because his elder brother Joseph had been disinherited by him due to his extravagance. Mellish had a career in the army eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and distinguishing himself in the Peninsular Wars of 1808-1810. In 1805 as John Gully languished in London’s debtor’s jail Mellish was persuaded by bareknuckle prize fighting champion, Henry “Hen” Pearce to pay his fellow Bristol friend’s debt, which the colonel promised he would if Gully repaid the debt by becoming a prize fighter. Gully went through a friendly fight in prison with Pearce to prove his worth as a future boxer, which convinced Mellish and the prison authorities of his serious inclination to become a fighter on release, which he did, finally ending up as champion.In 1806 Mellish was forced to sell off his Blyth estate to cover his gambling debts, keeping the Hodstock estate with its house as his main residence which remained his until his death in 1817 and then passed on to his sister.
Henry de la Poer Beresford (1811-1859), the 3rd Marquis of Waterford, an Irish peer was as daft as a brush with his outrageous pranks and tricks played on the general public by him and his rich friends. He was a keen horseman and in 1840 entered the Grand National on one of his own horses, but finished last out of four finishers and about half a mile behind them!Constantly in the news for his drunkenness, fighting in pubs and in the street, stupid and dangerous pranks, vandalism and prepared to do anything for a bet, he earned the name of “the Mad Marquis”, culminating in 1837 when after heavy drinking at the races, Beresford and friends argued over payment with a tollgate keeper at Melton Mowbray. Grabbing pots of red paint from nearby they painted the poor toll keeper and a constable then locked them up and painted the tollgate. They then charged through the town painting other doors, smashing windows and overturning flower pots. They painted other pub signs or threw them in the canal, vandalized a post office and painted some more policemen. They were eventually arrested, one of the gang jailed, however Beresford and the others succeeded in rescuing him by beating up two policemen and grabbing the keys. The next day Beresford paid for all the damage to people and property but all of them were tried, found not guilty but were fined £100 each and that is how “painting the town red” entered the English language!During his more sane moments, along with Joe Parish, Beresford was one of champion prize fighter James “Deaf” Burke’s backers as along with being a fan of the turf, boxing was another major interest of his. Unfortunately in 1859 Henry de la Beresford, 3rd Marquis of Waterford was killed in a horse riding accident.There were other so called Corinthians, some probably just as mad as these characters, which just goes to prove not all the colourful characters were inside the prize ring!
I first became interested in Tim Collins as he was a bareknuckle boxer I had never heard of until he was involved in the only bare knuckle fight I could find information on in my home town of Reading. Tim Collins was born on Christmas Day 1845 in Blackrock, Dublin, where the young Collins and his parents emigrated from in 1849, moving to London and by the time Collins was fourteen he was working as a “mudlark”, (children who trawled the muddy banks of the Thames looking for things of value discarded by the factories, docks and ship-works that lined the river bank), with coal, brass or other objects of metal being the most valuable to try and sell for a few pennies. The young Collin’s patch was close to St. Martin’s Lane where he came to the attention of the son of famous pugilist Ben Caunt and apparently had access to young Ben Caunt’s sparring rooms, where he honed his boxing skills on the local talent. By now Collins was employed as a crossing sweeper in London, sweeping the streets of litter, dust and dirt along with the horse and dog droppings, with his spare time taken up with fighting for a few coppers and running with the local street gang. On May 9th 1862 the now sixteen year old Collins had his first recorded paid fight for an undisclosed purse at Aldershot in Hampshire against Jem Pickett. The seconds for Collins were Oliver and Drew with Pickett acquiring the services of Shaw and “Puggy” White as his seconds. Apparently the fight over the whole sixty rounds was an outstanding, toe to toe fight lasting just over an hour and a half before Collins was declared the winner.
After this success a fight was arranged for seven weeks later on June 30th at an unknown venue somewhere in London against a certain Tom Frost about which nothing is known apart from it being another win for Tim Collins in twenty five rounds and an hour of fighting over an opponent who apparently stood no chance against the fists of Collins, who collected a purse of ten pounds. For his next fight in December of that year, Collins was pitched in with someone only know as Jesse Hatton’s Spider. Again the venue was Aldershot with a third win for Collins in ninety minutes for another ten pound purse. No details of the fight exist apart from the fact that Collins left ear was badly damaged in this fight. In fact as time went on his appearance was described as having a ruddy look, piercing eyes, a nose with a double curve, wide mouth, ears that were prominent with the left one being a cauliflower one, thick neck, square shoulders, on a muscular body. He stood 5’ 5½” high with a fighting weight of about 120lbs.
Early in 1863 Bob Dackem became the Irishman’s next opponent when they met at Long Reach, Dartford, Kent and in an epic marathon of just over two hours the fight was declared a draw with an undisclosed purse shared between the two combatants. Later that year Tim Collins found himself in the opposite corner to Denny Cronin but no records can be found of the venue or the fight apart from it being another win for Collins in two hours for a purse of ten pounds. Collins had now began to gain the interest of some factions of the London Fancy and so his next selected opponent was a step up in class with Jerry Hawkes, locally known as “the Nonpareil of the Surrey side” with three wins and a loss on his record. A ring was set up in an unrecorded venue somewhere in London and on November 17th, 1863 and the fight started with Collins rushing in, but over the twenty two round it lasted Collins took a hammering from the superior Hawkes.
In April 13th 1865 he faced the very capable London born Bob Furze for a twenty five pound a side purse. Furze had previously shown impressively against top lightweights Ted Napper and Wolverhampton’s Abe Hicken. At an unknown venue in Surrey after being disturbed by the law twice, a third ring was set up two days later somewhere in the London area where after being disturbed twice more by the law and after another three rounds of fighting in a third ring, Collins acknowledged defeat, with the fifty pound purse being handed over to Bob Furze. A return fight against Bob Dackem, which I have no details of was apparently contested next and is recorded as a draw after just over two hours for an unknown purse. Collins then entered the lists against Joe Bent, the son of the well-known Leicester boxer Mickey Bent. Prize ring novice Joe Bent was a twenty year old, lofty, 6’ 4” beanpole of 121lb. when they clashed at an unknown venue. The seconds for Collins were Ned O’Baldwin and George Iles while Ned Donnelly and Job Cobley done the honours for Bent. After two hours of fighting they were disturbed by the law so a second ring was formed and after rejecting an offer of a draw by the Bent camp, simply because Collins was hardly marked, while Bent was a mass of cuts and bruises, the fight carried on until the eighty seventh round when the sponge was thrown in for the badly battered Joe Bent. A fifty pound purse was Tim Collins reward for a hard day’s work against a gallant loser. Collins was then apparently involved in another three fights of which there are just the briefest details, all in 1867. They were a win against Denny Cronin, a loss by knockout to Young Hundreds in a gloved fight and a return fight with Cronin also being with gloves, but no details of who won. Jem Rawlings was Tim Collins next opponent when they met somewhere just outside London on March 30th, 1868 when after a fight that lasted twenty one rounds, for a purse of twenty five pounds the Irishman was declared the winner after easily disposing his victim.
The fight with Bill Gillam at Reading Races now followed in July 1868 after a row between the two men, where after a ring was hastily formed for a purse of ten pounds, Gillam was beaten but he refused to accept the defeat after he fouled Collins, so a second fight was then arranged where after another ten rounds Gillam was thrown heavily, Collins picking up another ten pound purse. (A fuller description of the fights appear in Old Prize Fights in and around Berkshire by Mick Hill). But the story doesn’t end there because soon after this fight Collins emigrated to America and by May 25th 1871 was contesting the Lightweight Championship of America with the great Billy Edwards at Long Island, New York. From the first round Tim set about his task with relish and not put off by being knocked down in the first round. From then on it was all the 25 year old Irishman’s fight, knocking Edwards all over the ring although the Birmingham man was never going to give in however bruised and battered he had become as the rounds continued. Apart from the odd blip Collins had it all his own way and by the time the ninety third and fourth rounds arrived all Collins had to do was knock Edwards over. In the ninety fifth and last round, after knocking Edwards over again the referee postponed the fight until the next day, as it was now dark and when Collins approached Edwards who was sat on his second’s knee, Edwards threw himself to the ground.
Thus ended the combat, but at midnight both men were arrested and slung in a New York prison. They both spent under a year in Blackwell Island prison, Edwards went onto better things while there are the odd snippets of minor fights and exhibitions by Collins in the American papers including two exhibitions with Edwards in April 1874. It is possibly safe to say that Collins was in and out of trouble from after the title fight with Billy Edwards and also gradually drinking heavier as time went on. By 1881 he was reported as being interned in an asylum in Boston, Massachusetts and in 1886 in a sanatorium in Northampton, Massachusetts, suffering from dementia and alcoholic abuse. It is still a mystery as to when he exactly died. How good a fighter was Tim Collins? In this country he fought mostly fighters of the second order apart from Gillam, who was over the hill and possibly Furze and Hawkes who beat him. He also claimed to be the lightweight champion of England which was basically laughed at because of fighting mostly unknowns for small purses. He then goes to America and beats the great Billy Edwards in all but result only, for the American lightweight title! But that is the fascination of boxing.
This is a shorter version of the article that appears on Mick Hill’s website under Various Articles.
PRIZEFIGHTERS WERE NO ANGELS BUT..........
Because of its raw brutality bare knuckle prize fighting was demonized and vehemously criticized from all quarters of society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, much the same as gloved boxing today is still frowned upon by some people. In Georgian and Victorian times men from the church, Members of Parliament, landed gentry, businessmen, many members of Royalty and many of the general public were among the swathes of people that wanted and tried to have the sport stopped or suppressed. Many irate people continuously wrote to newspapers complaining of the barbarity of the sport, of a prize fight that happened in their vicinity or venting their disgust at the behaviour of its supporters.
A journal of the time titled The United Service Journal, a periodical predominantly depicting all aspects of the British Army and Royal Navy carried one such story in 1834 from an angry contributor. In the article the contributor’s sole aim was to prove beyond doubt that all prize fighters were criminals, thieves, murderers, pickpockets, footpads, duffers, body snatchers and alcoholic bullies amongst other things. Retired pugilists were accused of being brothel keepers, thugs, gamblers and illegal money lenders whose premises attracted all the criminal and pond life of London and other towns and cities, calling and encouraging them to be so called supporters of an illegal sport. From Broughton to the then present Whitechapel bruisers the article stated that it was going to prove all pugilists were criminals and went on to describe several as fine examples of this named below.
John Thurtell who was hanged at Hertford for the murder of his friend, Mr. Weare, a fellow gambler and drinking pal. Three others going by the names of Bishop, Harris and Williams were also named as murderers.
Jack Adams, imprisoned in a prison hulk at Chatham for seven years for petty theft.
Jack Carter, transported to Australia for seven years for robbery.
Dick Curtis, accused of running a gang of pickpockets and being paid to fix his fight against Jack Perkins.
Jack Perkins, transported to Australia for seven years for stealing a watch.
Joe Parish, also transported to Australia for stealing a watch.
Joe Norton, who died after being badly beaten in a prize fight.
Bell’s Life & Sporting Magazine which regularly reported on prize fights throughout England hit back at these accusations with a run down on the above named men.
It stated that although they accepted that John Thurtell was rightfully hanged, he was never a prize fighter, although he was purported to have seconded a "cross" between Jack Randall and Jack Martin and helped organize a "cross" between Tom Oliver and Ned Painter. Bell’s Life also accepted that the men named Bishop, Harris and Williams were all accused of murder, but all three were never prize fighters. It was true that Jack Adams was guilty of petty theft, but it was a first offence. What wasn’t reported was that while serving his time in the prison hulk, a fluke accident happened when the anchor crashed through the bottom deck threatening to drown hundreds of prisoners and guards. Adams managed to plug the hole so saving all of the men. He was rewarded with early release and a monetary award. Jack Carter served his sentence for robbery and when he returned to England he resumed his career as a pugilist, but also went to great lengths to prove his innocence, walking many miles to London to plead his case. As a result his accuser was finally transported. Dick Curtis, as it turned out was wrongfully accused of controlling a gang of pickpockets and no evidence was ever found that his fight with Jack Perkins was a "cross". Jack Perkins, found guilty of stealing a watch. It was a well-known fact that he was general presumed innocent and that the thief was a member of one of Oxford’s colleges. Joe Parish, also accused of stealing a watch, which was a first offence, was driven to it by sheer desperation as he was in such dire financial straits. Nothing was said about the character of the man who, before this had adopted an orphan boy, feeding, clothing and giving him shelter before he found himself with money problems. Finally, Joe Norton didn’t die because he was so badly beaten in the prize ring, but died in a chair after suffering a seizure bought on by an apoplectic fit, after having devoured a heavy meal.
Bell’s Life then went on to explain that many publicans of which many were ex-fighters, let their premises be used for collecting stake money for forthcoming fights and also arranged exhibition bouts and dinners for pugilists or ex-pugilists that were suffering from hard times.
It was also mentioned that certain members of Royalty had often attended prize fights over the years and were ardent followers of the sport along with judges, Members of Parliament, earls, barons, army and navy chiefs, industrialists and other rich and important members of society and although wallets and watches could go missing,when they attended these fights, it never stopped many members of high society mingling with supporters who were less fortunate than them!