One of the forms of fighting that took place in Wales was Mountain Fighting, it was similar to the way that travellers fight in regards to Fairplay fighting. No kicking, biting, gouging and if one goes down they wait till they get up untill one gives best. Both fighters had fair play men that would be nominated by each man and used to keep the fights fair and square. Below i'll be adding Pictures and write ups of the men who took part in this hard and respected fighting.
WELSH EX BOXERS REMEMBER MOUNTAIN FIGHTING
Former boxing champions Eddie Thomas, Billy Eynon, Charlie Bundy, Glen Moody, Phineas John, Cuthbert Taylor, Jack Phillips and Sid Worgan discuss boxing in the first half of the 20th century. They were speaking with Peter Walker in Thomas' front room in Merthyr for BBC Wales' 1977 programme "Fighting Talk: The History of Welsh Boxing.
MOUNTAIN FIGHTER TRAINS WORLD CLASS GOVED BOXER
Toughness and ability of the mountain fighters as one of the best Gloved boxers
of all time the great Jimmy wilde was trained by The welsh mountain fighter Dai
Davies when the "Mighty Atom" was 15 year old.
DAI DAVIES, FATHER IN LAW AND TAINER OF JIMMY WILDE
In this interview AmeriCymru spoke to Lawrence Davies author
of 'Mountain Fighters - Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing' about his current and
forthcoming books and his passion for the
Hi Lawrence and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. When did you first become interested in boxing and in particular Welsh boxing?
Hi Ceri, great to hear from you, it’s a real pleasure to be asked. I guess like most boxing fans I have fond memories from tuning in and watching fights sitting on the rug next to my dad as a kid, who has always enjoyed the boxing. Saturdays it was always wrestling on ITV in the afternoon and a fight in the evening, maybe a bit of Fit Finlay or Kendo Nagasaki after lunch followed by some Bruno, Benn, Eubank orTyson with a bag of Frazzles. Happy days !
I grew up in Cardiff, where everyone knows the name of Jim Driscoll, even if they aren’t familiar with his story. They called him ‘Peerless’ Jim for his boxing skill, but it was really
his kindness and charity that cemented his name in Welsh sporting history. He was the first British boxer to win the Lonsdale featherweight title belt and gave up the opportunity to fight for the championship of the world in the US as he had given his word he would fight on a fundraiser for the Nazareth House Orphanage in Cardiff and returned home. It has been estimated that up to 100,000 people lined the streets of Cardiff when he died, which would make it the largest funeral in Welsh history.The orphans of Nazareth House made up a large number of the mourners, and there were countless famous hard men of the ring weepin among them, friends and opponents alike. It struck me as the strangest contrast, that a man who spent his life in one of the toughest professions there is had such a kind heart when it came to his own people. He gave a lot of money to the poor and needy, and boxed thousands of rounds to raise funds for those less fortunate than himself. He became a true peoples champion in Cardiff, and was one of the most admired champions in British boxing, as much for his actions outside the ring as within it. I think he must have been a remarkable man, and like all the greatest boxing stories, Jim’s story really transcends the sport. Inspirational and heroic in a way I think we rarely glimpse in boxing today. There is a statue to him and his achievements in Cardiff city centre.
As I got older I followed the careers of local boxing stars made good like Steve Robinson and Joe Calzaghe. Steve followed in Driscoll’s footsteps and became featherweight champion, and obviously Joe will long be remembered after retiring undefeated. One of my fondest memories was being at ringside years ago for the Calzaghe Brewer fight. I was working in a warehouse at the time, and I was probably living off beans on toast for a month afterwards, but it was a hell of a battle and worth every last depressing baked bean.Over the years read quite a bit about the first boxing greats to come out of Wales. What was fascinating to me was that all of their stories are so intriguing in their own right, and I was surprised to find that so many of the early Welsh fighters had been forgotten. Even more interesting to me that their careers started at the end of an earlier fighting tradition, where the fist fighters had been known as mountain fighters’, before modern boxing had really taken off in Wales. Fist-fighting or prize fighting was illegal, so most fights happened outside the reach of the law, on the mountains above the towns of the South Wales valleys and were scheduled to start at dawn to avoid the police, in areas called ‘bloody spots’ or ‘blood hollows’ where they did battle with the ‘raw ‘uns,’ meaning that these were all bare-knuckle battles. Although it was an underground sport, it was incredibly popular even though its brutality meant that many of the men died on the mountains due to their injuries, every town and village had its local ‘champ’. A fight continued until a man was knocked unconscious or was unable to continue. As the fights could often go on for hours and there were unlimited numbers of rounds that only stopped when a man went down, the men that fought were often left hideously disfigured. Broken teeth and smashed up faces became the badge of the mountain fighters. In a sense they were almost like unarmed gladiators of early Welsh boxing.
In a strange twist, the boxing rules on which modern boxing were based had been drafted in 1865, and were also written by a Welshman from Llanelli, named John Graham Chambers. The rules were named after his friend, the Marquess of Queensberry, in an attempt to lend a degree of respectability to the sport and also distance boxing from the horrors of the old prize-ring and showcase scientific boxing skill as opposed to a bloody mauling. The new rules didn’t automatically take hold in Wales, as the knuckles were the time honoured way of settling disputes, although a few early showmen were promoting contests wearing gloves. Boxing ‘booths’, little more than travelling tents with a string of boxers demonstrated their skills on fairgrounds and accepted challenges from the audience. If they were skillful or lucky enough to last a set number of rounds they could claim the showman’s cash prize.
The showman would charge a fee for entry, and some did particularly well out of the trade and became celebrities in their own right, people like William Samuels and Patsy Perkins. Many of the knuckle men were quite resentful of the booth boxers and would often turn up on the fairground to try and further their reputations by mauling and battering them.Despite this, the booth was a very effective training school for boxers. Many would say that there hasn’t been a better system for making boxing champions since. Most of them fough multiple times each showing, so by the time they might be termed professional boxers, they might have met hundreds of opponents. In Wales the booths did a roaring trade, and virtually all the old British champions came out of them. I find it astonishing that the first three Lonsdale belt winners were all Welsh, two had come via the booths, and all were competing in a sport where the modern game had developed on rules had also been drawn up by a Welshman. One of the longest running booths was Ron Taylor’s, which was actually still touring the country until just a few years ago.
Although I came across a couple of notorious characters of this time that
had been mentioned in passing in romanticized works of historical fiction, I
found very little solid documentary information about them. It seemed to be a
very interesting period in Welsh history that was mostly forgotten or merely
alluded to, so I decided to look into it myself.
AmeriCymru: What inspired you to write 'Mountain Fighters - Lost Tales Of Welsh Boxing'?
Lawrence: As a teenager I’d occasionally drop in for a pint at the Royal Oak in Newport Road if they had a decent band on. The great guitarist Tich Gwilym used to play there back in the day. It was stuffed with photos and pictures of Jim Driscoll back then and I’d have a look over them while nursing a pint. Jim was instantly recognizable, and all the others in the pictures were a mostly unnamed or unknown clump of tough looking old bruisers with squashed noses and cauliflower ears. It struck me that in boxing, the greatest part of the story is often forgotten. We remember the champion, and not necessarily the men that he beat to get there. If Driscoll and Jimmy Wilde and all the others had become champions, who did they beat? I thought there must have been some fairly established fighters knocking about to have even paved the way. I figured that some of their stories should be remembered. I didn’t get round to it straight off, but the thought remained.
My family are from Merthyr and my uncle once met the immortal Jimmy Wilde, who is usually recorded as having been born in Tylorstown, but was actually born near Merthyr at QuakersYard. He became flyweight champion of the world in 1916. Wilde fought hundredsof times, frequently giving away stones in weight. He remains one of the greatest marvels in boxing. Apparently, even Jimmy used to sit agog hearing the tales of his mountain fighting father-in-law Dai Davies of Tylorstown, who wasn’t adverse to a bare knuckle fight for hours on end, probably more often than not for a jug of ale as a prize. Unbelievable. Today there’s not many people outside boxing circles that even remember Jimmy’s name, which isomething bordering on sacrilege. Sadly there is no statue to him in Wales, though I do remember he was at least languishing at a fairly low number in the 100 greatest Welshmen lists a few years back. I’d have put him in the top ten. Jimmy’s tale is one of the most wonderful boxing stories there is.
Years ago I met a fragile old boy at a bus stop and talk got round to boxing. When we picked over some of the best, I mentioned Jimmy Wilde and he got a strange gleam in his eye and minutes later he was shuffling about telling me of how his grandfather had seen him fight in his youth, ‘magic, boy, pure bloody magic’ he said, remembering his grandfathers story, and started demonstrating a few shaky punches. It was like he’d dropped sixty years and was a boy again. There really is something special about boxing that ignites a fire in Welshmen
that I don’t think you see in any other sport, not even rugby.
I studied English and Anglo Saxon heroic literature at the University of Wales, which really made me think about boxing again a few years later. The emergence of a hero who rises against all odds is a central re-occurring theme in most folk literature. As a child I was fascinated with the stories of Greek mythology. Strength and courage are almost universally admired and usually form the main defining characteristics of a hero. It seemed to me that many of these early fighters became symbols of triumph to their countrymen for having
found a way to rise above the fate that most were forced to endure.
Personally, I have always admired fighters over most athletes and sportsmen because to fight requires absolute mastery of the will. The training would be enough to level most of us. Strength and courage are not enough, while you need physical strength and stamina on a level beyond what is required in virtually any other sport, you also need an impossibly fast brain. To deal with evading blows, while trying to plant them on an opponent inside fractions of seconds is a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach while jogging backwards.
That a boxer walks into a ring knowing that he is facing an opponent completely alone takes unbelievable self belief. It’s not something that just anyone can do, let alone do well.
AmeriCymru: You have resurrected a colourful and fascinating cast of characters for a modern audience. People like William Samuels and Redmond Coleman were both working class heroes (and villains) in their day. Do you have a personal favourite?
That’s a really hard question, because hunting down information on some of them has been such a long and involved process. Some have grown from little more than a list of names. The characters and stories of some fighters only emerged over quite a long period of time, while many of the lesser names are more like blank canvases. Even now I have a list of fighters which I never really discovered any more about other than a name. Some still gnaw at me a little bit, one was called the ‘Lasher’ which I think is a superb ring name; I just wish I knew how the Lasher earned it.
William Samuels of Swansea would probably win by a nose because you couldn’t invent a character like him, and I’m glad to have had the pleasure of uncovering and recording some part of his remarkable career. He was an acrobat, a strongman, and a circus performer before starting his boxing booth, and claimed the bare knuckle heavyweight championship of Wales for donkey’s years. He once beat down a man who was thought to be one of the best fighters in South Wales when he was past fifty years old with one arm, after having broken the other on his opponent’s body. Samuels knocked them down in fairground boxing booths where he’d take on all comers in towns and villages all over South Wales for twenty years and more. One of his stunts was to take on six challengers at a time, one after another.
He also had the temerity to walk into a circus cage full of lions and shoot starting pistols in their faces and somehow emerged unscratched, and had enough courage to square up to John L Sullivan, the bare-knuckle champion of the world.Samuels had a terrible temper, and fell out with almost every other Welsh boxer of his time, and became something of a celebrity in old swansea town.
I was researching him for a long time before I actually turned up a photograph of him, which was a very exciting moment, and I was pleased to see he looked just as proud and haughty as I hoped he would be. William Samuels was the first real boxing showman of any real note in South Wales. I admire his grit, and get a kick out of his contradictory nature. They say he was always laughing, good spirited, always had a penny or a peppermint to give to a child, yet he could easily blow his stack in the blink of an eye and be rolling up his sleeves moments later. He sounds like a handful, but was a man who I don’t think you’d forget too easily. The stories of Samuels’ time read quite like the film ‘Gangs of New York’, just with bare fists or gloves rather than shillelaghs or stilettos. There should really be a pub named after him in Swansea.
Redmond Coleman has always been a fascination of mine, partly because he inspired admiration and terror in almost equal measure. Redmond was locked up by the police over 120 times; he’d fight anyone, anywhere, and seems to haveearned his nickname of the ‘Ironman’ through his willingness to fight outsidethe ring as well as within it. They say the only people that could keep him in line were his sister (with the aid of an iron bar she carried to beat him into line) and the local priest, who carried a stick to threaten him with one. Still, for all that he was a very hard man. Some people had suggested to me that a man like Redmond shouldn’t be remembered at all, which I think is
completely wrong. He was a product of the hardness of his time, where the majority slaved for a pittance and lived in abject poverty with a gloomy future stretching out before them. Redmond might have started battling on the mountainsides bare-knuckle, and with the Merthyr police force, but he also fought with gloves before Lords at the National Sporting Club in London. He was also one of the first to put his hometown of Merthyr on the map as a fighting town.
Think that being known as one of the toughest fighters around, he was targeted by a fair collection of local toughs eager to claim they had beaten the famous ‘Ironman’. He also suffers from having been recorded in works of fiction as having been the ‘Emperor’ of ‘China’ which was a notorious slum area of Merthyr, which is historically incorrect. Amongst the thugs, thieves, prostitutes and career criminals of China, the toughest man in the district was given the title of ‘Emperor’ which would put Redmond at the top of the tree of a whole community of undesirables. In reality, China had been in decline even before Redmond’s time, and he never was the Emperor of China. I think his notoriety led to his story being rolled into that of an earlier Merthyr hardman, John Jones, better known as Shoni Sguborfawr, who became notorious for his role in the Rebecca Riots, and was a much earlier ‘Emperor of China’. Redmond did serve in WW1 and appeared on a number of benefit events for Nazareth House, so he can’t have been all bad. One of the most likeable fighters in the book is probably Morgan Crowther of Newport, who I knew virtually nothing about when I began writing. He started fighting almost before he had grown out of short trousers. Although he was a small guy and didn’t really have much of a telling punch, he was phenomenally durable. Morgan Crowther would think nothing of a forty round match and come up smiling. He is recorded as being a very likable and affable sort of chap, so won a lot of friends that didn’t even realize he was a boxer as he didn’t seem to fit the profile of a knuckle fighter. He travelled extensively to fight throughout Wales and England, and fought everywhere from a churchyard in the dead of night in Wales, through to meadows in England, racecourses, and fairgrounds as well as high end gentleman’s clubs. He was an absolute pain in the neck for police forces throughout the land, who hid behind railway station walls and hedges everywhere hoping to capture him. He even got a mention in the House of Commons he became so notorious. Morgan was something of a lovable scoundrel, and was the toast of Wales among the public, probably all the more so for being hauled before the courts on a regular basis and carrying on regardless. Having spent so much time puzzling over so many records, and trying to find pieces of information to build the story of each fighter for so long, I have to say I have a great deal of affection for all of them even some of the undesirables. Some continue to niggle away at me, because I really want to find out more about them. One of these is Robert Dunbar, who claimed the lightweight championship of Wales as well as running his own boxing booth and was a committed enemy of William Samuels. He blew out one of his eyes in a firearm accident, yet continued to fight on with just one eye for many years. I still haven’t found a picture or a photograph of him. Another old timer which I am very interested in is Dan ‘Pontypridd’ who turned his back on prize fighting and became a preacher fighting for God rather than prize money. He even burned a belt made of gold that was given to him by his supporters after his conversion. A fascinating character and one of the earliest Welsh prize fighters to be acclaimed nationally outside Wales. I also have a great deal of respect for Ivor Thomas, who was a great fighter and was already approaching the end of his career when Jim Driscoll was the next big thing on his way up. They were friends, but Ivor had been asking him to fight for a long time before, and would always ask ‘Jim, when be us going to have a go?’. ‘One of these days, Ivor’ was the usual answer. Eventually it came to pass and inevitably Driscoll was victorious. Ivor’s brother, Sam was also very well known, but he preferred to fight on the mountains bare fisted and was a very famous knuckle fighter in the Rhondda. AmeriCymru: An enormous amount of research must have gone into this. What were your primary sources? Is the information presented in the book (particularly the blow by blow accounts of the many gruelling and brutal encounters between contestants) readily available to the researcher? Lawrence: At first the book could easily have been a pamphlet.
When I began researching I thought I would be able to find enough detail to just write short profiles of each fighter with a potted history of their fights. I had little hope of being able to discover much more, but it seemed pretty dry and boring. Part of the problem is that the Welsh newspapers of the time were heavily influenced by the anti-boxing nonconformist chapel folk. For this reason boxing coverage is pretty sparse in a lot of the Welsh newspapers before the turn of the century. Sometimes you’re lucky just to pull up the odd paragraph, hopefully over time they stack up.Most of the research process is hunting and cross referencing, finding contests, names, or mentions of fights and checking them against other newspapers to try and build more detail. A lot of it is list making, finding names, then trying to find dates of birth and deaths, which make for a good start, and just adding entries as you find them until you have something with a bit of meat on it. It is very time intensive, as sometimes the only thing you can do is work out when someone was active and try and trawl the newspapers. As much as anything it can be a question of working out their movements, and trying to find the various aliases they fought under, as many had pseudonyms to avoid being targeted or captured by the police. Usually you find that a bunch of them might crop up, if there was a fatality or the police captured a gang of them in the act, otherwise coverage can be extremely patchy. Some, like Morgan Crowther and Patsy Perkins got around a lot, so it’s a case of checking places against last known movements. It’s a bit of a rabbit hole; each question you answer usually prompts ten more.
As my entries grew, and characters emerged it gave me enough hope that I might be able to write something that gave more of a flavour of their lives and times. I hadn’t even considered that this might be possible when I began.
It is made more difficult because there is no central place where you can go and look at all the regional Welsh newspapers. I ended up going through microfilm in the libraries at Cardiff, Swansea, Pontypridd, Merthyr, and other places to trawl for references. It’s pretty hard on the eyes, some older newspapers are in fairly rough shape, and others are only readily available on microfilm. I also travelled to London to
look through the nationwide newspapers held by the British Library to follow up on those fighters that were also active outside Wales, such as Dan ‘Pontypridd’ and MorganCrowther. Some if not most of the records are far from complete, and only based on which reports could be found. I hope that in time, more information might come to light on some of them.
They do say that the National Library at Aberystwyth is currently engaged in trying to digitize every one of the Welsh 19th century regional newspapers over the next few years, so that they are word searchable online. I think this is an amazing project, and only wish that it had been available to me when writing the book; it would have made a lot of the slog a great deal easier. I am hopeful that it will be a
goldmine for any researchers engaged in Welsh history and will unearth a massive amount of information about all aspects of our history that was previously only accessible through long time consuming trawling.
I hope that I might also be able to tick off some of the many unanswered questions and more information on some of the boxers that I have researched, and some of those that have eluded me. Published boxing ‘ring records’ did not really come into being until a bit later, to find the records of the earlier men you have to keep digging. I have thought it might be an idea to try and gather all the information I can find and compile a sort of mountain fighter ring record book, but I think it would probably be a fairly tough job, so maybe in the future.
It took a solid couple of years to try and find the material and then organize it so that I could fold it into coherent tales. The book probably
wouldn’t have happened without the enthusiasm of a large number of people; librarians throughout Wales helped me with searches and enquiries along the way, as did the Resolven Historical Society with the story of the ‘Resolven Giant’, Dai St. John. A gentleman and boxing historian by the name of Clay Moyle was also kind enough to find a number of documents and fight accounts that I would have struggled to gain access to without his help. Ivor Rees Thomas, the grandson of Ivor Thomas was also very kind in giving me further details and
photographs of his grandfather for use in the book.
Really more than anyone I must thank a boxing historian named Harold Alderman from Aylesham in Kent, who received an M.B.E. for services to boxing a few years ago. We wouldn’t know a fraction of what we know about many 19th century British boxers if it wasn’t for him. For years he has studied and transcribed boxing records by hand, compiling records, and adding to them and redrafting them until they become important historical records in their own right. I have never met anyone that has such an encyclopedic knowledge of any subject to the degree that Harold understands boxing, he is astonishing. I would think over the years he has worked almost round the clock to uncover the records of thousands of fighters and given his records to the descendents of old-time boxers, often without receiving a penny in return for his labour. His work has contributed the backbone of the work for a large number of boxing writers and historians for many years.
In fact, it was Mr. Alderman who compiled the record of Redmond Coleman, which made writing Redmond’s tale a great deal easier. One of the great things to come out of the book was that I also tracked down Redmond’s unmarked grave in Merthyr. Along with Harold and a number of the Welsh Ex-Boxers Association, we finally put up a marker, which I think was eighty years overdue.
AmeriCymru: Many of these fighters were coalminers or iron-workers. How important was their industrial background in preparing them for prize fighting?
Lawrence: I think it played a massive part in the lives of the early men of the Welsh ring, at the top end there were men who made a fair amount of money out of fighting and spent it just as easily. The majority fought for pennies, so there were very few men who could make enough money to support themselves as full-time fighters. The bulk of the population was employed in the coal and iron industries. There was always an overabundance of work, and so labour was cheap. Workers rights were non-existent, as any one that was deemed a
troublemaker was easily sacked and replaced.
Coalminers started their working lives at the age of fourteen after having received a rudimentary education. There were few other opportunities on offer, so the coalmine loomed in their future even before the average pupil left school. Life was tough, hard, and in their working lives, fatalities were an inevitable part of life. it must have hardened the attitudes of the men to death and injury, and I expect
most accepted the possibility of their own lives coming to an abrupt end through industrial accidents as a feature of everyday life. As the coal and iron industries grew, it brought men from all over the country and caused some tensions between natives and newcomers. Most of these disagreements were settled in the simplest way, with a fistfight. Many fights occurred in thecoalmines themselves, or by an agreement to meet on the mountain.
It really is quite hard to imagine just how much frustration and anger must have built up in the men working at the coalface like beasts of burden, spending most of their lives in the dark. By the time they left the pit, I think it is fairly understandable that for many this daily frustration found an outlet in fist-fighting, drinking or both. As the popularity of the boxing booths grew,it also made financial sense for a man that was handy with his fists to seek an opportunity on the boxing booths. The better fighters might earn more in a few fight through collections and side stakes than they could earn in a number of weeks in the coalmines. For most it was probably a toss-up, spend your days working and possibly dying in the dark of the pit, or fight on the booths above ground and potentially risk the same outcome for more money.
AmeriCymru: The book, at least in part, presents a social history of an important sport that played a key role in the lives of many Welshmen in this period. Would you agree? How important was prize fighting in the lives of the ordinary collier or ironworker ?
Lawrence: That it was so widespread gives some indication of the importance to the Welshmen of the period, literally every town and village appears to have had a local champion. Some fought hundreds of times. Although it was a very brutal sport, against the backdrop of the age,fist fighting was really no worse than many other pastimes. At one time ‘cockpits’ for cock fighting were a hub of activity in many villages, which is why the word survived after the cockpit disappeared, and is still in use today. Badger baiting and rat killing were common pursuits. Some of the earlier forms of combat led to horrific injuries. Shin-kicking and Lancashire wrestling often left men crippled or
worse. Rightly or wrongly, in the eyes of the average collier or ironworker, a fist fight at least represented a fair stand up fight and a means of settling a problem without involving the police.
As an entertainment on the fairground, it was incredibly popular. In the days before the cinematograph and moving pictures, a boxing booth would draw vast crowds. The booths were often beautifully decorated with paintings of famous fighters doing battle, and many
showmen incorporated other elements into their shows. Some featured strongmen, musical organs, beautiful girls and snake handlers. Many people saved up every penny they had for the fair, and was one of the most important social events of the calendar. Annual boxing exhibitions were one of the principal ways that Nazareth House raised money to care for the sick and the orphans in Cardiff, but it also raised funds for hospitals, Children’s Welfare Committees, and other charities. During WW1 some of the most famous boxing champions also boxed to raise funds for injured servicemen and the widows of Welsh soldiers killed
in the war. Later on, into the 1930’s, boxing became even more important in raising money for the soup kitchens, and feeding hungry mouths throughout periods of bitter striking.
AmeriCymru: Where can one purchase 'Mountain Fighters' online?
Lawrence: The best place to get a copy would be gwales.com, which is the website of the Welsh Book Council, who are the main distributors of the book. Some branches of Waterstones bookshops also have copies available or can order them on demand from the Welsh Book Council and there are a few other great independent Welsh bookshops that are also stocking it, including Palas Print in Caernafon (palasprint.com) and Browning books (browningbooks.co.uk) in Blaenavon. Hopefully, there should be a website in place in the not too distant future to sell the book directlyalongside other titles.
A link to some reading on Mountaing fighting as featured in a newspaper from 1936 and on welsh boxing booths that produced some of the greats in professional gloved boxing.
A short piece from wikipedia on the beginning of Boxing in Wales
Despite the sport of boxing in Wales being heavily identified with the industrial south, it was a common pastime in pre-industrial Wales around the country; and was patronized by the local gentry. In the late 18th century, boxing became more commercialised with promoters and publicans organising paid matches that attracted spectators, and with them heavy betting. In 1797 the skilful 'Whitechapel Jew', Daniel Mendoza fought in a match near Neath and 1819 saw exhibition bouts staged by two of England's greatest bare-knuckle boxers, Tom Cribb and Tom Spring. One of the more common ways for the Welsh public to watch a fight was at race meets.
Boxing had always been associated with horse racing,and according to the Racing calender the favoured Welsh courses were Brecon, Carmarthen, Knighton, Wrexham and Monmouth. In 1824 the 4,000 racing pundits at Monmouth were also entertained by a fight in which a quarryman called Parry beat Powell in a 103 round contest.The early 19th century also witnessed the emergence of Welsh boxers whose fame extended beyond the confines of the boxing rings. One of the first Welsh fighters of note, despite being born in Southwark in London, was Ned Turner. Turner's parents were both from Montgomeryshire and he was dubbed the "pugilistic prince of Wales' by the North Wales Gazette in 1823.
...a crowd of men, young and old, assembled to take part in that brutalising
practice - a prizefight! The scene was in a hollow on Cilsanws hill behind the
Cefn. ...for a long period these individuals for we can scarcely call them men,
with the ferocity of beasts, fought each other in endeavoring to win a paltry
wager of a few shillings, until all recognition by their features was
Extract from the Merthyr Telegraph 25 September 1858
The opening of the South Wales Valleys to industrialisation in the mid 1800s saw a large influx of commercial immigration. This was followed by an improved transport network, which in turn allowed larger crowds, and larger wagers, to be brought to the sport of boxing. When the Taff Vale Railway was extended to Merthyr Tydfil in 1840, the locals celebrated by a contest between Cyfarthfa champion John Nash, and Merthyr hardman Shoni Sguborfawr.
The adoption of boxing as a sport for the underprivileged in industrial Wales is compared, by Welsh historian Gareth Williams, to the living conditions of the emerging towns themselves. Towns like Merthyr, one of the heartlands of the world's iron industry, with its dire health and living conditions, along with a high rate of industrial injury and death, reinforced in the minds of the working class that life was short and brutal. The sport of boxing, though exploitative of the common man, was still a means to rise above the poverty of everyday life and glamourized the primitive.
In 1867, Wales made its first major contribution to boxing, when Llanelli born sportsman and sport organiser John Graham Chambers devised and drafted the Queensbury Rules, the basic code to which boxing still practices under to this day. Although boxing now had its legitimate code of laws, Wales would often be the location of illegal bare-knuckled fights, and there would be known mountainside locations where locals would meet to watch fights.
These illegal fights were often conducted at dawn in isolated or remote areas, though they were still sometimes disrupted by the law.To evade criminal proceedings, fights were often arranged on land near county borders where jurisdiction was vague and law enforcement intermittent. In particular the area between Tafarnaubach near Tredegar and Llangynidr in Powys became the 'nursey for would-be champions' due to its proximity to the borders of three counties. Towards the end of the Victorian period several Welsh boxers, who made their name as mountain fighters, began fighting under Queensbury rules and became well known and respected sportsmen. Among their number were champion fighters, John O'Brien, Dai St. John, Redmond Coleman and butcher brothers Sam and Ivor Thomas. By the early 20th century, boxing had not advanced to a great degree in Wales, and many of the country's early professional boxers began their career fighting in booths at fairgrounds. With the popularity of the sport increasing, a scale of weights and titles evolved, which allowed the emergence of working-class local heroes.
JOHN GRAHAM CHAMBERS
MARQUESS OF QUEENSBURY WHO GAVE HIS NAME TO THE RULES OF GLOVED BOXING