Thursday, 29 December 2011

Our new website - boxinghistory.org.uk

Although our website boxinghistory.org.uk has not been formally launched, web pages are being constructed and plenty of information is already available to anyone interested in the history of boxing in Britain.

The site will tell the story of the development of professional boxing in Britain up to the year 1979 and will include a vast range of information, such as:

• The complete records, including photos and biographies, of every British Champion between 1909 and 1979.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Nights at Rochester Casino

By Bill Pullum

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Derek O’Dell, Editor and Producer of ‘The Southern Ex-Boxer’, in which it was first published in 2005.


Rochester CasinoThe mists of time spread a haze in the old memory department but I will tell of the things that I do recall and the events that brought me, in a roundabout way, to the Rochester Casino.

Turning pro in 1930 and barely reaching the flyweight limit, I was taken to the Blackfriars Ring by Matt Wells who thought I had high potentiality and wanted to manage me. I remember being appraised and questioned by Dan Sullivan the general-manager and matchmaker at The Ring who, in my youthful eyes, was a formidable gentleman who had a game leg and leaned on a stick. Matt, carried away by his enthusiasm, wanted me matched with Young Dusty of Newcastle over ten by two minute rounds. Turning to me, Sullivan said: "Lad, you're doing the fighting. What do you feel about it?" I replied, "Mr Sullivan, I would like to start right at the bottom and learn all about the game." "He's got more sense than you, Matt," said Sullivan and straightaway booked me for a six-rounder. Dear old Matt was very miffed with me but that experienced and tough Northern boy would have murdered me in my debut bout.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The itinerant showman: a boxing booth memoir

By R. A. Hartley

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Derek O’Dell, Editor and Producer of ‘The Southern Ex-Boxer’, in which it was first published in 2001.

Hughes's boxing boothIt was a fine old-fashioned summer during that year in the mid-1930s. We performers in the Wheatley and Legat Boxing Booth were doing well on our tour of Midlands fairgrounds: plenty of challengers to keep the show going and the spectators were quite generous with their "nobbins".

Our travellers included such legendary names as Sam Minto, Alf Paolozzi, and Tommy Steele, congenial companions - and all with a deep knowledge of booth-fighting. In fact, everyone was happy except Charlie Wheatley, part-owner and manager of the show, and son of the Professor of that ilk, whose booth had travelled the fairgrounds in the years up to and including the First World War.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Imperial War Museum project reveals face of forgotten champion

Left to right: Dick Burge, Ernest Barry and Pat O’Keefe.Left to right: Dick Burge, Ernest Barry and Pat O’Keefe.

I noticed on the BBC News website on Friday an interesting piece about a project that is being co-ordinated by the Imperial War Museum to commemorate those who fought in the Great War. It states:

“This Armistice Day, the Imperial War Museum is hoping to keep alive their memories - and those of millions more who fought in World War One - by publishing 100 portraits of people who served in the war. It will continue to publish additional portraits every weekday until August 2014, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war. Nigel Steel, historian at the Imperial War Museum says the project - called Faces of the First World War - will help reconnect people with the 1914-18 generation.”

One of the first 100 faces the Imperial War Museum has uncovered is that of Pat O’Keefe, three times British middleweight and light-heavyweight champion. This BBC article has inspired me to write about the boxers who joined up, as part of Kitchener’s Army, right at the beginning of the war.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Don Cockell: The Battersea Blacksmith

Don Cockell (Battersea)A letter marked "Please Forward" and addressed to Don Cockell had been kicking around in Jack Solomons' gymnasium for weeks. Don owned a hairdressing business near my home so I volunteered to deliver it. He and I bumped into each other in the shop doorway and I mean "bumped" – he was going out as I was going in.

This was in 1951 when Don was on a run of impressive wins over men like Freddie Beshore, Nick Barone, Lloyd Marshall and Albert Finch. The contest with Finch replaced a world-title challenge against Joey Maxim. Jack Solomons had Joey signed to a firm contract but the Board of Control stepped in and ordered Don to defend his national crown against the Croydon man.

A few weeks earlier I'd watched Cockell box an exhibition with Jack Gardner. His superb physique had brought murmurs from an admiring crowd. He was a splendid figure oozing fitness and ambition and gliding around the ring with sparkling footwork. The contrast with the man now standing in front of me in the shop doorway was stark. Now he was sallow-skinned, fat, and had a nasty boil on his neck. This was the man tipped to beat Maxim yet he looked less imposing than the dossers lolling around the park along the road. I was so shaken at his appearance that I nearly forgot the reason for my mission.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

My Croydon mates

By Gilbert Odd

Gilbert Odd joined the staff of 'Boxing' in 1922 and was later the Editor of its successor, 'Boxing News'. He wrote numerous boxing-related books and was recognised as one of Britain’s leading boxing historians and boxing writers. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in 1995 and died in 1996, aged 93.

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Derek O’Dell, Editor and Producer of ‘The Southern Ex-Boxer’, in which it was first published in 2001.

Jack Hall (Thornton Heath)
Jack Hall
(Thornton Heath)
Running round the Southern Railway's sports track at Mitcham one evening, training for a coming quarter-mile, a young fellow asked me if he could join me. Company at such times is always welcome, but we did not talk until we were changing afterwards.

He told me he was Jack Hall, lived in Thornton Heath, worked on the railway, and was a professional boxer. He started a friendship that lasted 60 years.

We talked about my recent visits to the Crystal Palace, where I'd seen Frank Goddard knock out Billy Wells, Roland Todd outpoint Ted Moore, and Albert Jeal draw with Wal Jordon. He told me he was periodically called upon to box in a minor bout at The Ring, Blackfriars, and invited me to his gym at Dennett Road, which turned out to be a loft over his father's stable.

He encouraged me to pull on a pair of well-worn gloves and step into the single-roped ring. It was difficult to avoid falling through it as there was a large square hole in the middle, through which a ladder had been placed to get us aloft.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

World heavyweight champion behind the bar at your local!

Seen Mike Tyson down your local recently? At first glance this might seem like a ridiculous concept. An ex-world heavyweight champion in an English pub? In 1926 one of Tyson’s predecessors, a man from Canada, didn’t just visit an English pub, he was the landlord!

Tommy Burns held the world heavyweight title for two years. After losing to Jack Johnson in Sydney on Boxing Day 1908 he retired a wealthy man, free to indulge in his interests. He dabbled as a boxing promoter in more than a few countries and was always on the look-out for a budding heavyweight champion. He maybe thought he had found one in Luther McCarty. But poor Luther died, aged 21, in a contest against Arthur Pelkey at Calgary in 1913. Tommy Burns was the unfortunate promoter. In 1920 Tommy was tempted into his final comeback in a contest with Joe Beckett, the British heavyweight champion, at Olympia, London. After losing in seven rounds Tommy hung up his gloves for good.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

George Davis: the Notting Hill hardman who KO'd a world champion

George Davis (Notting Hill)Notting Hill is best known today for its annual carnival, the trendy Portobello Road market, and the 1999 Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts romantic comedy that borrows its name. It's an area synonymous with trendiness and wealth; the place to be seen and to be from. But in the inter-war years Notting Hill was utterly different: a poor, crowded working-class district set in the shadows of the aristocratic mansions of Kensington. It was just the sort of socio-economic setting, however, to produce quality boxers.

It produced an abundance of them during 1920s and '30s, with at least 79 pro fighters representing the district within that 20-year period. By contrast, in the three decades after World War 2 (1945-75) only eight pro boxers fought out of Notting Hill. Hardship really does develop hard fighting men.

And there were few harder than George Davis, who was born in Notting Hill's Crescent Street in July 1918. One of 15 brothers and sisters, he was a nephew of the one-time British and world bantamweight champion Digger Stanley. Like most '20s schoolboys of the area, George's idol was the Anglo-Italian Notting Hill fighter Alf Mancini: one of the best men, at any weight, never to win a British title. Davis, along with many other west London lads, lingered outside of fight halls wherever Mancini boxed, eager to get a glimpse of his hero and find out how he had fared that night.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Fight Night – 1973 style

I first got interested in researching the history of Boxing as a 16-year-old in 1973. Having been brought up in the era of Muhammad Ali it was virtually impossible not to take an interest in the sport at that time. I bought my first Boxing News on 27 April 1973 and within a few months had really become hooked on the domestic scene. The sport was littered with characters; on the up were John Conteh, John H Stracey, and Johnny Clark. On the downward slide at that time were great ringmen like Mark Rowe, Harry Scott and Joe Tetteh.

The world heavyweight title had recently changed hands in dramatic fashion, as the invincible Joe Frazier was destroyed by a young George Foreman. The 1970s are widely recognised today as the golden age of world heavyweight boxing. The British scene wasn’t bad either.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The best ringsters I ever saw

By O. F. Snelling

[It is a pleasure to reproduce this piece penned by the late, great boxing writer O. F. Snelling for a new, online, 21st-century audience. We do so with the kind permission of Derek O’Dell, Editor and Producer of ‘The Southern Ex-Boxer’, in which this article first appeared in 1998 Ed.]

Jack Hood
(Jack Hood)
Although this periodical is entitled The Southern Ex-Boxer, and we tend to celebrate the deeds of those battlers of the past who hailed from ‘south of Watford’, as they say – and in particular the sterling scrappers of the South London and Croydon areas – the names and deeds of a few fighters from other areas do occasionally creep in.

It has been known for us to make mention of pugilists like Jack Hood, of Birmingham – one of the very best – and we've also dwelt upon those characters beloved by Geordieland's Ringwise. Oh boy, what a bunch they had, on Tyneside! Seaman Tommy Watson, Mickey Maguire, Benny Sharkey, Jack Casey, Jack London – and the great Billy Charlton, among others.

Most of these men were of world class! I kid you not! But, unfortunately, they dwelt in unsophisticated surroundings, and their managers, although capable enough, did not always carry the influence to negotiate their men into prestigious fights, and they lost out – with one or two notable exceptions.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Boxing, boxing everywhere!

In March 2011 there were 23 professional boxing promotions in the UK and Ireland. This is a higher than average number compared with recent years and, on the face of it, British boxers currently have plenty of scope for activity. In March 1930 there were 484 professional promotions.

To say that domestic boxing has changed out of all recognition in the last 80 years is to state the obvious. The dramatic decline in the number of active boxers and promotions demonstrates this extremely clearly.

What might be hard to fathom these days is the sheer number and range of towns and cities that held regular boxing events in the old days. Colne in Lancashire currently has a population of around 20,000. In 1930 it was a mill town in the depths of an industrial depression and with about the same number of inhabitants as today. During March 1930 this small town managed to sustain nine professional boxing promotions. West Stanley, a pit village in Durham, held 13 such events within the month. Boxing occurred more than once per week in places as far afield as West Hartlepool, Salford, Preston, West Bromwich, Norwich, Morecambe and Leicester, as well as in the major cities of Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and London.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

They Died in the War - Allan Porter (Salford)

Standing in a forward trench near Bullecourt just before 6.20am on 20 November 1917 the 7th/8th battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers were ready to go over the top in the latest important battle on the Western Front.

They would probably not have known that their attack was merely a feint for a much greater battle to be fought seven miles to the south at Cambrai.

One of these soldiers knew all about the importance of the feint when attacking an opponent, for he had fought over 50 contests in the boxing ring and had achieved considerable success. At zero hour Allan Porter stepped out into no man's land alongside his comrades and advanced towards Tunnel Trench, the objective of the attack. This was to be his final walk.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

London's beautiful boxing arena was KO'd by Hitler

The ornately crafted front of the Alcazar, Edmonton'The prettiest open-air boxing arena in the world' was how Boxing (forerunner to today's Boxing News) described the Alcazar, Edmonton, a leading London fight arena of the 1920s and '30s devastated in 1940 by a Luftwaffe bomb.

Opened on 28 June 1913, the Alcazar was a cinema sited on the west side of Fore Street in Edmonton, almost opposite Fairfield Road and just a few yards north of Angel Road. The building was whitewashed and alcoved to look like a Moorish palace, and in the winter boxing was held in a large ballroom behind and adjoining it.

What made the venue exceptional, however, were the picturesque gardens behind the cinema. When the weather was warm fights were held outside in a ring that stood amid sloping grass banks, fruit trees in full bloom, flower beds and a stream. The ground was a sort of amphitheatre, bound by the stately trees in the gardens of the adjacent well-to-do houses that stretched to the railway line, which ran from Liverpool Street to Enfield Town.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Rescued from the archives: 1 - Dick Greaves v Roy Hilton

One of the joys of researching and compiling boxers' records from before the war is to do so in the knowledge that these records, unlike those of the 1950s onwards, can never be completed. So many contests took place in those days that each record produced can only ever be the summary of contests that have been found thus far.

Each bout found, therefore, adds a little extra to the record, and there is great satisfaction to be had in watching them grow. For instance, back in 2006 my record for Sam Minto contained details of 281 professional contests. After a further five years' research, ably assisted by fellow record compiler Richard Ireland, the total had grown to 331 bouts. Many of these additional bouts were located in aged newspapers. This is where Colindale Newspaper Library comes in.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Joe Rolfe – puncher and gentleman

Joe Rolfe (Bermondsey)The name Joe Rolfe may mean nothing to you, and that's not surprising, for it's 82 years since it last decorated the sporting headlines and billposters of London. In the 1920s it was a name synonymous with gameness, sportsmanship, fighting skill and a fearsome right hand; a name bellowed loudly all around the south London district of Bermondsey, a place famed for its docks, its tanneries, and its fearless fighting men.

Joe Rolfe started life there on 20 December 1901 with the given name of Joseph Olliffe. Aged eight he joined Bermondsey's renowned Fisher amateur boxing club, he married early at age 16, but to his dismay found work on the local docks hard to come by. It was through sheer necessity that he decided to turn pro, and attempted to get himself onto the bill at the famous Covent Garden National Sporting Club (NSC), which at the time ran novices' competitions in support of the main bouts.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Previously unpublished British boxing history photos

Ahead of the launch of our website boxinghistory.org.uk we've put together a video to give you a taste of what's to come.

It features some outstanding photos of old-time British fighters, most of which have never before been seen online. Enjoy!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Charlie Hardcastle - a forgotten champion

Before the Second World War being a British Boxing Champion provided no guarantee of great wealth. Many champions boxed professionally whilst holding down a full time job. Many of these jobs were arduous. A fine example of this is Charlie Hardcastle of Barnsley. His trainer, Jack Goodwin, wrote that after winning the British Featherweight Title on a Monday evening in 1917 “Hardcastle went back to Barnsley and on the Wednesday the new featherweight champion was at work in the pit once more”. There was, of course, a war on and Charlie was in a reserved occupation which meant that, although he was spared from the trenches, he had to contribute to the war effort nonetheless.

Boxing: out of the past and onto your PC

'The Sweet Science is joined onto the past like a man's arm to his shoulder.'
- A.J. Liebling, The Sweet Science

Times out of number boxing has been described as the hardest game of all: a tired clich̩ perhaps, but certainly one that rings true. In my experience Рalbeit from outside the ropes Рthe noble art is also apt to provide more drama and intrigue, more excitement and thrills, and yet more frustration and heartbreak than any sport around.

No athlete trains harder than a top-class boxer. None puts himself through greater pain or at greater risk for our entertainment. Lethal fighting machines with the grace of ballerinas, improbable twists and turns, superhuman feats of endurance and bravery beyond reason… you'll find it all in the roped-off square, where the seemingly impossible becomes a reality.