Lancaster lost one of its sporting legends of the past when former professional boxer Johnny Barton died recently in a Morecambe nursing home aged ninety. Johnny, whose real name was Chippendale, started his boxing career during the Second World War whilst he was serving in the Royal Navy, but it was after he was demobbed in 1945 that it gained momentum.
Known as the ‘Fighting Lumberjack’ Johnny’s two biggest assets were his ability to take a punch without any adverse effect – he was never knocked out or stopped (except on cuts) in his sixty two bouts, something he attributed to the thick muscular neck which he developed – and also his incredible physical strength that helped him become a fearsome puncher. Johnny had done heavy manual jobs all his working life and it certainly paid dividends during his ring career.
These qualities helped Johhny become one of the country’s foremost light-heavyweights of the immediate post-war era. However, although it seems astonishing these days, during his time in the ring Johnny never boxed for a title.
With his punching power being responsible for so many demolition jobs on the opposition it’s perhaps not surprising that he was at the top of many other fighters' and managers' ‘who needs him’ list, and unfortunately when he did get nominated to contest the vacant North Central Area title illness forced his withdrawal and sadly he never got another opportunity.
Therefore it’s from the undoubted quality of his opponents and his performances against them that Johnny’s achievements are best assessed. His most famous and celebrated win came in 1948 when he beat the future British Heavyweight Champion Don Cockle, and although the win was on points Johnny had Cockle on the floor five times during the bout. Cockle in later life would say that Johnny was the hardest puncher he ever encountered. Considering that Cockle was later to share a ring with boxing greats Rocky Marciano and Randolph Turpin that is some endorsement.
Johnny also went on to beat Irish Heavyweight Champions Paddy Slavin, whom he knocked out in two rounds, and Gerry McDermott, whilst also enjoying two victories over British Light-Heavyweight Champion Denis Powell. He also travelled to Germany when he took their Light-Heavyweight Champion Gerhard Hecht to a close points verdict in a real thriller. Never afraid to go in the other fellow's ‘back yard’ he also journeyed to Portugal where it was perceived that the slightly ageing Johnny would be a useful stepping stone for their Light-Heavyweight Champion Julio Neves. However Johnny’s punching power was too much for the young champion, whom he stopped in five rounds.
Although injuries slowed him up towards the end of his career Johnny could still give anyone trouble and at thirty-seven years of age he fought his final bout in 1959 at the Morecambe Winter Gardens on a show that was one of two he co-promoted with his friend Malcolm Woodhouse. Johnny topped the bill and gave the fans something to shout about in an exciting encounter with Huddersfield's (much younger and future Area Champion) Ted Williams, before losing a points decision. During his time in the ring Johnny crossed gloves with the best men of his day, others included George Walker, George Dawson, Tony Lord and British Champions Alex Buxton and Albert Finch.
Following his retirement from the ring Johnny showed himself to be an astute businessman and had a very successful career as the owner of a large family-run caravan park near Carnforth.
Very pragmatic and unsentimental about his time in the ring, Johnny always said he boxed for the extra capital it provided him with. Nevertheless he was a real crowd-pleaser, and when this ‘hard as nails’ Lancastrian was on the bill no boxing fans ever went home without having had their money's worth.
Readers may be interested to know that Larry has produced two excellent books about boxing in Lancaster and Morecambe. If you would like to order copies then he can be contacted on 01539 535459. Copies are also available at the tourist information centres at Morecambe and Lancaster.