The Bristol Boys: The untold story of Bristol's champion boxers


Jack Allen

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Astonishingly, the city of Bristol can claim to be the birthplace of five world boxing champions – all from the ‘golden age’ of bare-knuckle fighting. From the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth, boxing was the most popular sport in England. Crowds of up to 40,000 flocked to watch these illegal contests. Venues were often changed at short notice to avoid being closed down by the magistrates. Boxers such as Bristol’s Jem Belcher, Henry Pearce and Tom Cribb were folk heroes for all sectors of society from the poorest to the richest. City ‘swells’ bet incredible sums of money on the outcome of these bloody encounters, actively sponsored by future monarchs George IV and William IV. Lord Byron was an enthusiastic amateur fighter. Bristol’s Hatchet Inn and the Fives Court in Little Market Street, London were popular venues, while the Tom Cribb public house in Panton Street, London celebrates that boxer’s residence there. The Rose and Crown pub in Wick, Gloucestershire, has a Gully Room in honour of John Gully, born there in 1783. Author Jack Allen recalls many of the pulsating encounters which often lasted more than an hour, leaving the combatants battered and swollen, their features barely recognisable Terms in usage today, such as ‘coming up to scratch’ and ‘throwing in the towel’ owe their origins to those brutal contests two hundred years ago. ‘We shouldn’t let our squeamishness detract from the great achievements of “the Bristol boys”, says the author, ‘and perhaps it is time they were officially recognised by a statue or plaque as a reminder of their courage and the glory they brought to their home city.’ 978-1-906593-39-1 64pp Softback

Jack Allen

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