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18 November 2010 No comments

Pugilistica | Movember

Curiosities Heritage Stories
Pugilistica | Movember

John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquis of Queensberry Joe Goss fought them all

Most good stories tend to contain a beginning, middle and end. But even the bad ones all have a beginning...

And ours places us on a cold November evening propping up the counter of a congenial, smoke-filled tavern called The Black Bull on Scholefield Street, Birmingham in 1901. Our landlord is the ageing, heavily moustachioed and still powerfully built "Gypsy" Jem Mace, storied champion of England and the World, whose reign uniquely straddled the switch from illegal bare-knuckle fights to those held under the Queensberry Rules.

How the erstwhile hero of all Norfolk finds himself of financial necessity pulling pints in the Midlands this late in the game is a tale for another day, perhaps under the title "Hard Won, Easy Spent".

In later years Mace favoured a "Bismarck" J. B. had one as soon as he was able to grow one

Mace is still the famously entertaining raconteur, though, and it doesn't take much cajoling to draw from him a fulsome recollection of his more colourful hours...

"Joe Goss broke my jaw twice in '66. We drew the first. I beat him the other, though. Bobbies intervened during the second one that year. Then JB had set up a contest 'tween myself and the Paddy O'Baldwin near enough to where you're sitting, as it happens, for late in '67, but half the Constabulary was already waiting for us at Four Ashes when we arrived. Loose lips. Me and Ned each got two months. Brooks walked. Or cycled, if you like, ha!"

Wait. "JB... Birmingham... cycled...". Surely he doesn't mean...

Tom Allen sporting a "Day-Lewis" Jem with the straight handlebar

"Of course, Brum was second only to London for the Prize Ring in them days. Tom Allen was the Pet around these parts. I beat him for the American belt in New Orleans. 1870, I think it must have been. Game man, Tom. Brooks must have made a packet out him while he still had him local, like.

John Boultbee Brooks? Prizefighter's patron? If we dwell on it for a moment, it doesn't actually seem entirely outlandish to picture him wagering a few guineas on the outcome of a set-to, or maybe even taking a local young up-and-comer under his wing. It was, after all, rather the done thing around that time among the nobility and those of means. Now read on...

"Take that scrap in 1866 over at Kingswood Common with Tom and George Iles. Went to Tom after a long 17 rounder, and all I know is, JB was holding the keys not two months later to a great new workshop full of all sorts in Great Charles Street. Seats for velocipedes. We all know the rest, don't we?

What have we here? Dark allegations of profit accruing out of fixed fights? What about the bike-borrowing-due-to-inconveniently-dead-horse story?

"And 'course, another thing was, John Douglas (the 9th Marquis of Queensberry. -ed.) had pushed through those new rules round and about '67. But him and JB were thick as thieves, and with himself having first shout on all the leather for miles around, well... I just always thought having pugs put on gloves must have been his and not Doug's idea.

I think we've heard quite enough. Mr. Mace. You'll be hearing from solicitors acting on behalf of the Brooks estate in due course...

"Where was I... two pints? Right away... yes, Tom Allen. Packed a wallop, right enough. Had a favorite set of gloves, I remember. He'd got them as a present from JB after he'd only managed a long draw with Joe Goss in '67. Gave them a nickname an' all... the "Boss Bars", I think it was...

I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about.

It will hardly have escaped the reader's attention that photos of the protagonists in our above scenario show them all sporting fine moustaches. This is "Movember", of course, that month in which men are encouraged to "put up a beaver" in aid of prostate cancer awareness. The Original Tweed Run has a fine gold-plated set of handlebars on auction at the moment. The proceeds will go to... oh, use your imagination.