A slight deviation of subject matter this week saw ‘London Shoes’ venture into the sporting world, to focus on the topic of ‘Boxing’.
This particular blog started life as being just about famous ‘east-end’ boxing legends – but as my research on the topic progressed, I expanded the subject matter to include some of the historic boxing related ‘landmarks’ that are scattered across the ‘smoke’.
So – the article published on the ‘London Shoes’ website and Twitter feed, goes under the working title of “A ‘Boxing Day’ out-(but nothing to do with Christmas’).
For this excursion, I was delighted be accompanied again by Les, my old mate from our days working together at the Whitechapel branch of Barclays, back in the late 1980’s – always great to have ‘Sir Les’ along for the ride, as he is a big follower of ‘Shoes’ and a fellow exponent of London’s lesser known and unique history.
Starting off at our old east-end haunts, from our good old Barclays branch banking days – we found ourselves down in Poplar E15 – and this is how the day panned out:-
‘Teddy Baldock’ – “The Pride of Poplar”
Born in Poplar in 1907, Teddy Baldock went on to hold British/Commonwealth/Empire & World Titles at light & bantam weights.
Known as ‘The Pride of Poplar’, Baldock became Britain’s youngest ever World Champion boxer at the tender age of 19, when he won the World Bantamweight Championship belt in 1927
Baldock’s impressive boxing record stands at: – 81 fights / 73 wins / 37 knock-outs / 5 losses / 3 draws.
Teddy Baldock passed away in 1971 – and in 2014 a bronze statue of him was erected in Poplar’s Langden Park, to commemorate the achievements of one of Poplar’s favourite sons.
‘Ted (Kid) Berg’ – “ The Whitechapel Windmill”
Born ‘Judah Bergman’ in 1909 in a house just off of the famous Cable Street in Stepney – ‘Kid’ Berg clocked up an impressive professional record of:- 192 fights / 157 wins / 61 knock-outs / 26 losses / 9 draws.
Fighting under the title of ‘The Whitechapel Windmill’ Kid Berg always fought with the Jewish ‘Star of David’ on his shorts – and he was also one of the very first British boxers to be successful in the United States.
‘Kid’ Berg died in 1991 and today a blue plaque is displayed on an exterior wall of the Noble Court housing estate in Cable Street, near to where he used to live, to commemorate his achievements.
‘Victor McLaglen’ – b.1886-d.1959
Victor McLaglen’s fascinating life story is a subject matter in its own rights – it really makes impressive reading.
To briefly summarise – McLaglen was born in 1886, down in the Limehouse district of Commercial Road.
At the age of 14 he signed up for the Army to fight in the Boer War – but when it was discovered that he was under age, he was thrown out.
So he stowed away to Canada where he became a circus entertainer, wrestler and boxer.
In 1909 whilst in the United States, McLaglen fought a much publicised contest against the legendary ‘Jack Johnson’, who was the first ever African American World Heavyweight Champion – McLaglan lost, as did most boxers who fought the great Jack Johnson.
In 1913 Victor McLaglan returned to the UK to fight in WW1 – where he reached the rank of Captain, and he also held the title of British Army Heavyweight Champion.
McLaglen retired from boxing in 1920 clocking up professional stats of: – 35 fights / 16 wins / 8 losses / 1 draw.
He then went back to the United States and ended up being an actor.
In 1935 Victor McLaglan won an Academy Award for his role in the award winning film ‘The Informer’ – and he was nominated for many more Academy Awards throughout his film career, where he worked regularly with the likes of famous stars such as John Wayne and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr.
McLaglan made his last film in 1958, and in 1960 his ‘Star’ was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The ‘Lamb & Flag’ pub – Covent Garden:
Records show that this Covent Garden building dates back to 1623 – becoming pub in 1772, and it is in fact the oldest pub in Covent Garden.
It is situated in an area which was once one of the most violent districts of London.
Bareknuckle prize fights were held upstairs and the pub gained the nickname ‘The Blood Bucket’.
It was once a regular haunt of author Charles Dickens, plus many other celebs, all of whom enjoyed watching the boxing bouts staged there.
Today the walls up on the pubs 1st floor, where the boxing ring once was, are covered in framed old boxing newspapers of the time.
‘The National Sporting Club’ – Covent Garden
The National Sporting Club in Kings Street-Covent Garden was founded in 1891 as an exclusive private members club – and it became pivotal in establishing and regulating the sport of boxing in Great Britain.
Its first president was the ‘5th Earl of Lonsdale’ – who first introduced the ‘Lonsdale Belt’ to the sport in 1909.
Many top bouts were held at the venue, and the rules of boxing were always strictly observed when fights were held there.
Following WW2 the National Sporting Club slowly began to lose its control and influence over the sport, to the British Boxing Board of Control, who eventually took over the national management of the sport.
The National Sporting Club finally closed its doors in 2009.
‘The Ring’ Pub-Southwark
This 1783 built pub, now situated directly opposite Southwark tube station, was originally called the ‘Surrey Chapel’.
In 1910 it was bought by the British Lightweight champion Dick Burge and his American music hall star wife Bella Burge.
The pub started to stage boxing bouts and it soon became an extremely popular venue, because Dick & Bella Burge deliberately kept cost down so that the ‘ordinary Londoner’ could afford to come and watch the sport of boxing.
Unfortunately, Dick Burge was imprisoned for his part in what was, at that time, Britain’s biggest fraud case – but the business carried on, and continued to grow from strength to strength – run by his wife Bella – who was to be the very first female boxing promoter, and very successful she was at it too.
During WW2 ‘The Ring’ pub took a direct hit from a German bomb, and sadly its fame as a top boxing venue fell into decline.
Today, the pub’s walls are completely covered floor to ceiling with boxing photos and memorabilia – and there is also a lovely little mosaic of Bella Burge on a pavement at the South Bank.
The ‘Thomas A Becket’ pub – Old Kent Road:
Situated at 322 Old Kent Road, just down the road from the Elephant & Castle, sits the grand old Victorian building that was once the famous ‘Thomas A Becket’ pub – renowned for its connections to the sport of boxing.
The actual Thomas A Becket pub dates back to 1894 – but its origins as a tavern site go all the way back to 1393, when its tavern was referenced in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’.
The pubs connections to boxing are now legendary, mainly due to the fact that from 1956, the great ‘Sir Henry Cooper’ used the upstairs gym as his main base for 14 years of his magnificent box career.
Also – the likes of all time boxing legends Mohammed Ali – Joe Frazier – Sugar Ray Leonard, always used the Thomas A Becket as their training base whenever they were fighting in London.
Away from boxing, it is said that the late David Bowie used the pubs upstairs floor as a rehearsal room in preparation of his first Ziggy Stardust tour in 1972.
Today, the ground floor of this iconic building is a Thai restaurant – but there is a blue plaque tucked away in an unused door way, that commemorates the fact that ‘Our ‘Enry used the pub as his training base.
Tom Cribb – Bareknuckle Champ –b.1781-d.1848
Although born in Bristol, Tom Cribb moved to London at an early age and spent the rest of his life there.
He initially worked as a coal porter down at the Wapping Docks.
He took up bareknuckle boxing and went on to become Heavyweight Camp of the World.
His 2 most famous and publicised fights were those against American’s ‘Tom Molineux’ & ‘Bill Richmond’ who were both former slaves – and Cribb went on to become firm and close friends with both of them.
Cribb retired from bareknuckle boxing in 1812 aged 31, and went on the start his own business as a coal merchant, and later became a publican and owner of ‘The Union Arms’ pub in Panton Street-Covent Garden – which later became the ‘Tom Cribb’ pub.
The Tom Cribb pub – Covent Garden:
Records show that there has been a tavern on this Panton Street site since the mid 1600’s.
In the early 1700’s the pub’s name was changed to ‘The Union Arms’ to commemorate the ‘1707 Act of Union’ between England & Scotland.
The pub was rebuilt in 1878 and in 1960 the name of the pub was changed to ‘Tom Cribb’ in commemoration to the champion bareknuckle prize fighter who was the pubs landlord between the years 1820 to 1835.
Today, the Tom Cribb pub is a must for any boxing fans as its wall are adorned with boxing memorabilia, the majority of which related to its famous previous landlord.
And it was at the Tom Cribb pub that me and my accomplice Les, having spent the day ‘walking’ back and forth across the River Thames to seek out these specific landmarks (no public transport was used – Les wanted to do it all by foot), that we finally ‘threw-in-the-towel’ and sat down to take the weight off our ‘plates’ and get stuck in to a plate of chips and a couple of well earned ‘cheeky’ beers.
So – after a unanimous decision – and just before we became a bit too ‘punch drunk’ – it was seconds out, and time to quit the ring and head off for home.
Hope you enjoyed this article and its accompanying photos.
See below for a more extensive photo gallery of the ‘Boxing Day’ blog