We have previously written about women pugilists, whether it be ‘Lady Barrymore, the Boxing Baroness’, ‘The Petticoat Duellists’ or the 18th Century boxing match for the hand of a farm lad. We know that pugilism was not totally a male domain and that women fought for money including the likes of Hannah Hyfield and Elizabeth Wilkinson.
Today, however, we’re going to take a closer look at a superb painting by John Collet which depicts two female bruisers. It is difficult to tell whether these two women were a couple of the regular fighters who appear to have existed. The picture is incredibly detailed and Collet gives us some clues.
At the window above the poster are two lovers – or could it be a nod to the building actually being a brothel?
Looking at the woman on the left she appears to be quite well dressed with a pocket watch on a chatelaine hanging down from her waist and a bracelet on her wrist. Her bonnet and cloak on the floor and the three children to her left closely examining her fur muff. At the bottom left-hand corner, we can see the start of a cock-fight. The man just behind her is having his pock picked – so perhaps indicative of the type of neighbourhood she’s in. The butcher has come out of his shop which is in the background; is he offering her some smelling salts or similar?
If we look to the top of the picture we can just about make the wording of a poster advertising a play The Rival Queens which was being performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1771.
On the right of the picture, we can see that the other woman appears far less well dressed, as you can tell she isn’t wearing stays, and the man who appears to be trying to help her up from the ground has his hand rather too close to a place it probably shouldn’t have been!
We also took a quick look in the newspapers of the day for any other examples and found a couple more to share with you.
Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Friday, December 27, 1765
Yesterday afternoon a severe battle was fought in the ruins of St. Giles, for five guineas a side, between two noted female bruisers, the one from Brick-Lane, Spital-fields, and the other of Buckrage Street; when the championess of Buckrage Street after a contest of 25 minutes came off victorious, with loud huzzas from at least 3000 spectators.
London Evening Post, September 3, 1767
Wednesday a bloody bruising match was fought in the ruins of St. Giles, between two noted bruisers, the one from Newtoner’s Lane, the other from Brown’s Gardens, when the former, after a contest of 20 minutes was crown’d with victory, amidst the plaudits of a vast crowd of spectators.
Since writing this blog we have found an interesting one in the Weekly Journal, 1 October, 1726, that we had to share with you as it provides us with a snippet of information at the end, almost as an afterthought about their wearing apparel
They fight in close jackets, short petticoats coming just below the knee, Holland drawers, white stockings and pumps.