Anyone for 18th Century Tennis?

Tennis was all the rage in the mid-1700s, as was gambling, so put the two together and you have a winning combination. The game itself was somewhat different to its format today, however, the concept was the same, with professional players being able to command a high price to display their talent.

For the British, the major competitor was a Mr Tompkyns, but the French dominated the tennis scene, led by Monsieur Masson, born around 1740 and from Paris.

Monsieur Masson, the tennis player. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

In 1767 Masson arranged for another French tennis player to compete, a Monsieur Macon, he took on the British champion Tompkyns. They played four sets on the Friday, three of which Macon won, the remaining sets were played the following Monday and once again Macon won. Reports saying that he won due to the superiority in his management of his strokes. Tompkyns was more active at catching balls, but Macon had the racquet and ball so much at his command, that he could almost strike it to within an inch of where he wanted it to go and that he noticed that there were two ‘dead places’ where the ball would not rebound which allowed him to drop it perpendicularly down so that Tompkyns had no chance of returning it.  Had Tompkyns won he would have received five hundred guineas, so he suffered quite a loss.

Tennis was a sport for both sexes though and the name which appeared in the press in the late 1760s was a Madame Bunell, aged, apparently about sixty, again from France, who was more than happy to take on any man at the game.  Madame Bunell was reputed to be able to play fairly well, but would never wear the male attire to play but instated upon wearing a short skirt and a light jacket, which would allow her to move freely around the court. She was, somewhat derogatorily described as resembling a scarecrow.

Reports stated that she had been seen practising at the tennis court in James Street every morning, from five o’clock until seven. That practise paid dividends, as in February 1768 Madame Bunell competed against Mr Tompkyns at the tennis court in James Street, where she beat him fairly and squarely two sets to one. Let’s hope that you had put your money on Madame Bunell as considerable bets were placed on that match. A week later there was a re-match, perhaps Mr Tompkyns hoped to redress the balance. It was not the outcome he had perhaps hoped for as Madame Bunell beat him again, this time six sets were played of which she won four. Maybe he had hoped for a ‘third time lucky’ but there are no references for a third attempt.

Fives played at The Tennis Court, Leicester Fields by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Fives played at The Tennis Court, Leicester Fields (a similar game) by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The next big name to arrive on the tennis scene in the 1790s was Madame Masson, from Paris, who was said to be related to Monsieur Masson through marriage. She was described as around thirty years of age, of short stature and was dressed á la grecque with a short petticoat and drawers. She was said to possess such uncommon powers, that she could beat any man at a stroke; and in addition to that, she knew how to manage the balls better than any gentleman who attended the courts.

According to the Caledonian Mercury:

Madame Masson, the celebrated tennis-player, lately arrived from Paris, has had an audience with his Royal Highness the Duke of York. This Gallic heroine of the racquet, it seems challenges to play with any person in Europe for one thousand guineas.

The Royal Duke is to have the honour of first entering the lists with her: She plays in her female attire, a la Grecque, with a short petticoat and drawers.

In March 1790, she took on the notorious Colonel Banastre Tarleton with resounding success.

Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782.
Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782.

She was also challenged by a Mr Bisset, who was described as:

a young man of good fortune, who was in a gown and cap at Oxford about five years ago. We know not the gentleman’s degree, but the lady is apparently an undergraduate at tennis.

On this occasion, Bisset won.

Charles James Fox. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Charles James Fox. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

We will leave you with this image to conjure with, from the Morning Post of July 1777

Charles Fox is become conspicuous at the tennis court. When he leaves off play, being generally in a violent perspiration, he wraps himself up in a loose fur coat, and in this garb, is conveyed to his lodgings.


Marshall, Julian. The Annals of Tennis

Public Advertiser, Tuesday, February 14, 1758;

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Monday, April 13, 1767

Derby Mercury 24 April 1767

Lloyd’s Evening Post, May 20, 1767 – May 22, 1767.

Public Advertiser, Thursday, February 25, 1768

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Monday, March 7, 1768

Caledonian Mercury 12 March 1768

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Wednesday, July 2, 1777

Public Advertiser, Friday, February 19, 1790

Chester Chronicle 19 March 1790

Caledonia Mercury, 4th March 1790

Caledonian Mercury 10 September 1795

Featured Image


Fight with Cudgels, Francisco de Goya. Prado Museum.

18th Century Cudgelling Matches

This is a sport that seems unlikely to make a comeback anytime soon – hopefully.  Cudgelling was a type of duel fought with wooden weapons and was also known as ‘single stick’, with its origin dating back to around Tudor times.

The aim of the competition was to break your opponent’s head with a single stick i.e. to cut the skin on the head, face or neck so that blood was drawn. When the crowd saw blood, they would shout ‘a head’.  What a relaxing pastime this sounds, those Georgians sure knew how to have fun!

A Cudgelling Match between English and French Negroes in the Island of Dominica. courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art
A Cudgelling Match between English and French Negroes in the Island of Dominica. courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art

Competitors needed to be both strong and agile and have great speed as it could take quite some time to hit your opponent hard enough to draw blood.

The newspapers carried reports of this combative sport, so we thought we would share a few with you.

Reading Mercury 13 May 1799

On Whit-Thursday the 16th May 1799, will be given a very good hat of 15-shilling value to be played at cudgels for, the man that breaks most heads to have their prize; the blood to run one inch or be deemed no head, which is to be decided by the umpires. No counterfeit play will be allowed.

From 'Chairing the Member, from The Humours of an Election series', 1755 by William Hogarth. Wikipedia
From ‘Chairing the Member, from The Humours of an Election series’, 1755 by William Hogarth. Wikipedia

Reading Mercury 21 May 1798

On Whit- Monday the 28th of May 1798, will be given One Guinea to be played for at Cudgels, for the best man; two Shillings for the man that break a head; and One Shilling for the man that has his head broken for the first seven couples that play. No man to have the two shillings, unless he plays the ties off, with the consent of the umpires.

Fight with Cudgels, Francisco de Goya. Prado Museum.
Fight with Cudgels, Francisco de Goya. Prado Museum.

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Thursday, September 26, 1765

Monday afternoon a cudgelling match was fought on Wandsworth hill, for a laced hat, for the value of one moidore. The opponents on each side were nine, one part of which were named the London side and the other the Wandsworth side. Great dexterity was displayed during the contest by both parties, particularly by a dyer, a sugar cooper and a carpenter, on the London side; and by a maltster, a gardener and a farmer’s labourer on the Wandsworth side. When, after the whose eighteen had undergone a very severe drubbing, each from his antagonist, fortune though proper to bestow the hat on the countrymen, by a small pimple under the eye of one of the London side, breaking through his overstretching, from which sprung a little bloody tinged matter, which the umpire was held to be broken head.

Public Advertiser (London, England), Thursday, August 28, 1755

On Wednesday, there was a cudgelling match for a hat, on the Strand, near the ferryboat slip, when a quarrel ensued, several were wounded, and a woman killed by a stone being thrown at her.

London Evening Post, September 6, 1733 – September 8, 1733

There will be a cudgelling match each forenoon on the Race Days for two Guineas to him that breaks most heads, half a Guinea to the second person that breaks most heads, and Five Shillings to the third.

London Evening Post, August 14, 1733 – August 16, 1733

Hindon Races

There will be a cudgel match each forenoon (from nine to one o’clock) on the race days, for very considerable prizes.

Horse Race at Newmarket (The Duke of Bolton's 'Bay Bolton' defeating the Duke of Somerset's Grey 'Windham' at Newmarket on either 12th November 1712 or 4th April 1713) John Wootton (c.1682–1764) National Trust, Petworth House

The Jockey Club and the 2nd Earl of Godolphin (1678-1766)

Now, we will begin this article with a ‘rider’ (excuse the pun); we freely admit to knowing about as much as you could write on the back of a postage stamp on the subject of horse racing, however, we felt this was something we had to write about. Our previous post was about Dennis O’Kelly and his connection with horse racing which has led us off down yet another rabbit hole, to an earlier period.

According to the Jockey Club itself, it was established in 1753 at Newmarket, however, purely by chance we came across this newspaper article in the Daily Advertiser of Wednesday, March 10, 1731, which gives a much earlier reference to the club, the implication in the article being that by this date the club was already established.

The picture of the Lord James Cavendish’s horse, which his Lordship rode on some time since, for a very considerable wager to Windsor being near finish’d, we hear the same will be plac’d in the Jockey Club Room at William’s Coffee House, St. James’s.

Having read this of course we needed to know more. We knew that ‘clubs’ were increasing in popularity in the early 1700s with many being established in coffee houses, but we came across this image in ‘The History of the London Clubs 1709′ by Edward Ward.

The History of the London Clubs 1709 by Edward Ward
The History of the London Clubs 1709 by Edward Ward

There is no further information about the club, simply this image, so could it be that it was established earlier than originally assumed and if so, who was a member? We know that racing has always been regarded as the ‘Sport of Kings’ therefore you needed to be affluent to own your own race horse, so in all likelihood, the ‘club’ would have consisted of nobility who had a penchant for gambling. A few names came to mind including the likes of the 3rd Duke of Bolton (1685- 1754), who we knew enjoyed a flutter and was wealthy, obviously, Lord James Cavendish (bef. 1707-1751), as he is mentioned above and the 2nd Earl of Godolphin, who was renowned as being the owner of the stallion ‘The Godolphin Arabian’ who was one of three stallions who founded the modern thoroughbred racehorse stock.

Kneller, Godfrey; Francis Godolphin, 2nd Earl of Godolphin; National Portrait Gallery, London; 
Kneller, Godfrey; Francis Godolphin, 2nd Earl of Godolphin; National Portrait Gallery, London;

The newspaper report above mentioned that the Jockey Club meeting was held at William’s Coffee House, so off we went to look for such a place and sure enough, there was a William’s Coffee House at 86, St James’s Street, owned by one, Roger Williams who died at the end of 1745. This led us off on a will hunting expedition.

According to his will, which was proven 15th January 1746, he left his family well provided for as you would expect or at least hope for, but also amongst other things, he left to a Mr Francis Pitt of Newmarket, his gold stop watch and to:

‘his great benefactor, the Earl of Godolphin all his pictures painted by Mr. Wootton’.

Mr Wootton would appear to be the artist, John Wootton (c. 1682-1764) who was renowned for his paintings of horses, unfortunately for us, Roger Williams remained vague as to which of his paintings he owned, which is such a shame, however it does rather seem to confirm that Williams had a strong connection with the horse racing fraternity.

As Williams also named a Francis Pitt of Newmarket, we set off to see if there was anything of interest in his will, he died in 1759. There was – he too made a bequest to the Earl of Godolphin.

Wootton, John; Tregonwell Frampton (1641-1727), 'Father of the Turf'; National Trust, Anglesey Abbey; 
Wootton, John; Tregonwell Frampton (1641-1727), ‘Father of the Turf’; National Trust, Anglesey Abbey;

Looking at the paintings by Wootton we spotted this one above, of the ‘Father of the Turf’, Tregonwell Frampton, who died at Newmarket in 1727, so decided that his will might be interesting and once again, sure enough the Earl of Godolphin’s name was there in black and white – he inherited all of Frampton’s estate, he inherited all Frampton’s horses, that were stabled at Gog Magog, Newmarket, plus two that he stated were originally to be left to the Marquis of Blandford, plus land he owned in Dorset and Wiltshire. *

This, in turn, led us to look at the will of Edward Coke, owner of Longford Hall, Derbyshire and former owner of the horse Godolphin, he died 1733 his bingo, yet again, look whose names appeared:

I give to the Right Honourable, the Earl of Godolphin all my running horses and mares and stud; to Mr Roger Williams all my stallions.

Butler, Thomas; The Godolphin Arabian; Norfolk Museums Service; 
Butler, Thomas; The Godolphin Arabian; Norfolk Museums Service;

So, yet again there was a connection between the 2nd Earl of Godolphin and Roger Williams.  This is nicely confirmed for us in this extract from The Turf Register, dated 1803. 

We also noticed another newspaper report in the Newcastle Courant dated 27 January 1733 which once again confirmed the Duke of Bolton’s connection to the Jockey Club.

The Duke of Bolton who has been dangerously ill, is pretty well recover’d and on Monday next is to dine with the Jockey Club, at William’s Coffee House, St. James’s.

This find, in turn, led us back to an even earlier entry for the Jockey Club itself, dated August 2nd, 1729 in the Daily Post which stated that:

The Jockey Club, consisting of several noblemen and gentlemen, are to meet one day next week at Hackwood, the Duke of Bolton’s seat in Hampshire, to consider methods for the better keeping of their respective strings of horses at Newmarket.

Wootton, John; Young True Blue at Newmarket; The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology; 
Wootton, John; Young True Blue at Newmarket; The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology;

Then, we found that Williams Coffee House had strong connections with sport and Newmarket even earlier, as recorded in Mist’s Weekly Journal, Saturday, March 16, 1728.

We hear from William’s Coffee House, hat several matches re made already to be run at Newmarket, in next April and October; particularly, that Sir Edward O’Brien has laid a considerable wager that his little Sett of cropp’d Duns draw him, in his chariot, to Newmarket in 12 hours.

In conclusion, we are left with several questions –

Did the Jockey Club originate in 1753 or was it, as we suggest significantly earlier?

Why did the 2nd Earl of Godolphin benefit from so many people’s wills, was he a really nice person or was this gambling debts being paid off?

Could the 2nd Earl of Godolphin have been one of the founder members of the Jockey Club?

We will probably never know the answer to these for sure unless you have any information that may solve these!

*We had come across the name Tregonwell Frampton in an earlier post ‘William Parsons: 18th Century highwayman, swindler and rogue, we’re sure that there must be a connection to Mary Tregonwell Frampton of Kensington, the daughter of John Frampton, but so far this is the only piece of evidence that appears to link them, but we cannot confirm this.

Notes and Queries Volume s13-1 Issue 3 21 July 1923
Notes and Queries Volume s13-1 Issue 3 21 July 1923



The Jockey Club

Pedigree Online all Breed Database

British History Online

The Jockey Club and its Founders: In Three Periods

Godolphin Club


Featured Image

Horse Race at Newmarket (The Duke of Bolton’s ‘Bay Bolton’ defeating the Duke of Somerset’s Grey ‘Windham’ at Newmarket on either 12th November 1712 or 4th April 1713) John Wootton (c.1682–1764) National Trust, Petworth House

Dennis O’Kelly and his horse ‘Eclipse’

For those of you who read our recent post ‘The Mysterious Marriages of Thomas Nelson you may have noticed the name Charlotte Hayes aka O’Kelly, well, for those who didn’t, Charlotte was a very successful brothel keeper, who co-habited (for there seems to be no proof that they married) with a gentleman by the name of Dennis O’Kelly, with whom they had one child Mary Charlotte.

Much has been written about O’Kelly, so we won’t re-tell the alleged story of his life as much more can be found by following this link, but suffice it say that he was born around 1725 in Ireland, moved to London where he became a sedan chair carrier, but found fame and wealth courtesy of horse racing. He as reputed to be quite a character – Mr, Captain, Major or Colonel, a disreputable adventurer.

Dennis O'Kelly ('The Eclipse Macarony') published by Matthew or Matthias Darly, after Richard St George Mansergh St George etching, published 12 May 1773. Courtesy of NPG
published by Matthew or Matthias Darly, after Richard St George Mansergh St George, etching, published 12 May 1773. Courtesy of NPG

Whilst reading about him, however, we came across several caricatures of him and one cameo, but then we came across a portrait of him in a 1932 newspaper, which states that the portrait was painted by Johan Zoffany which seems curious as it doesn’t appear to have been recorded anywhere so far as we can tell – so perhaps one of our lovely art historians may be able to shed some light as to its validity and possible location now. Whether the newspaper got their facts correct, who knows – possibly ‘fake news’, as it appears was this report about Charlotte having inherited the horse ‘Eclipse’.

Leeds Intelligencer 29 May 1770

A morning paper says, a Gentleman of the Turf, who died lately of a fit of the stone, has left his fortune, which is very considerable to the celebrated Charlotte Hayes; among this is his horse Eclipse.

There seems no other mention of Charlotte having had any part in the purchase of the horse, every source we have checked states that O’Kelly purchased him from his owner, William Wildman, a meat salesman of Newgate market, in two stages, 650 guineas in June 1769 and a further 1,100 guineas April 1770.

The only possibility could be that she did invest some of the money she apparently was left by Samuel Derrick, who died March 1769, but there were mixed rumours as to whether he actually left any money of where he died penniless, so who knows what the truth is.

Colonel Dennis O'Kelly by Johann Zoffany
Colonel Dennis O’Kelly by Johann Zoffany (image reproduced in the Illustrated London News, 4th June 1932).

O’Kelly became what today we would regard as nouveau riche as a result of his knowledge of horses and gambling made a small fortune and bought the famous horse ‘Eclipse’.

Eclipse, bred in 1764 by the Duke of Cumberland.
Eclipse, bred in 1764 by the Duke of Cumberland. Charles Hunt after George Stubbs.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

‘Eclipse’ was born 1764 and named after the solar eclipse that occurred on April 1st of that year. It seems that the horse could not be beaten and won 18 races and was then put out to stud and appears in the pedigree of most modern thoroughbreds. So, we thought we would take a look at some of the many paintings of him.

Portrait of Eclipse in a landscape with Mr William Wildman and his sons by George Stubbs
Portrait of Eclipse in a landscape with Mr William Wildman and his sons by George Stubbs (image reproduced in The London Illustrated News, 4th June 1932).
Eclipse with her mother Spiletta
Eclipse with her mother Spiletta

O’Kelly died December 28th, 1787 and Eclipse died February 26th, 1789. Upon the death of O’Kelly, Charlotte was left well provided for in his will, but despite all her acquired wealth towards the end of her life, she found herself back in the debtors prison. Charlotte died in unknown circumstances in 1813.

Featured Image

‘Eclipse’ by John Nost Sartorius (1759–1828), National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art

18th Century boxing match for the hand of a farm lad

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Tuesday 16th February 1790.


Two of the fair sex last week actually fought a pitched battle at Waddington in Lincolnshire attended by their seconds. When it is considered that the object of their contention was a husband, it will not be wondered that the battle was long and violent, lasting not less than half an hour.  Two days after the heroine triumphantly led her happy man to the altar! – So that this may probably not be the last battle on the occasion.

Well, what a wonderful snippet of history!  But, remembering the distress we caused to some of our readers when we debunked the tale of the Petticoat Duellists, we approached our research into this story with caution.

Blog - Waddington boxing 1

Fortunately it seems that the two Lincolnshire feminine bruisers did exist and that the fight did take place; it was confirmed in several other newspapers which gave more details.

Mary Farmery and Susanna Locker were both servants and it was Mary who challenged her rival to the fight with the prize being the young man they both claimed the affections of.  The boxing match was conducted according to form and for some time the outcome seemed uncertain with both women delivering blows which felled their opponent.  But Mary Farmery must have been certain of her pugilistic abilities when she suggested the boxing match for she was named the victor.

The Female Bruisers by John Collet, 1768; (c) Museum of London
The Female Bruisers by John Collet, 1768; (c) Museum of London

The object of their affections was a young man who was servant to a farmer in the neighbourhood, and all the newspaper accounts agree that he ‘actually had the temerity to go to church with the victor.’ Sadly, it seems possible that there was no happy ending after all for the victorious Mary Farmery, for no marriage took place in the parish church at Waddington and we have, as yet, found no record of it ever taking place at all.

We don’t want to disappoint you this time so perhaps we’ll just picture Mary sweeping her beau off his feet and disappearing off into the sunset with him?

Blog - Waddington boxing

N.B. A Mary Farmery was baptized in Navenby, just a few miles away from Waddington, in June 1771, and a Susanna Locker married a man by the name of Richard Harmstone in Caythorpe, again not too far away, in June 1795.  Perhaps Susanna was luckier than Mary in finally getting up the aisle?


Sources used not mentioned above:

Derby Mercury, 28th January 1790

Stamford Mercury, 29th January 1790

Norfolk Chronicle, 6th February 1790

Thorpe, near Norwich; Joseph Stannard; Norfolk Museums Service

Jack Slack – ‘The Norfolk Butcher’

As we have the Commonwealth Games taking place at the moment we thought we’d join in with the spirit of the games and write an article about sport.  Our offering this week is about one John ‘Jack’ Slack, aka the ‘Norfolk Butcher’,  aka ‘Knight of the Cleaver’; a bare knuckle fighter, who was the champion of what is thought to be the first international Heavyweight fight which took place  in 1754.

Thorpe, near Norwich; Joseph Stannard; Norfolk Museums Service
Thorpe, near Norwich; Joseph Stannard; Norfolk Museums Service


Stated to have been born in Thorpe, Norfolk, in 1721, where he ran a butchers shop in the county (hence his nickname), Slack was reputedly the grandson of another famous fighter, James Figg, the first English bare knuckle boxing champion.

James Figg

In 1743 Slack became the Champion of Norfolk after defeating three local men in boxing matches and by 1748 his renown was such that he sold on his butchery business to his brother and moved to London where his reputation as a fighter continued to grow. He was backed later in his career by none other than Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (himself known as Butcher Cumberland after the Jacobite uprising).

A contemporary description of Slack says that he was five foot eight inches and a half in height and weighed almost fourteen stone. His physique was ‘compact . . . superior to the generality of men in strength and of excellent bottom.’ He changed his style of fighting to suit his opponent and often came out the victor, punching his opponents with such force that the term ‘a slack’un’ came into general use, meaning a ‘smashing hit.’

On the 14th March 1750, at Broughton’s Amphitheatre in Oxford Road, London, he threw down a challenge to the formerly invincible Jack Broughton (a man some years older than he and known as the ‘Father of Boxing’ who had been taught by Slack’s grandfather, James Figg).

Jack Broughton, the Boxer by John Hamilton Mortimer, c.1767. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Jack Broughton, the Boxer by John Hamilton Mortimer, c.1767.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Broughton agreed but asked that the fight be deferred for a month as he was not immediately prepared for fighting. The match, which lasted just fourteen minutes and eleven seconds, duly took place on the 11th April 1750, Slack emerging as the victor to win the Championship of England and bagging himself, it was estimated, not less than 600 l. Slack was the only man to ever beat the great Broughton and one nobleman, described as being of the first rank, lost 1000 l. on the match. That nobleman is thought to have been the Duke of Cumberland.

The Duke of Cumberland (1721–1765) by Stephen Slaughter (attributed to), c.1750. (c) Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds
The Duke of Cumberland (1721–1765) by Stephen Slaughter (attributed to), c.1750.
(c) Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds

Then, on the 29th July 1754, back in his home county of Norfolk, Jack Slack challenged the Frenchman Monsieur Jean Petit (or Pettit) to a match.  Pettit was a muscular giant of a man, reputed to have previously exhibited himself in a circus as a ‘strong man.’ This boxing match took place at Harlston. A letter reporting the fight appeared in the newspapers just days later. This one is taken from the London Evening Post and dated 3rd August 1754.

Extract of a Letter from Harlston in Norfolk, July 30.

‘Yesterday in the Afternoon Slack and Pettit met and fought. At the first Set-to, Pettit seized Slack by the Throat, and held him up against the Rails, and grain’d him so much as to make him turn extremely black. This continued for Half a Minute before Slack could break Pettit’s Hold; after which, for near ten Minutes, Pettit kept fighting and driving hard at Slack; when at length Slack clos’d with his Antagonist, and gave him a very severe Fall; after that, a second and third. But between these Falls, Pettit threw Slack twice off the Stage; and indeed, Pettit so much dreaded Slack’s Falls, that he ran directly at his Hams, and tumbled him down; and by that Means gave Slack an Opportunity of making the Falls very easy.

When they had been fighting eighteen Minutes, the Odds ran against Slack a Guinea to a Shilling; whereas, on first setting out, it was three or four to one on his Head. But after this Time Slack shorten’d Pettit so, as to disable him from running and throwing him down in the Manner he had done before, but obliged him to stand close fighting. Slack then closed one of his Eyes, and beat him very much about the Face. At twenty Minutes Pettit grew weaker, Slack stronger; this was occasion’d by Slack’s strait Way of fighting. At twenty-two Minutes, the best Judges allow’d Slack to have the Advantage over Pettit very considerably, as he was then recovering his Wind, which was owing to Game.

When they had boxed twenty-four Minutes, Pettit threw Slack again over the rails; this indeed Slack suffer’d him to do, as by that Means he fix’d a Blow under Pettit’s Ribs, that hurt him much; whilst Slack was again getting upon the Stage (it was not Half a Minute before he was remounted) Pettit had so much the Fear of his Antagonist before his Eyes, that he walked off without so much as civilly taking Leave of the Spectators, or saying any Thing to any Person, this the Cockers call Roguing of it; for it is generally thought that Pettit ran away full strong. The whole Time of their fighting was twenty-five Minutes, and this Morning the Battle was given to Slack, who drew the first Ten Guineas out of the Box. Thus ended this dreadful Combat. The Box was Sixty-six Pounds Ten Shillings’.

Although sometimes mentioned as a ‘dirty fighter’, victories continued for Jack Slack until 1760 when he finally lost to Bill Stevens (the Nailer) at a bout on a stage erected for the purpose of the fight in the Tennis Court, James Street, London on the 17th June 1760. The Duke of Cumberland, who had previously been the patron of Broughton had backed Jack Slack in this fight and again lost money on the bout.

Slack, after this, mostly retired from boxing himself and instead concentrated on his butchery trade. Many sources say he possibly opened a shop on London’s Chandois Street in Covent Garden (he had appeared in the rate books for this street in 1750), but at the time of his fight with the Nailer in 1760, he was reported in the newspapers to be settled at Bristol.


He still kept his hand in by training other fighters, possibly running a boxing school in Bristol (he was rumoured to occasionally fix fights for his protégées), and just occasionally was mentioned as fighting himself.

The London Chronicle newspaper, on the 5th January 1765, reported that:

Slack, the famous Boxer, who has been for some time in Dublin, is under an engagement to fight one Weyburn, a noted bruiser there, for a considerable sum.

Reports of the date and location of his death seem to vary so we are now able to confirm that  John Slack died at Bristol on the 17th July 1768 and was buried in that city two days later.

Lloyd's Evening Post, 22nd July 1768
Extract from Lloyd’s Evening Post  22nd July 1768.

John Slack’s relations and descendants tried, with varying amounts of success, to emulate his feats in the boxing ring.

In November 1772 the newspapers were talking of a battle fought at New Buckenham in Norfolk between ‘Thomas Allgar, a Butcher of Norwich and James Slack, a Butcher of Bristol, youngest son of John Slack, the noted Bruiser.’ In front of a huge crowd of people, Slack junior lasted through seven minutes of sham-fighting before giving up. No injury had been received by either party, not even a bruise, and the spectators were enraged. James Slack narrowly managed to escape into a small public house where he managed to procure a disguise in which he could slip away unnoticed.

Some months later, in April 1773, again at Buckenham Castle, Thomas Algar met with Henry Skipper, described as a Dyer and nephew of the famous John Slack; again Algar was victorious.

More successful was James ‘Jem’ Belcher, born in Bristol in 1781, to John Slack’s daughter. Known as the ‘Napoleon of the Ring‘ and a naturally gifted fighter he had but a short career, dying in 1811.

James Belcher, Bare-Knuckle Champion of England ?1803 Benjamin Marshall 1768-1835 Bequeathed by Mrs F. Ambrose Clark through the British Sporting Art Trust 1982
James Belcher, Bare-Knuckle Champion of England c.1803 by Benjamin Marshall, via The Tate.

Jack Slack was still remembered some years after his death, the St. James’s Chronicle reporting on the 11th September 1781, and placing him alongside some very noteworthy personalities, that:

Some Years ago the three most remarkable Personages of the Age were Kitty Fisher, Lord B__te, and Slack, the Bruiser. At the present Day, says a Correspondent, the three most remarkable Personages are, the Perdita, Doctor Adelphi, and Sir Jeffery Dunstan.