Boxing matches or pugilism were very popular spectator sports, not to mention very lucrative with many men willing to fight for prize money. Here we take a brief look at a fight which lasted 58 and a half minutes, with 43 well-contested rounds between two renown pugilists of the day Samuel Elias (1775- 1814), known as ‘Dutch Sam’ and Ben Medley.
The fight took place on May 31st, 1810 on Moulsey Hurst near Hampton in the presence of spectators numbering around 10,000, from all walks of life; it must have been quite a spectacle to behold.
The prize for this match was 2,000 guineas with the odds in favour of Sam starting at two to one, notwithstanding his inferiority of strength compared with his opponent who was some twenty pounds heavier and more muscular.
Sam stripped in the ring to fight his twelfth battle, after having vanquished eleven others. Medley had been about to fight Sam for the past two years, but it took until this date for it to come about. Medley was a respectable master tradesman who fought Sam for his own stake money.
At one o’clock the champions entered the ring and the contest began.
Round 1. Some sparring. Sam made a left-handed hit which Medley stopped, they closed and disengaged. Medley stopped again, then threw a punch at Sam.
Round 2. Medley made play, but without any luck, Sam commenced a rally and struck his adversary a violent blow on the temple, but Medley rallied.
Round 3. Medley made two or three short hits but laboured under a temporary derangement from the violent blow, but Sam stopped, then knocked him off his legs.
Round 4. A rally was again commenced by Medley and Sam knocked him down with a body blow.
Round 5. Sam blocked a good right-handed hit and flew right and left at his opponent’s head and body, both blows hit home.
Round 6. Medley took a hit to his face which was heard around the ring, his eye by this time injured with blood flowing. The fight was briefly stopped.
Round 7. Sam had the upper hand at the beginning of this round and hit Medley with all his force.
Round 8. In this round Medley took over and knocked Sam to the ground and laughed at him, but his features were badly damaged from the previous battering he had taken.
Round 9. Sam regained his composure and began his retaliation and ultimately knocked Medley to the ground again.
Round 10. Medley was knocked down.
Round 11. This was a round which consisted of real and disguised fighting, and it was the longest of the battle. Medley grew weak at least, after having made a hit on Sam’s nose, and he was knocked down.
Round 12. It would be difficult at this time to represent the situation of Medley; his face was shockingly disfigured, the torrents of blood which flew from Sam’s hits in the last round created a shocking scene. Medley, fell from weakness.
The battle continued in similar vein with a very much injured Medley, until they reached the 43rd round when Medley’s brother stepped and declared that Ben was well and truly beaten.
After this contest, Sam announced his retirement from the sport, but made a ‘come back’ in 1814, in which he was easily defeated.
Ben Medley was chosen as one of the pugilistic pages at the coronation of George IV.
Boxing match for 200 guineas between Dutch Sam and Medley fought 31 May 1810, on Moulsey Hurst near Hampton. British Museum
On Thursday 6 May 1819, William Hutchinson, a horse dealer from Canterbury in Kent and in consequence of a wager of 600 guineas, set off to prove that he could ride from his home city to London Bridge, a distance of 55½ miles, in three hours or less. What followed was enthusiastically described in the press of the day as ‘one of the greatest, if not unrivalled pieces of horsemanship’, especially when taking into account the hills on the route.
Hutchinson’s attempt began at 3.30am precisely, setting off at a gallop from the Falstaff Inn on St Dunstan’s Street. He changed horses along the way, at Boughton Hill, Beacon Hill, Sittingbourn, Rainham, Chatham Hill, Day’s Hill, Northfleet, Dartford, Welling and lastly, at the Green Man in Blackheath. It was on this last horse that he raced up to and over London Bridge.
The horses were all the property of either Hutchinson himself, or of his close friends, and some came from the stud of the Wellington coach. At each stop, Hutchinson dismounted himself and was assisted to mount the next horse which, Hutchinson calculated, took up less than 30 seconds at each stage (it must have been the eighteenth-century equivalent of a Formula 1 pit stop today!) The horse which took Hutchinson from Welling to Blackheath was the most troublesome, bolting twice while going down Shooter’s Hill and again on Blackheath, which lost Hutchinson quite a bit of time. Throughout the journey, Hutchinson was accompanied by a horseman on each stage just in case an accident befell him.
Two men had travelled to London ahead of Hutchinson and were in place to act as umpires. With their watches, and the watches of two more umpires present at the start of the race in Canterbury, the time was worked out accurately. And, it was found that Hutchinson had comfortably completed his feat within the allotted three hours; in fact, he ran the distance in just 2 hours, 25 minutes and 51 seconds.
Although Hutchinson bragged that he felt fit enough to return to Canterbury in less than three hours on the same day, he actually returned in more comfort, in the Wellington coach, enjoying a hearty breakfast followed by two mutton chops and a quantity of brandy at the Bricklayer’s Arms on the Kent road.
Later that day, back in Canterbury and at the Rose Inn (where he arrived at 2.45pm), William Hutchinson received the Freedom of the City of Canterbury, ‘in consideration of the extraordinary feat he has this day performed with a faithfulness as honourable to himself, as it is satisfactory to every individual concerned in the match’.
Sussex Advertiser, 10 May 1819
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 7 and 11 May 1819
Battledore and shuttlecock was the forerunner of the game we now know as badminton; shuttlecock games go back around 2,000 years and are found in many different countries. Today, we are going to take a look at the game during the long eighteenth-century.
The battledores were small racquets, made of rows of gut or of parchment stretched across wooden frames. Shuttlecocks were made of cork, trimmed with feathers. The French botanist, zoologist and painter François Alexandre Pierre de Garsault described battledore and shuttlecock as it was played in France during the first half of the eighteenth-century (where it was known as jouer de volant) and he said feathers from pigeon’s wings were used in the shuttlecock.
The game was perennially popular, especially with children but also adults too and could be played with just two people or with more; the premise was simple, you kept the shuttlecock in the air for as long as possible by batting it from one to another player. No net was used.
As a cheap, easy and fun game, it was thought eminently suitable for children. It could be played anywhere, indoors or outdoors and developed hand to eye coordination while providing plenty of physical exercise too. For more of a challenge, if a group of friends were playing, two shuttlecocks could be used.
One contemporary account, somewhat disparagingly when talking of the game played by adults, says it was fit only for women to play; men required something more strenuous.
Jean Jacques Rousseau claimed that:
When a child plays shuttlecock he practices hand and eye co-ordination; but he learns nothing. You prefer the shuttlecock because it is harmless and less tiring? You are mistaken. The shuttlecock is a woman’s game; but there isn’t one who hits a moving ball. The white skins mustn’t be roughened by violence; but we, who are vigorous and robust, cannot be so without sweat and how do we expect to defend ourselves if we are never attacked?
Rousseau compared it to ‘real tennis’, jeu de paume (palm game, a variant played initially without racquets, instead hitting a small ball back and forth with just the palm of your hand), saying the latter, played mainly by men, required more skill and strength. (After a time, gloves began to be worn when playing jeu de paume and then racquets.)
The World newspaper, on the 13th January 1790, reported on Charles James Fox and his mistress (later his wife), the former courtesan Elizabeth Armistead (who had dallied with the Prince of Wales for a time). Ending their gossipy tidbit with a Latin motto, dulce est desipere in loco [it is pleasant to be frivolous at the appropriate time], they somewhat sarcastically reported on the pair leaving Bath, saying that:
Charles Fox and Mrs Armistead, set off for town yesterday, he, though in high health, has very rarely appeared abroad, and not once at any place of public resort. His mornings have been chiefly spent in sweet converse with his DULCINEA – occasionally, indeed, in the manly amusement of Battledore and Shuttlecock.
We’ll not get into arguments about it now, but we are pleased to say that Garsault, however, disagreed; his opinion was that more force not less was needed to propel a shuttlecock the same distance as the ball used in jeu de paume.
During the very early eighteenth-century, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans (1674-1723), who was Regent for the young Louis XV of France at the time, reportedly played a version of battledore and shuttlecock but on a tennis court, instead of ‘real tennis’. Garsault, in The Art of Tennis Racket Maker, 1767, said that this version was particularly fashionable at the French court and it was the duke’s favourite game. Comparing it to jeu de paume, this account is interesting as it describes battledore and shuttlecock being played on a court and using a net, some 150 years before badminton as we know it developed. Up to eight people could play indoors, Garsault said, but the game was best with just four or six.
Large shuttlecocks, two inches in diameter at the base, and with feathers 2½ inches long are used. One serves with the racket as in the Jeu de paume. From the sidewall of the service-side is stretched a second cord and net, three feet from the real one and parallel with it. An attendant of the court serves; for this he stands at the door of the hazard-side. The service is given in two ways; the attendant either throws the shuttlecock into the air with his hands to the server, or else he uses the crank. It is forbidden to send the shuttlecock against the walls or throw it between the two cords.
The earliest reference we have found to the game being described as badminton and played using a net (or string) comes from The Cornhill Magazine, volume 8, 1863.
Life in a Country House: After lunch, everybody is expected to hold themselves at the disposal of the lady of the house, for a ride, drive, or walk, as the case may be. If the weather be such as to induce you to remain within doors, your co-operation will be sought for in a game at pool, badminton (which is battledore and shuttlecock played with sides, across a string suspended some five feet from the ground), and similar amusements.
Sources not mentioned above:
Badminton: An Illustrated History – From ancient pastime to Olympic Sport, Jean-Yves Guillain
Notionnaire ou mémorial raisonneé de ce qu’il y a d’utile et d’intéressant dans les connoisances acuises depuis la création du monde jusqu’ à present, François Alexandre Pierre de Garsault, 1761
In the early summer of 1750, the Earl of March (later the 4th Duke of Queensberry and more commonly known as ‘Old Q’) and Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglinton made a wager with Theobald Taaffe, Esquire that a four-wheel carriage (or chariot/chaise), carrying a man, could run 19 miles on Newmarket Heath within an hour. The stakes were high, as the bet was for 1,000l.
Theobald Taaffe was from an Irish Roman Catholic family. Having married a wealthy English heiress and through her gained rights in a Jamaican property and a house in Hanover Square he had a brief interest in politics before setting to in squandering his fortune in high living. During 1750, Taaffe was one of the boon companions of the Duke of Bedford and Lord Sandwich, who were spending their whole time that summer in ‘riot and gaming’. This perhaps gives some indication of the atmosphere in which the Newmarket wager was conceived.
In 1751, Horace Walpole wrote to his friend, Horace Mann describing Theobald Taaffe as:
an Irishman, who changed his religion to fight a duel, as … you know, in Ireland a Catholic may not wear a sword. He is the hero who having betted Mrs. Woffington five guineas on as many performances in one night, and demanding the money which he won, received the famous reply, double or quits. He is a gamester, usurer, adventurer, and of late has divided his attentions between the Duke of Newcastle and Madame de Pompadour, travelling with turtles and pineapples in post-chaises, to the latter, flying back to the former for Lewes races—and smuggling Burgundy at the same time.
William Douglas, Earl of March, was cut from much the same cloth as Taaffe; he too had a reputation as a dissolute gambler and a rake. He also had a keen interest in horses and horse racing and was so frequently seen on the turf at Newmarket that it was almost his second home.
The match was to be run in August; it was supposed to take place in the middle of the month but was pushed back to the 29th. Lord March and Lord Eglinton commissioned a lightweight four-wheeled carriage from Mr Wright, a coachmaker in Long Acre, Covent Garden, to be built in haste. Long Acre was known for coachbuilding and Wright was one of the most noted, along with John Hatchett who also had premises on the street.
The first prototype of the four-wheeled race carriage was not an unbridled success; in trials on the heath two horses were killed and one lamed. Another carriage was built and conveyed to Newmarket which proved much more successful.
It is a most surprising piece of mechanism, and ‘tis said it does not weigh much more than 100 weight.
(Newcastle Courant, 7th July 1750)
This second carriage was extremely light and almost skeletal, and not at all what Taafe had envisaged when he made his bet. The Earl of March was a canny and astute operator and never bet when he thought the odds were against him; he almost certainly had a carriage of his own design – moreover one pulled by trained horses – in mind when he agreed to the challenge.
Even so, in early July, the bets were three to two that they didn’t do it.
Eventually, the date was set, to great excitement. Despite the report below, it was actually run on 29th August 1750 which was a Wednesday.
The Four Wheel Carriage, so long talked of, will certainly be run on Newmarket Heath on Tuesday next, when it is expected there will be the greatest number of nobility, &c that has been for many years at that place.
(Derby Mercury, 24th August 1750)
The carriage had one of Lord March’s postilions seated in it and four horses to pull it. Just before seven o’clock in the morning, they were off, starting at the Six Mile House on the Newmarket racecourse.
The near fore horse was a brown one, named Tawney, late Greville’s; the off fore horse was a dark grey, named Roderick Random, late Tom Stanford’s; the near wheel horse was a chestnut, named Chance, late Duke Hamilton’s; and the off wheel horse a grey, named Little Dan, late Parson Thompson’s of Beverley.
Three boys were assigned seats on the horses while the fourth was ridden by William Erratt (also named as Everett), groom to a Mr Panton, all four of them wearing blue satin waistcoats, buckskin breeches, white silk stockings and black velvet caps. Another groom, dressed in crimson, rode in front to clear the way. The poor postilion, sitting precariously in the carriage, wore a white satin waistcoat, black velvet cap and red silk stockings (although in the picture above he appears to be dressed similarly to the riders).
Immense crowds had come to watch, the ‘greatest part of the Sporting Gentlemen in England present’ and betting had changed to five to three in favour of the 19 miles being covered in less than an hour.
Luckily for the Earls of March and Eglinton, everything ran to clockwork. The first four miles were run in just nine minutes and there was then little doubt in the minds of the spectators but that Lord March and Lord Eglinton would be victorious. In the end, the spectacle was completed in well under the allotted hour (the London Evening Post said in 53 minutes and 20 seconds, and the Whitehall Evening Post had the time at 54 minutes 30 seconds but both newspapers agreed that the carriage could actually have covered 20 miles in less than an hour).
At least three of the horses, Tawney, Roderick Random (named after the eponymous hero of Tobias Smollett’s, The Adventures of Roderick Random which had been published two years earlier) and Little Dan were auctioned off at Newmarket a few weeks later. Perhaps Chance was the horse ridden by William Erratt/Everett, and described below as Evrat’s Horse?
On Thursday last the Chaise Horses were sold at Newmarket as follows:
Tawney, for 110 guineas to Mr Horsley
Roderick Random, for 90 guineas to Sir Thomas Sebright
Little Dan, for 55 guineas to Mr Prance
Surly, for 56 guineas to Mr Vernon
Single Peeper, for 50 guineas to Lord Chedworth
A Bay Horse, got by Fletcher’s Arabian, for 80 guineas to Mr Prance
A Grey Horse, got by Dusty Miller, for 28 guineas to Sir William Beauchamp Proctor
Evrat’s Horse, for 27 guineas to Mr Allen
(Derby Mercury, 12th October 1750)
Sources not mentioned above:
The Ipswich Journal, 9th June 1750 and 1st September 1750
Taaffe, Theobald (c.1708-80), of Hanover Sq., London, published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
The nine pins used in the game of skittles were originally known as kayle pins, a term derived from the French word for bowling, quilles.
The kayle-pins were afterwards called kettle, or kittle-pins; and hence, by an easy corruption, skittle-pins, an appellation well known in the present day.
It is a game similar to bowling; the player stands at a predetermined distance and bowls a ball at the pins; the winner is the person who knocks them all down in the fewest throws. And, while you might have thought it quite a simple game, in 1786 a quite comprehensive list of rules and instructions were issued by a Society of Gentlemen.
During the eighteenth-century, and especially in and around London, skittles was a popular pastime, often played in the grounds of public houses and accompanied by gambling upon the outcome of the game. Although pictured here being played by gentlemen, the game was known as one which was notorious among the lower classes.
Lewdness, profaneness, Sabbath-breaking, and gaming, are by all good men, reckoned to be the cause of so much distress among the lower ranks of society. Of these vices none are more destructive to the poor families, than the Skittle and Nine-pin Alleys, Cards and other games at low Public houses.
(Kentish Gazette, 14th July 1784)
As if this wasn’t enough, with the skittle grounds a known haunt for ne’er-do-wells, they featured on the radar of the press gangs. Further distress must have been caused to families when their menfolk were taken up from skittle grounds and impressed into the armed or naval services, a practice which happened not infrequently as reports in the newspapers record.
Monday and Tuesday the Constables were very assiduous about Moorfields and the Publick Houses, especially about those that had skittle grounds, where they impressed several for the army and navy, by virtue of impress warrants delivered to them, and backed by the justices of the peace for that division. Several also, who were found gambling in the fields were laid hold of, as useful hands to serve his Majesty.
(Sussex Advertiser, 26th April 1762)
In the notorious Fleet Prison and also the King’s Bench Prison, where people were held for debt, they were afforded the opportunity to squander more of what they didn’t have by betting on the outcome of various games. Of course, skittles – and a similar game named bumble-puppy – were two of those. A writer claimed that:
Here racquets are played against the wall, – also cards, bumble-puppy and skittles.
(Bristol Mirror, 23rd November 1811)
Nine holes, otherwise bumble-puppy, was a childhood game; known to have been played in the early seventeenth-century, it met with a revival, particularly in London, in the late eighteenth-century. Around 1780, the magistrates caused the skittle grounds to be levelled in an attempt to stop the ‘lower orders’ playing the game in the gardens of London pubs, and losing whatever income they had on the outcome of the games. Into the breach stepped the game of nine-holes.
The game is simply this: nine holes are made in a square board, and disposed in three rows, three holes in each row, all of them at equal distances, about twelve or fourteen inches apart; to every hole is affixed a numeral, from one to nine, so placed as to form fifteen in every row. The board, thus prepared, is fixed horizontally upon the ground, and surrounded on three sides with a gentle acclivity. Every one of the players being furnished with a certain number of small metal balls, stands in his turn, by a mark made upon the ground, about five or six feet from the board; at which he bowls the balls; and according to the value of the figures belonging to the holes into which they roll, his game is reckoned; and he who obtains the highest number is the winner.
It is suggested that the game of nine holes was also known as ‘Bubble the Justice’ as it could not be banned by the magistrates because nine holes was not named in the prohibitory statutes. Another popular name for it was, however, bumble-puppy.
Justice: Hallo there, what game do you call that, I’ll have you all taken up for disturbing the Neighbourhood.
Player: No Sir you won’t – It’s Bumble Puppy an please your Worship
Justice: O’ Lounds, I’m smoked here I must be off.
By the early nineteenth-century, skittle alleys had once more become common-place in public houses, although no less notorious.
Nine-pins, Dutch-pins and Four Corners (which we have blogged about before) are all variations of skittles which is now mainly played indoors, the practice still kept alive in several public houses which retain a skittles alley.
Sources not mentioned above:
Curiosities of London: exhibiting the most rare and remarkable objects of interest in the metropolis, John Timbes, 1855
In an earlier blog, we looked at the first three in a series of six prints by Robert Dighton, held in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, which illustrate a selection of the sports played during the latter half of the eighteenth-century, some now better known than others. Today, we turn our attention to the remaining prints, depicting fives, quoits and cricket.
Fives, a racquet sport, was played at the Tennis Court, Leicester Fields and elsewhere (there are many different variations of the game). It is believed that the name signifies that it was played with five competitors on either side.
The custom of playing fives in churchyards continued in many a country district until quite recent years, notably in Somersetshire and Staffordshire. Ball-playing in such a place no doubt prevailed because the church tower often afforded so suitable a wall for fives. It was usually practised on the north side, because there were generally no graves on that side, and the sport created less scandal. A painted line for the game still remains on some of our church towers, but a string-course of suitable elevation more usually sufficed. Fives used to be played at Eton between the buttresses on the north wall of the college chapel, and the “pepper box” peculiar to Eton fives courts had its origin in a natural angle in one of these buttresses.
The players are represented as using tennis rackets and playing against only one wall of the tennis court, on which is chalked out a certain area within which the balls had to be driven. Mr Marshall has thus clearly defined the sequence of the game:–“First came fives, played with the hand against any available wall. Then came bat-fives, in which a wooden instrument, roughly imitated from the tennis racket, was employed. That was a good game; and it is still played in many places, and notably at some of our great schools, Rugby, Westminster, Cheltenham, and others. Not content with the wooden bat, players acquainted with the tennis racket seem to have adopted that instrument about 1749, or a little earlier . . . so it continued to be played until 1788, the date of the print mentioned above, which the players still called the game fives.”
With the introduction of the racket, the change in the name gradually followed. It used to be popular in the prisons of the Fleet and King’s Bench, and afterwards in the gardens of some of the great London taverns. A special form of the real game became localised at Harrow about 1822. With its later history we are not here concerned, nor with the various developments of the present game of fives, which is essentially a pastime for boys.
The next print depicts a group of men contesting a game of quoits at The Horn on Kennington Common. The game was possibly first played with horseshoes, but by the eighteenth-century a metal ring was used, which was thrown to land over on near a spike set into the ground.
The game of quoits, or coits, as an amusement, is superior to any of the foregoing pastimes; the exertion required is more moderate, because this exercise does not depend so much upon superior strength as upon superior skill. The quoit seems evidently to have derived its origin from the ancient discus, and with us in the present day it is a circular plate of iron perforated in the middle, not always of one size, but larger or smaller to suit the strength or conveniency of the several candidates. It is further to be observed, that quoits are not only made of different magnitudes to suit the poise of the players, but sometimes the marks are placed at extravagant distances, so as to require great strength to throw the quoit home; this, however, is contrary to the general rule, and depends upon the caprice of the parties engaged in the contest.
Because the quoits were made of iron, there are not infrequent reports in the newspapers of injuries incurred to the incautious who, for whatever reason, wandered into the field of play.
And while, like all sports, various wagers were placed on the outcome of the game, on one occasion in Chester things went a little too far.
A game of quoits was played last week by two persons, for no less a stake than the leg of the one against the arm of the other – but there was nothing very sanguinary in the case, as they were wooden ones. The contest ended in the loss of the leg.
(Chester Chronicle, 26th May 1797)
And so we come to the sixth and last print which shows a cricket match. In the eighteenth-century, cricket was the country’s most popular sport, not least because of the wagers placed upon the games. Even royalty were fans, with Frederick, Prince of Wales (the eldest son of George II) a keen player and patron. The following is the first reference to a trophy (other than cash) being contested in a game of cricket.
On Tuesday last a silver cup, given by his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, was play’d for at cricket on Moulsey Hurst near Hampton Court, by eleven men on a side; eleven were pitch’d on one side by Mr Stede of Kent, and the other eleven were pick’d out of the twenty-two that play;d at the same place about three weeks ago (and were call’d the Prince’s Men) which latter won, tho’ not with so much east as was expected, the odds being against Mr Stede’s men at the beginning.
(Derby Mercury, 23rd August 1733)
In 1745, the young women of two Surrey villages picked up their bats and faced each other in a game of cricket.
The greatest Cricket Match that ever was played in the south part of England, was on Friday the 26th of last month, on Golden Common near Guildford in Surrey, between eleven maids of Bramley, and eleven maids of Hambleton, all dressed in white, the Bramley Maids had blue ribbons, and the Hambleton Maids red ribbons on their heads, the Bramley Girls got 119 notches, and the Hambleton Girls 127; there was of both sexes the greatest number that ever was seen on such an occasion, the girls bowled, batted, ran, and catched, as well as any man could do in that game.
(Derby Mercury, 9th August 1745)
While the Gentleman’s Club at White Conduit House might have witnessed scenes similar to the one above, earlier matches played there were not quite so sporting or peaceful.
Thursday last, a cricket match was played behind White-Conduit House, between 11 Master Butchers of Newgate Market, and 11 of Clare Market, for 50l. When the Clare Market Butchers found that the Newgate ones had so few to get the last innings, they began to wrangle, when both parties came to blows, and the Newgate Men came off victorious.
(Derby Mercury 21st August 1772)
Sources not mentioned above:
Sports and Pastimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt [2nd ed., 1903]
A series of six prints by Robert Dighton, held in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, illustrate a selection of the sports played during the latter half of the eighteenth-century, some now better known than others.
First, we have four corners, a form of skittles.
FOUR-CORNERS – Is so called from four large pins which are placed singly at each angle of a square frame. The players stand at a distance, which may be varied by joint consent, and throw at the pins a large heavy bowl, which sometimes weighs six or eight pounds. The excellency of the game consists in beating them down by the fewest casts of the bowl.
We have found conflicting sources which say that it could be played with a smaller ball that could rebound off either the surrounding wall or the pins and knock down as many as possible, or a larger, heavier one similar to a bowling ball.
The game was played in Kent, and certainly with a ball heavy enough to inflict an injury; a correspondent wrote from Chatham on July 29th to say that:
On Saturday evening as some persons were playing at four corners, near this town, unfortunately a child about three years old ran across the alley, just as a man was bowling, the bowl hit the child upon the head, and it was thought it had been killed on the spot – but being placed under the care of an eminent surgeon, we since hear, there are great hopes of its recovery.
(Kentish Gazette, 3rd August 1787)
Next, there is football, which needs little introduction. The game has been around for centuries (in England, the first documented use of the term ‘football’ dates to 1408). Despite being frequently outlawed during the seventeenth-century, the game continued in popularity; it was in this period that the first references to scoring a goal are to be found.
And it was not just the men who played the sport.
Bath, Oct 4. Yesterday a new and extraordinary entertainment was set on foot for the diversion of our polite gentry; and what should it be but a Match at Foot-Ball, play’d by six young women of a side at the Bowling Green: cards, dice, concerts, plays, balls, &c are the common entertainments of the week; but for want of these, in publick, on Sundays, the meeting sometimes serves for an amusement.
(Ipswich Journal, 8th October 1726)
Trap ball is similar to cricket, rounders or baseball but with a mechanised bowling system and without the need for running after hitting the ball. It is described as a game played with a levered wooden trap by means of which a small ball is launched straight up into the air so as to be struck by a player with a bat. The aim is to hit the ball furthest, either in one or several turns. From Dighton’s print, it would seem that an additional object is for others to catch the ball.
TRAP-BALL, AND KNUR AND SPELL.–The game of trap-ball, or trap-bat-and-ball, which can be traced back to at least the beginning of the fourteenth century, afterwards developed into the northern game of knur and spell. The knur, or ball, used in the game, was made of various hard materials. It was sometimes carved by hand out of a hard wood, such as holly, or engine-turned out of lignum-vitæ; in the pottery districts it was commonly made of white Wedgewood material, and usually called a “pottie”; whilst in its most scientific form the knur was made out of stag-horn and weighted with lead. The spell, or trap, was of varying design, sometimes assuming the shoe form, which could commonly be obtained in toy shops in the middle of the last century and later; but ingenuity devised a spring spell, which, being set and detached by means of a toothed click, could be regulated so as to always raise the knur to the same height, thus greatly increasing the certainty of the player hitting it. The third implement required for this game is the trip-stick used for striking the ball. It differs much from the old form of short bat, and consists of two parts, the stick and the pomel. The former is made of ash or lance wood, so as to combine stiffness and elasticity, and for a two-handed player is about four feet in length. The widened end, or pomel, is made of any hard heavy wood that will not easily split. The main point of the game is the distance to which the player can strike the knur; a first-rate hand is said to have been able to send a loaded ball as far as sixteen score yards.
An early – and somewhat gruesome – account of trap-ball relates an accident during play.
One day last week, some boys in Cold Bath Fields, being at play at Trap-Ball, the boy who was striking at the ball accidentally hit another with the stick at the corner of his eye, which instantly fell out of his head on the ground.
(Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 1st June 1752)
The game was still going strong at the end of the Georgian era, as this advert in a Sheffield newspaper attests.
SELECT TRAP BALL CLUB
A number of Gentlemen having expressed their wish to form a respectable Private Club, for the practice of some healthful game which requires less exertion than Cricket, it is respectfully announced that a select Trap Ball Club, to be called the ‘Hallamshire’ will commence playing on Thursday, June 14th.
The Game will be played according to the improved London method; and Gentleman will be supplied on the Ground with Traps, Bats, Balls, Rules, &c. free of expense.
Subscription for the Season, to be paid at its close, 10s. 6d.
After the commencement of the Club, no additional Members to be admitted but by ballot.
At half-past six, on each evening of the playing days, tea and coffee, ham, &c will be set out in the Great Room, solely for the Gentlemen of the Club, at 1s. each.
On the day of playing, the Ground will be free only to the Members of the Club; all others to pay 6d. each admission, to be allowed at the Bar of the House for Refreshment.
Names of the Gentlemen desirous of joining any of the Clubs, will be received by Mr WOODHEAD, King’s Head, Change Alley; and at the House on the Playing Ground, any afternoon after 3 o’clock.
(Sheffield Independent, 9th June 1827)
We’ll look at the other three prints in a later blog.
Sources not quoted above:
Illustrated London News, 22nd August 1931
Sports and Pastimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt [2nd ed., 1903]
The Boy’s Book of Sports, Games, Exercises, and Pursuits, 1869
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
Reading Mercury21 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.
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
There will be a cudgel match each forenoon (from nine to one o’clock) on the race days, for very considerable prizes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Jockey Club
Pedigree Online all Breed Database
British History Online
The Jockey Club and its Founders: In Three Periods
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
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.
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 stated 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.
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’ 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.
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.
‘Eclipse’ by John Nost Sartorius (1759–1828), National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art
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.
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 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?
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?
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.
Stated to have been born in Thorpe, Norfolk, in 1721, where he ran a butcher’s 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.