Prize Fighting in the 1850s

From "The History of Stony Stratford - F E Hyde and S F Markham 1948

"In 1825 and 1826 there were still prosecutions of innkeepers for “suffering tippling during the hours of divine service” and the landlord of the Fox and Hounds at Puxley was fined £1 on this charge.

One of the Constable’s duties was preventing prize fights. The parson of Passenham, the Rev Lorrain Smith, was himself a great pugilist and encouraged various meetings on the borders of Bucks and Northants, so that if the police of either county interfered it was quite easy to move over into the next county.

A field near Puxley Glebe farm was the favourite venue and Sootfield Green was also used. But Lorraine Smith was also a JP, and as such it was his duty to prevent prize-fights. Mr W J Toms relates how on one occasion he organised the police to stop a fight, but himself catching the pugilist, who had laid all the constables flat out, he let him off with a fatherly lecture."

1950 Northamptonshire Past and Present       Vol 1 Issue 2 P19      Prize fights

Tomlin writes “It is a old ancient road up into the Whittlewood Forest and to Sutfield Green, where there used to be prize-fighting people used to come from Northampton and all round. A lot of bad men and women used to camp in the wood named Hatchells on the left hand side of the road as one goes to Wicken and Deanshanger, where they used to camp and fight in Sutfield Green, where Caunt and Bendigo, professional prize-fighters fought.”

This is corroborated by my old friend Jack Brown, now 84 years of age (in 1950), whose mother, a Wicken woman, used to go and watch the fights, and one day picked up the colours of one of the champions on the field, which is still treasured by her descendants. There was an old ring marked with posts. “I seen the old posties years ago, said Mr Brown, when we visited the spot last June (1949), “Lord Penrhyn said he wouldn’t pull them up – they could rot in the ground.” But in whatever way they may have perished, they have gone now, the green has been ploughed by the orders of the War Agricultural Committee, and at the time we saw it, was growing a fine crop of wheat.

“It must be above a hundred years since they had the fights,” Mr Brown continued, “Caunt and Bendigo fought for a hour for £100. Bendigo was a Nottinghamshire man.” Then he shewd me Bowd’s cottage [Luke Bowd, Head Keeper for the Crown in this part of the Forest] and told me how as a boy he had walked over from Cosgrove to fetch some salve for his mother. “He had some books he used to make his salve and ointment out of. People used to come from miles around for it. A stiff little chap he was, very stout, strong for his size.”

Vol 1 Issue 3 p13     Mr Frosts’s account         VILLAGE COMBATS

“One of the notable characters of Paulerspury was a man named William Smith who went by the name of “Perk”. From all accounts he was a bit of a dare-devil. He was landlord of the Barley Mow. He was game for anything. One of the games they used to indulge in, and in which he was proficient, was “Kick-shins”. They used to clasp each other by the shoulders, watch their opportunity, and see who could fetch the other down first. Rather brutal I should think.

Once he was at a holiday at Cosgrove. Someone there, as was the old custom, was throwing his hat up and challenging all and sundry. Some of the crowd said to old Perk, “Why don’t you take him on?” He said, “My turn will come by and by.” He had hardly spoken when the hat fell close to him. He promptly kicked the crown in. The fat was in the fire at once. The owner of the hat was stripped at once. Old Perk said, “Don’t be in a hurry. I’ll be with you soon.” As soon as he was ready he jumped over the ropes into the ring. Some of his supporters said, “You jumped in, you won’t jump out.”

They had a tremendous fight for over an hour with bare knuckles. Perk was the winner and he jumped out again, but he admitted it was one of the toughest battles he had ever taken part in.