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Fighters going the distance.

ONE memory that puzzled Norman Mellor was the reference to local boxer Sam o' Beck.

"Nowhere can I find any reference to him. My late father had a great grasp of local history, as did my uncles, who were all born in the valley. This was never mentioned, yet many local historical events were drummed into me."

Bare-knuckle fighting in the 19th century was illegal, so perhaps local boxers didn't get the publicity that other sportsmen did.

One newspaper report from the period records a prize fight at Colne Bridge. The police were told in advance and Superintendent Hogg of the Borough Police and Superintendent Richard of the Huddersfield County Police, drove to Bradley by trap to stop it. They found The Woodman and The White Cross public houses packed with "people of the collier class and sporting men".

More arrived by train from Dewsbury and the police discovered the fight was already underway in a field near Colne Bridge. The crowd was too dense for them to attempt to stop it for fear of causing a riot.

The match was for a purse of PS10 between a soldier called Pat Flanagan and a man called J Brennan. The report said both seemed "inexperienced and unscientific" boxers and were "heavily punished". Both had their names taken for later prosecution.

Fights such as this were commonplace and held in out of the way locations. Castle Hill was a favourite because the lookouts could see the police coming a mile away.

Norfolk-born Jem Mace was probably the best known boxer of his time and is credited, after his switch to glove boxing, with making the sport acceptable.

But while he was a wonderful sportsman, who gave his last exhibition fight at the age of 78, he was also a playboy. He was the English champion, he fought and was acclaimed in America and Australia, and he made several fortunes. He was a publican, race horse owner, circus proprietor, ran a saloon in New York and a hotel in Melbourne. He married three times, twice bigamously, and fathered at least fourteen children by five women.

It was estimated he earned PS750,000 during his career - a phenomenal sum in those days. But he was also a gambler. He died penniless in Liverpool in 1910.

Can anyone throw any light on the fight Jem Mace is supposed to have had with Sam o' Beck?


| CHAMPION PUGILIST: Jem Mace, 19th century bare knuckle boxer. Such fights (shown inset) were popular but illegal
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Apr 30, 2013
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