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HARD TIMES; The Tipton Slasher was more of a gent than most think - and a friend of Charles Dickens - claims book on notorious Black Country pugilist.

Byline: MIKE LOCKLEY Staff Reporter mike.lockley@trinitymirror.com

BLACK Country bareknuckle legend The Tipton Slasher was a friend of Charles Dickens and battled 10 paternity suits from women who claimed he made them pregnant.

Those are just two of the bombshells uncovered by historian Chris Smith while carrying out research on a book on one of Britain's most famous, and feared, fighters.

The picture painted of William Perry - dubbed "K-Legs" because childhood rickets had deformed the right limb - is a long way from the violent, barroom brawler depicted by history. "He had to put up with an awful lot," said Chris, "and it seems he did put up with it.

"When he ran his two pubs, one in West Bromwich, one in Wolverhampton, there are a number of cases where he appeared in court because people would get drunk and want to take on the ex-champion of England.

"In those instances, Perry would be very restrained. He would not take advantage of them. He would throw them out rather than do them damage."

Perry, whose statue stands in Tipton's Coronation Gardens, was a darling of the media during his bloody career.

And he mixed in very high circles, 62-year-old Chris has discovered.

"It seems as if he knew people like Dickens," the author said, "and he certainly knew (Vanity Fair author) William Makepeace Thackeray. "They met after American actress Adah Menken, at the time the most famous actress in the world, came over here.

"She became famous for one role in a play called Marengo. At the end of the play, she rode across stage on a horse, which was unusual enough.

"But she was, to all intent and purpose, naked.

"Adah was, in fact, wearing a bodystocking, but at a time when showing an ankle was considered flighty, this caused quite a stir. She played the role across the world.

"She invited Dickens and Thackeray to her parties, and she threw a party most nights. But she had been married to a boxer and was very much at home with the boxing fraternity. That's where Perry comes into the picture.

Perry's rags-to-riches-to-rags story has seeped into folklore.

He had only 11 contests, losing three, but his bravery drew an army of supporters - and a number of fraudsters who pretended to be The Slasher.

"There are many incidents where the Tipton Slasher was reported as doing this or that when he hadn't done those things at all," explained Chris.

"There was one individual who was forever in trouble for poaching and assaulting police officers. He always gave his name as the Tipton Slasher.

"Perry didn't mind, didn't mind at all. The only time he took exception was when reports surfaced that he and his family were in the workhouse in Gateshead.

"He responded in the papers to those rumours and even offered to confront his namesake."

And there were women who attempted to take a slice of the fighter's fortune by claiming he had fathered their child.

The allegations seem untrue. Perry was devoted to wife Ann Maria Challingworth - the couple had a son together - and died of drink only months after she was buried.

Author | In the days before DNA tests, the champ successfully defended 10 paternity suits, some downright ludicrous.

"A Portsmouth girl claimed said she had a child by the Tipton Slasher," said Chris.

"Her friend gave evidence and described him as 5ft 2ins and 14 stone."

Perry, magnificently proportioned, stood 6ft 2ins and weighed 13 stone.

What cannot be denied is he was a very, very hard man, the product of a teak-tough background.

Born in 1819, he first found employment on the barges and was given the job of manhandling his way to the front of the queue at locks to ensure his was the first longboat through.

It was a recipe for brawls on an almost daily basis. From there, Perry travelled to London to work as a navvy, digging out canals and toiling over railway tracks.

It was during his time in the capital city that Perry honed his boxing skills in a gym above the Lowndes Arms pub.

Charles Dickens He was only 16 when he made his debut against Barney Dogherty, the police intervening after seven rounds of the Mortlake contest.

The purse for that day's work was five guineas.

The pair resumed hostilities on the same day at Lechmore Common. This time Perry, eager to get the job done before the Old Bill arrived, prevailed in six.

From all accounts, Perry was a man who possessed striking good looks, but those classic features were chiselled away by a succession of ring wars.

Before he reached 21, a ringside reporter described him as being without "headrails" - front teeth.

Those were knocked out by Jem Scunner in a 31 round clash for the Black Country title. On that occasion, 20 guineas was on the table - proof of Perry's growing appeal.

He first made headlines in July 7, 1842, with a 70 round draw against American Charles Freeman, a giant of a man who stood 6ft 10ins tall and weighed 20 stones. Perry earned plaudits for his bravery in a David v Goliath struggle...and shared a purse of 200 guineas.

Freeman's sheer bulk proved too much in the return five months later. Exhausted, Perry was disqualified in the 38th round for going down without being hit.

His English title victory proved the most epic. It lasted a staggering 133 rounds before Tass Parker was ruled out, again for going down without a punch landed.

Perry's final contest, on June 16, 1857, destroyed him financially.

It was against Tom Sayers, a man who was just starting on a fistic journey that would see him attain legendary status.

The Slasher was 38 and battlescarred but sure he could easily whip the young upstart. It was, in his eyes, man against boy and Perry bet every-thing - and I mean everything - on victory.

"At that time, Sayers did not have much of a reputation," explained Chris, "and The Slasher mortgaged his pub and bet everything on winning."

He was destroyed in one hour, 42 minutes and 10 rounds of action. Perry took terrible punishment, but was praised for his courage.

A reporter noted: "The Slasher, evidently, was fast going and the game old fellow was almost abroad.

"His dial was tremendously punished and his lips so lacerated that he presented a piteous appearance. His teeth had long gone, but he still grinned with bloody gums."

"He lost everything," said Chris.

"There were whip-rounds after the bout and with the money raised he got a pub. But he died with very little money. When his wife died, he turned to drink and died eight months later."

Perry, landlord of The Champion, West Bromwich, and The Bricklayer's Arms, Wolverhampton, passed away on Christmas Eve, 1880, and was buried in St John's Church, Dudley.

In a land of tough men, Perry stood out as harder than the nails churned out in his home town.

Chris will give a talk on the char-|ismatic champ - "The Life and Loves of the Tipton Slasher" at Dudley Library on Tuesday, November 24, starting at 2.30.

There are many incidents where the Tipton Slasher was reported as doing this or that when he hadn't done those things at all Historian Chris Smith

CAPTION(S):

The Tipton Slasher, one of the best known prize fighters in the country - |his real name was William Perry and he was born in Park Lane, Tipton

William Perry's grave in St John's Church, Dudley

Author Charles Dickens

William Perry's Champion Pub, in Spon Lane, West Bromwich, a portrait of the Tipton Slasher, and the fighter in action, and his statue in Tipton
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 15, 2015
Words:1286
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