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Meet Bob Brettle, the bare-knuckle boxing landlord; back in time.

I REALLY enjoyed the article in last week's paper on old pubs. Some time ago I bought a print of a pub entitled "The White Lion, Digbeth, from a sketch made in 1835". Do you have any information about its location please?


THERE was a White Lion at 95-98 Digbeth High Street which dated back to mediaeval times. Joseph McKenna, in his excellent book Central Birmingham Pubs Volume II, described it as a "low-roofed building with a central pointed gable" and it had "six unequal sized and oddshaped windows".

The White Lion was owned by the governors of King Edward School in New Street, who leased out the house, and soldiers were billeted there, as was the case with a number of large pubs in the town in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Its most famous licensee was a bare-knuckle prize fighter named Bob Brettle. He was born at Portobello, near Edinburgh, in January 1832, and first travelled to Birmingham to fight James Malpas for a purse of pounds 50 in February 1854.

It appears that Brettle liked the city so much he stayed, and in November fought Jack Jones of Portsmouth for pounds 100, then defeated boxers Roger Coyne and Sam Simmonds the following year for prizes of pounds 200, plus side bets.

Brettle became known as The Birmingham Pet and his reputation as a fighter was growing all over the country.

In August 1857 he fought Job Cobley. It was a bloody encounter between two determined fighters, which Brettle eventually won in the 47th round.

Brettle's last fight was against the formidable Tom Sayers, the British champion, in September 1858. Although it was a mismatch, Brettle started well and knocked Sayers down in the second round.

Slowly, Sayers got back into the fight and in the seventh round struck a heavy blow to Brettle's exposed shoulder, dislocating it in the process.

Brettle was in extreme pain and couldn't go on.

Days later, he announced his retirement from the ring, and with the money he made from boxing became the licensee of the White Lion.

He was, in fact, the pub's last landlord. The White Lion was closed by compulsory purchase order in 1869 and demolished to make way for road widening. Three years later, Brettle died and was buried in Harborne churchyard.

After the roadworks were completed, a smaller White Lion was built on the site but soon after was renamed the British Lion. That, too, was demolished.


OLD FAVOURITE: the White Lion, Digbeth, dated back to mediaeval times
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 11, 2007
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