Friday, January 8, 2016
"One of the fancy, but not a fancy man...” That was how Pierce Egan described his hero in Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis.
Egan's Tom and Jerry appeared in 1821. Prior to this, Egan wrote for various newspapers boxing and horse racing events in England, and published Boxiana; or Sketches of Modern Pugilism as a serial put out between 1811 and 1813. As shown in Life in London, no gentleman could consider him a sporting man if he could not box. Egan defined "the Fancy" in his Boxiana as: "..it simply means, any person is fond of a particular amusement, or closely attached to some subject."
In this case, to boxing.
Fist fighting had begun to replace sword or cudgel sports during George I’s reign. Though it was illegal--for fights often became drunken brawls--betting made it enough of an attraction to draw nobility as well as common folks. The first official champion of England was James Figg, who was also an expert swordsman and who later opened a School of Arms (called either Figg's Academy or Figg's Amphitheater).
Promoting "the nationality" of boxing, Egan even reported in Boxiana of female pugilism, quoting from a newspaper advertisement of 1722 which held a challenge from Elizabeth Wilkinson of Clerkenwell to Hannah Hyfield of Newgate Market to "box me for three guineas" and stating that "she may expect a good thumping!"
The science of boxing is generally attributed to Jack Broughton, champion of England from 1734 to 1750. Called “the father of British pugilism” Broughton drafted the rules that were used before and during the Regency. (It was not until 1866 that the Queensberry Rules were developed by the Eighth Marquis of Queensberry and John G. Chambers.) Broughton also invented the “mufflers” or boxing gloves that were used for practice since all prize-fights were fought with bare fists.
Broughton’s rules outlawed hitting below the belt, striking an opponent who was down (which included being on his knees). Wrestling holds were allowed only above the waist. Every fighter had a gentleman to act as umpire, with a third to referee disagreements. When a fighter was knocked down, he had 30 seconds to get up—or have help getting up—and then he had to be placed at the corner of a 3-foot square that was drawn in the center of the ring.
Egan reports that boxing was so popular in 1791 that the champion Dan Mendoza "was induced to open a the small theater at the Lyceum, in the Strand, for the express purpose of public exhibitions of sparring."
Many retiring champion boxers found more money to be had in sparring, or if they had business sense, in opening schools, as had Broughton and Figg. During the Regency, the most famous of boxing schools was opened John Jackson, who retired after winning the championship in a hard-fought match with Daniel Mendoza. Jackson opened the Bond Street School of Arms at Number 13, next door to his friend and fencing instructor Henry Angleo, who urged his students to alternate with lessons from Jackson—which made sense for Jackson advocated footwork and the science of targeting a hit.
Everyone went to Jackson’s, even Lord Byron, the lame poet. When tasked with keeping such low company Byron insisted that Jackson’s manners were “infinitely superior to those of the fellows of the college whom I meet at the high table.”
Egan wrote of Jackson in Boxiana, "In the pugilistic hemisphere, Jackson has long been viewed as a fixed star...To Nature he is indebted or an uncommonly fine person; his symmetry of form is attractive in the extreme, and he is considered one of the best-made men in the kingdom..."
Other boxing champions of the Regency era included: Jack Bartholomew, champion from 1797 to 1800.
Jem Belcher who often wore a blue scarf marked with white spots and blue centers around his neck, which became known as the Belcher neckcloth, and soon sporting mad young bucks were wearing any scarf of garish color with spots. “Hen” Pearce, “The Game Chicken,” who held the title from 1803 to 1806 when he retired. John Gully who won the championship in 1807 and retired in 1808 to open a racing stable. And Tom Cribb became the champion in 1808, winning a famous bout against African-American Tom Molineaux on December 18, 1810. Cribb went on to hold the champion title until 1822. (As an interesting footnote, Tom’s less famous brother, George had about five fights, and lost all of them.)