Mountain Fighters - Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing
Wales has a long and proud history of fist fighting. While many boxing fans may be familiar with the stories of such fistic royalty as Jimmy Wilde and Jim Driscoll from the early days of the boxing ring, the lives of the men who fought bare-fist on the mountains of south Wales or in the fairground boxing booths for a handful of coins have been far less well documented.
Mae gan Gymru hanes hir a balch o baffio. Er bod cefnogwyr bocsio eiseoes yn gyfarwydd ag enwau megis Jimmy Wilde a Jim Driscoll, mae'r gyfrol hon hefyd yn talu sylw i ddynion di-nod yn ne Cymru fyddai'n barod i gymryd rhan mewn gornest er mwyn ennill dyrnaid o arian yn unig.
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1 William Samuels
Chapter 2 William Samuels vs. Toff Wall
Chapter 3 Patsy Perkins
Chapter 4 Dick Ambrose
Chapter 5 Shin Kicking & Mountain Fighting
Chapter 6 The Aberaman Chicken & the Aberdare Pet
Chapter 7 Mountain Fighters
Chapter 8 Dan Pontypridd
Chapter 9 The Boxing Booth
Chapter 10 Dublin Tom
Chapter 11 Sam 'Butcher' Thomas
Chapter 12 Ivor 'Butcher' Thomas
Chapter 13 Morgan Crowther
Chapter 14 Morgan Crowther vs.The Courts
Chapter 15 Redmond Coleman
Chapter 16 Redmond Coleman’s Downward Spiral
Chapter 17 John O’Brien
Chapter 18 John O’Brien vs. The Harlem Coffee Cooler
Chapter 19 Dai St. John
Chapter 20 The Last Battle of The Resolven Giant
This book explores some of the lives and times of the good, the bad and the ugly from the days of the bare-knuckle outlaws known as the ‘mountain fighters’ who climbed the mountains of the south Wales valleys before dawn to duke it out with bare fists safely out of reach of the law. Some learned their trade swapping fists on the mountains, while others pulled on the gloves and tried their luck on the booths, where the ability to stand against 'all comers' for three rounds might earn them a pound.
The early history of pugilism in South Wales is chronicled within this book, which includes many profiles of some of the forgotten early fistic champions of the Welsh prize ring, including:
Shoni Engineer - a Treorchy shoesmith & bare fist fighter who would achieve almost legendary status throughout the coalfields of south Wales for his fighting prowess.
Dai 'St. John' - the Welsh Heavyweight title claimant known as the ‘Resolven Giant’ who became a national hero due to his bravery in the South African war.
William Samuels - the longtime Heavyweight Champion of Wales, Swansea's cigar chomping premier fairground boxing booth owner, who once faced the great John L. Sullivan, the Heavyweight bare knuckle champion of the world, as well as a cage full of lions!
Robert Dunbar - a.k.a 'Sam Lane' a.k.a 'Young' Lane, Newport’s battle hardened one-eyed gladiator of the old Welsh prize-ring, one of South Wales' toughest old time outlaw 'knucklers'.
Patsy Perkins - the Cardiff boy who became the Lightweight Champion of Wales and who lost everything after one fateful night in 1894 at the Aberdare slaughterhouse.
Redmond Coleman - the terrible 'Ironman' of Merthyr, whose street fighting skills made him a figure of fear throughout old Merthyr town.
Morgan Crowther - the Newport fighter whose regular brushes with the law earned him a mention in the House of Commons, and paved the way to taking the Featherweight Championship of England.
John O'Brien - the great Cardiff middleweight who could have fought for the championship of the world, if not for sickness and his fateful meeting with the 'Coffee Cooler'.
Daniel Thomas - a.k.a Dan 'Pontypridd' - the first sturdy lightweight champion of Pontypridd, the prizefighter who turned to God and burned his golden belt.
Sam & Ivor Thomas - Sam & Ivor 'Butcher', the sons of a Treorchy butcher who became known throughout south Wales for their fighting skills, Sam on the mountains with the knuckles, and Ivor on the booths with the gloves.
Other notable fighting men of the time such as Bob Wiltshire, Tom James, George 'Punch' Jones, Cardiff's notorious scoundrel Pete 'Dublin Tom' Burns and Swansea's tragic ring-hero Dick Ambrose also have their stories told. For the first time a fighting tradition previously shrouded in myth and legend that would pave the way for a country’s future champions is fully explored.
There are many rare illustrations and photographs, many of which have never been printed in any book previously, this is a must-buy for any boxing fan who wants to re-discover the forgotten origins of Welsh boxing.
'The author...is to be congratulated on this splendid book which tells for the first time the deeds and exploits of the long forgotten bare fist fighters who fought on the mountains of Wales or in the fairground booths. His countless hours of research has paid off and sports fans and sport historians are in his debt.'
Brian Lee, South Wales Echo
January 13th, 2012
'Mountain Fighters. Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing by Lawrence Davies is a very well written and meticulously researched piece of work that will fill one in on the rich history of Welsh boxing and the men who really laid the groundwork for the better known greats that followed them such as Jim Driscoll, Freddie Welsh and Jimmy Wilde. Davies book is comprised of 437 pages and provides story after story of the hard lives and fights of the men who fought bare-fisted in the mountains to avoid the law or in the fairground boxing booths. I found it particularly interesting to read about Driscoll's early education from the boxing booths, first as a witness of numerous fights and then later as a participant himself. I also learned an awful lot about some early great Welsh fighters that I had no previous knowledge of as a result of this book and highly recommend it.'
Clay Moyle, author of 'Sam Langford: Boxing's Greatest Uncrowned Champion' and 'Billy Miske: The St. Paul Thunderbolt'.
In Mountain Fighters Lawrence Davies has written an absorbing and entertaining history of the life and times of extraordinary characters. It will tell you a lot about Wales that you didn't know.
Trevor Fishlock, Writer, journalist and broadcaster
Although Lawrence Davies' Mountain Fighters - Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing is largely a chronicle of fist fights and fist fighters in the second half of the nineteenth century in South Wales, the volume is moreover a sociological treatise. In many respects, it corresponds to Jack Dempsey's autobiographical description of the harsh conditions in the mining camps of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, where he received his fistic schooling in the early 1900's.
The Dickensian themes of greed and privilege in Victorian England are echoed in the accounts of mine owners ruthlessly exploiting the impoverished miners, thus defining the ethos of communities dependent on the collieries for sustenance. Bare-knuckle fighting in the booths, pubs, pits, on the mountainsides and in the streets correlated to the misery and brutalization of the laborers and their families. Davies neither romanticizes nor mythologizes the protagonists of his work, but he impresses on the reader the forces that drove them to endure and inflict such frightful punishment.
Thomas J. Hoggan, M.Ed.
(President, World Boxing Board)
Reviewed for Ninnau & Y Drych
Imagine working as a collier in a coal mine for twelve back braking hours. You finish your shift and then you walk ten miles into the Welsh hillside where you engage in a bare-fisted boxing match which could last thirty to forty rounds. Your nose is broken and you are now missing a few more teeth. Your reward may be a few coins or less yet, a pint of beer.
This is just a sample of the many tales chronicled by Lawrence Davies in his book “Mountain Fighters - Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing”. Fighting or “pugilism” as it is referred to, was quite common place in Wales during the 1800's. Blue collar men just loved to fight. It was as common as a game of snooker. Miners would often accept challenges to fight as one might agree to a game of billiards. It was certainly hard times but these were hard people. A mere word over a pint would often result in a challenge and its resulting scrape out in the street or alley, at least until the authorities arrived.
There were stiff fines for fighting in public. More organized matches would take place at confidential locations buried deep in the Welsh mountainside at secret times - to throw off the police. These fights were often of the bare-fisted variety - before the enacting of the Queensbury Rules (24 ft ring, gloves, etc.). Fights could go on for hours or at least until someone admitted defeat. All too often, the loser died from his injuries.
The press would often cover these bouts assigning colorful names to protect the identity of the players - "The Aberdare Pet" and "The Aberaman Chicken" to name a few. There were real people too, like Shoni Engineer, a Treorchy shoesmith, who was one of the best fighters to come out of the south Wales coalfields. There was also Daniel Thomas, a lightweight champion from Pontypridd, who found religion and turned his back on his destructive past.
Davies also describes life amid the Boxing Booths - exhibitions that accompanied the traveling fairground circuit. This is where the serious fighters would gain the most experience. A barker would welcome anyone who could last a few rounds against one of his champions. William Samuels was one of those boxing entrepreneurs - a real character!
The later part of the book I found to be the most interesting, as it presented stories of the early champions of mountain boxing - Sam and Ivor Thomas, Morgan Crowther, Redmond Coleman, John O'Brien and Dai St. John. St John- the Resolven Giant, became a national hero not only from his boxing exploits per se, but from his battlefield heroics in the Boer War in South Africa.
It’s hard to imagine that such a world as described in Davies' book actually existed. It was certainly a less civilized time - but absolutely fascinating!
Davies has meticulously researched and documented his stories with many rare illustrations and photographs - an impressive accomplishment.
Ronald E. Morris
Last Updated on 03 March 2015
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