The Story of Welsh Boxing: Prize Fighters of Wales

by Lawrence Davies


The Story of Welsh Boxing revives the memory of pugilists dating back to the ‘prize fighters’ who fought with sword and staff in the days of James Figg, considered the first Champion of England. For the first time, Lawrence Davies offers a vivid, atmospheric glimpse into the lost world of boxing’s bare-knuckle era, and into the lives of its Welsh heroes

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REVIEW OF The Story of Welsh Boxing


While there is an extensive literature on the history of boxing, the early years of prize fighting have been relatively neglected and regional studies dealing with the fighters from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are almost non-existent. In fact, of course, prize fighters were never restricted to London, or to other English centres such as Bristol, and men (occasionally also women) fought in public for prize money all around the British Isles. This is clearly demonstrated in this text by boxing historian Lawrence Davies, which highlights the impact made specifically by Welshmen and chronicles their engagement in the sport. In illuminating the careers of these men, Davies reinforces the universal significance of the sport in enabling individuals to use their physical skills to make a living, though often to the detriment of their health and physical well-being. The text draws on a considerable amount of primary data, not an easy task given, as Davies notes, given moral and religious concerns about prizefighting and the paucity of local newspaper sources in Wales in this period. A significant problem, since newspapers are normally considered to be an important resource for sports historians (although, it has to be said, their reports were not always as ‘accurate’ as is suggested). Nevertheless, the substantial amount of original evidence provided here reinforces the need for historians of prizefighting to look beyond the English diaspora in order to gain a clearer picture of the importance of the activity to our understanding of its place in the sporting and leisure culture of the Georgian and Victorian periods. The characters uncovered in this book, and the way in which their fights were staged and conducted, add significantly to the history of prizefighting and Davies is to be commended for the rigour of his approach and for the details he presents. The only disappointment in this work is the lack of an index, which would have allowed the reader to track individuals more effectively, but that is a relatively minor concern when presented with a rich account that provides so much in terms of context, colour and vibrancy.


More reviews of – The Story of Welsh Boxing, this time by South Wales Echo

History of Welsh boxing packs a thrilling punch

Former Cardiffian Lawrence Davies it the author of a cracking new book, The Story of Welsh Boxing: Prize Fighters of Wales. He told me

I grew up in Cardiff and went to school at the old Corpus Christi school before they knocked it down and relocated it

He watched boxing with his father from an early age and became interested in the history of sport in Wales. when as a teenager, he got to know Mike and Kitty Flynn, who kept the Royal Oak in Roath, where the famed Jim Dricoll once trained.

Lawrence went to the University of Wales to study English Literature, and after graduating, started researching early Welsh glove-fighting history. This led to a fascination with the mountain fighters, hence the title of his first book ‘Mountain Fighters: Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing, which was published in 2011.

After travelling around the US, he ended up in Austin, Texas, and he said, in his spare time he started drafting short pieces on Welsh bare-knuckle fighters from his many notes.  He said

Whenever I visited my family back home, I would be visiting libraries, hunting through the microfilm around Wales to trying to uncover material and filled files of research to take back to Austin

He thought that one day these notes would make a few articles but eventually they became the Mountain Fighters of Welsh Boxing book. He added

My research has grown beyond the scope of a specific period in Welsh bare-knuckle boxing and the question that kept coming up now was when did the story of Welsh boxing really start?  Well, this new book will provide you with the answer

It was at Llandaff in Cardiff on January 11, 1811, that some 500 people saw a fight between ‘Stephens of the White Lion in Llandaff and James of Ely Mill’ and they fought for a prize of 100 guineas. That boxing was firmly established as a pastime and an entertainment of note in Wales by the end of the 1790s can be drawn from the memoirs of Daniel Mendoza, who we learn ‘ exhibited with great success in the town of Cardiff’.  The careers of many of these early Welsh pugilists has never before been recorded but this book, illustrated by rare portraits and  images, feature a dramatic account of the career of ‘Paddington’ Jones, the first Welshman to make his mark in the London ring.

Read this book and you will discover why the notorious brothers know as ‘Welsh Savages’ ended their prize-fighting careers in disgrace. You will find out how Jack Rasher, a ferocious Welsh boxer of Whitechapel market, earned the nickname of Iron Face. And you can also discover how the ‘Champion of Wales’ blinded his opponent in 1791, and find out the identity of  Welsh boxer who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame who is not currently recorded as Welsh.