AmeriCymru: Hi Lawrence and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your new book The Story of Welsh Boxing for our readers?
Lawrence: Hi, well my new book, 'The Story of Welsh Boxing, Prize Fighters of Wales' will be available to purchase at the start of June, 2019, and is published as a hardback by Pitch Publishing. This is the first book I have written on Welsh boxing to attempt to trace the origins of the sport of boxing in Wales, and to outline the careers of the most prominent Welsh fighters (or pugilists) recorded in the earliest days of British Boxing History.
The book introduces a number of forgotten early boxing 'champions' to have come from Wales, and features full accounts of some of the most prominent of the Welsh bare-knuckle fighters to have earned some measure of fame in the days before the advent of boxing gloves. There are some real surprises in the book and I hope that Welsh boxing fans enjoy reading about the forgotten fighters to have come from Wales.
It also introduces a full account of the career of Ned Turner, whose name might be familiar to some readers, as he is occasionally name-checked, although I don't think a full account of his career has been printed previously. Ned was a national hero in Wales in the 1820's and was thought to be the second greatest lightweight in Britain after a fighter named Jack Randall. His tale really is very engaging, Ned was a very likable and honorable man, and was greatly admired in his day. To the people of Wales it is no exaggeration to say he was a national hero. I hope that I have done him justice, and that readers enjoy his story.
AmeriCymru: What period of Welsh boxing history does the book cover? How difficult is it to research the earlier periods in the development of the sport given the dearth of written records?
Lawrence: The book covers what I would consider to be the first 'period' of Welsh boxing history, starting from the early 1700's with the most prominent Welsh fighters to have earned some measure of fame outside Wales, mostly within the 'London Prize Ring'. At this time, boxing or 'pugilism' had not yet broken away from the 'prize fighters' of the time, who were engaging in armed battles with the sword and staff, and the first chapter of the book gives background details on the types of contests that were fought with weapons, prior to fist fighting splitting away and being viewed as a separate art. It also contains details on some Welsh fighters who took part in these gladiatorial contests.
It also features those bare-knuckle fighters who were battling on native soil within Wales, right through to the fighting career of a boxer named William Charles from Newport who was deemed to be the 'Champion of Wales' by 1828, although he was not the first. The book covers a timescale of roughly 130 years, and charts the development of boxing within Wales, and the most prominent Welsh fighters that were recorded in the sporting journals and newspapers of the time.
Researching the book proved to be very difficult, in part because the first Welsh newspapers were founded at the start of the nineteenth century, and were very reluctant to print any information on boxing, or 'prize fighting' as it was known, mainly due to the influence of religious leaders and the chapel within Wales, who saw boxing as a demoralizing and brutal activity, although it was very popular, and often drew crowds of thousands to contests between prominent local 'Champions'.
Prior to the founding of the Welsh papers, what information can be found on the Welsh fighters of the eighteenth century is very hard to find, and piecing together the fragments of their fighting careers is a long and time consuming process, even after you have uncovered names of boxers who have long been forgotten. After fight accounts have been uncovered, you have to be able to review the materials critically and cross reference against other sources, which are often contradictory, in order to establish the accuracy of the material. The early history of prize fighting and boxing hasn't been explored in as great a detail as you might imagine. Most of the early works on boxing focus on the heavyweights, and the most prominent of the national champions.
AmeriCymru: What are the major differences between the bare knuckle fights of old and modern day boxing contests? Were fighters tougher back in the day?
Lawrence: One of the main differences in the bare-knuckle fights that took place in the days of prize fighting is that the contests were open ended, so there was no limit to the number of rounds. A man was expected to come up to the 'scratch' - a line in the center of the ring to fight - until such time as he was physically incapable of continuing. A round only ended when a man was sent down, rather than lasting a set time of three minutes. A fight could conceivably last hours, and often resulted in terrible injuries, particularly as a fighters supporters might well keep sending him out despite his injuries as they were naturally reluctant to lose the money they had wagered on their man.
Prize fighting was also an 'underground' activity. While there were many prominent members of the aristocracy who privately admired prize fighters, contests were always at risk of being broken up and the fighters and their supporters taken into custody and forced to defend themselves in court. Fights were therefore scheduled to take place at spots outside police jurisdiction, often on county boundaries, so the fighters and supporters could hop across the boundary in the event that they were being pursued by the constabulary of one county, and find another spot outside their reach to pitch another ring in a neighbouring one. As these contests took place outside, a portable 'ring' consisting of ropes and stakes were pitched once a suitable piece of flat turf was found, so it was a sport that took place 'on the fly'.
It seems to be one of those questions that creates a great deal of debate in boxing circles - were the old timers tougher than the fighters of today? I guess it depends on your point of view. Nowadays we have the benefit of science when it comes to physical training. Modern professional boxers are superbly conditioned athletes, but the toughness of some of the old fighters is quite phenomenal when you consider that they fought for hour after hour. They often sustained terrible injuries, with little medical assistance, without the benefits of modern methods of pain relief, and often for figures that would be unthinkably small for the professional boxers of today. Prize fighting was an incredibly dangerous sport. The book contains details of one fighter, recorded as a 'Welchman' who fought 276 rounds and was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records!
AmeriCymru: I think it's fair to say that bare knuckle fights were frowned upon by the authorities. Care to share some examples of the subterfuges fight organizers adopted to safeguard their events from interference by the local constabulary? Didn't the police face significant danger trying to break up these events?
Lawrence: The location where an important prize fight was to take place was often kept a secret until the day of the battle, usually when contests were to take place they were specified within a certain number of miles of London - which was the hub of prize fighting. This information was then circulated to fight fans of all walks of life, known as 'The Fancy' who would congregate at sporting houses, or pubs, where tips as to where the fight might come off might be heard.
At a later time, a 'special' train might even be booked to take the fighters and spectators to the scene of a battle, with the train pulling up at some quiet point on the line for the party to jump off, pitch a portable ring on a suitable spot of turf and bring off the fight before the authorities could locate the battleground.
Some prize fights drew crowds of thousands, and it might well be imagined in such circumstances it proved all but impossible for the police to exert their authority over such a vast number of people. There are accounts of people turning on the police when they attempted to break up a fight, and occasions where a posse of policemen scouring for the location of a fight were so out-manned that they had to merely watch from a distance with no ability to stop a contest.
AmeriCymru: From the book listing we learn that your "meticulous original research has uncovered many Welsh prize fighters previously unrecorded in any publication." Do you have any personal favorites? Are there any you would like to give a special mention to here?
Lawrence: Very few of the fighters within the book have been recorded at all in modern books of boxing history. As mentioned previously, Ned Turner was a symbol of bravery and honour in his day, but there are a few other fighters that appear within the book that are worth remembering. One is a particularly fierce Welsh butcher who plied his trade in Whitechapel Market, who was appropriately named 'Jack Rasher'. His fights were incredibly hard long and brutal, but he would laugh while his head was beaten 'like a rainbow, all manner of colours', and he would still spit on his fists and come out to fight. They called him 'Ironface'.
Another fighter within the book was known as the 'Wrexham Champion', he had a big reputation for thrashing everyone for miles around but died at the age of 38 after being attacked by a mob of 61 people. One of my favourites, because he sounds like a bit of a loon, is someone I know far too little about, a fighter named 'Taffy' Pritchard who challenged another fighter to eat 6lb of liver in less time than Taffy could eat 7lb of liver fried in candle wax! There are also some interesting details on the fighters that came after Ned Turner's time who claimed to be the 'Welsh Champion', whether merited or not.
Perhaps one of the most interesting accounts for Welsh boxing fans is the story of William Charles of Newport, who was genuinely held to be the 'Champion of Wales' by the general public - and was even compared to Owain Glyndwr the heroic rebel Prince of Wales. He has never been recorded in any book of Welsh boxing history before now. Charles was a smashing and powerful fighter and incredibly popular. For one of his fights in Monmouth, approximately 4,000 people traveled by horse, carriage and on foot from far and wide to a field to watch him take on one of his rivals, which seems astonishing to me, most of them trudging mile after mile for hour after hour to see their champion fight. I have tried to present as complete an account of his career as possible within the book.
AmeriCymru: Care to tell our readers a little about your earlier titles:- Mountain Fighters: Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing and Jack Scarrott's Prize Fighters.
Lawrence: The Mountain Fighters book was the first book I wrote on Welsh bare-knuckle boxing history, and it was published back in 2011. Prior to boxers wearing gloves, at the end of the nineteenth century, the bare-knuckle fighters of Wales were known as 'Mountain Fighters' because they fought on the mountains above the towns to avoid the interference of the police. I had come across references to them, but no details, who they were, who they fought, or any aspects of their lives and decided to research them. The book presented accounts of aspects of the lives of a number of the most prominent mountain fighters for the first time, including William Samuels, Robert Dunbar, Pete Burns (Dublin Tom), Sam Thomas (Sam Butcher), Dai St John, Patsy Perkins and others. Looking back it was a mammoth of a book, probably a bit too big. I wrote it in a very general style in an attempt to make it more readable to people who weren't necessarily only interested in boxing, but also in Welsh history, about a period that hadn't been previously explored.
The Jack Scarrott book finally came out in 2016 after many years of research. The name is probably most familiar to fight fans because Jack discovered the legendary Flyweight Champion of the World, Jimmy Wilde. Scarrott was a fairground boxing 'booth' owner. A boxing booth proprietor had a string of fighters who he employed to stand on the front of the booth, and he would invite members of the audience to challenge them over a few rounds. If they lasted the distance they won a cash prize. The spectators would pay an entrance fee to go into the booth, a large heavily decorated tent, to witness the contest. Virtually all the early Welsh gloved boxing champions started in the booths, and Jack handled most of them at one stage or another, the great 'Peerless' Jim Driscoll, Wilde, Tom Thomas the middleweight champion of Britain, Percy Jones, World Flyweight champion, and so many others all started out with Jack. Scarrott toured South Wales, packing up his booth and putting on contests around Wales for decades. He was a showman, a promoter, and one of the most important figures in Welsh boxing, although he had become something of a footnote in history, more of a myth than a man. His life and times were incredibly colourful, and the book shows how he took boxing from a small tent he knocked up himself in the town of Pontypridd, featuring ex-mountain fighters on his booth front, to venues where thousands watched the 96lb future wonder of the world Jimmy Wilde destroy all comers. It is an amazing story. As I learned more about Jack I admired him more and more. I hope one day that a revised edition will be published.
My new book, 'The Story of Welsh Boxing' is a bit different. It tries to present a full period of boxing history in as much detail as possible. I hope it is something that readers enjoy whether a wholehearted boxing fan, or whether they are just interested in the history of Wales generally. This is the first book that I have written that contains full footnotes, appendices, and a lot of wonderful portraiture and illustrations, and I really hope that people enjoy it. Sometimes it was hard trying to push on with writing it, and pull the various pieces together but I have tried to do credit to the courage and bravery of some of the great forgotten Welsh fighters of the past that should be remembered.
AmeriCymru: When will the book be available and where can readers buy it online
Lawrence: The book will be on general release at the start of June, 2019. I believe that Amazon are taking pre-orders. On the high street it should be available at Waterstones and WH Smiths and other bookshops.
AmeriCymru: What's next for Lawrence Davies? Do you have any other projects ongoing at the moment?
Really hard to say right now, I have a few other things sitting on the shelf, mostly Welsh boxing related. I am also trying to fit in research time when I can, and would like to continue charting the 'Story of Welsh Boxing' when I get time to sit down and write. Hopefully people will like the new book enough that I will be spurred on to write some more, all I ever really wanted to do when I was a kid was to write something worth reading. I used to bash away with two fingers on a dusty old Remington typewriter that my dad had, the hope is that each time I try, I get better at doing it. He used to say, keep trying, keep fighting, keep going. I think thats probably the best advice I ever had.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?
Lawrence: I really hope that if you read the new book, 'The Story of Welsh Boxing' that you enjoy it. If you do I would be really grateful if you might be so kind as to post a review on amazon, or share your thoughts on it with others on facebook, twitter, etc. Its always wonderful to read that someone has enjoyed something that you have written, or tried to write to the best of your ability.
If you are on twitter you can tweet about the book to Pitch Publishing @pitchpublishing using #TheStoryofWelshBoxing. If you follow Pitch on Twitter you can leave book reviews, get exclusive news and enter competitions and prize giveaways.
Alternatively, you can also find out more about the book on facebook, or give your thoughts on it by visiting :
I am really thankful for all the people who have supported my previous books, or have been so kind as to review them, or write forum posts on them, etc. it really helps you keep trying and keep writing when you are struggling to find the momentum to keep working on a something that you know is going to take you a very long time to put together. Some people have been incredibly generous with their support, so thank you for your kindness to date. Also want to especially thank AmeriCymru for having alerted readers to my previous books when they came out, sometimes its the interest and enthusiasm of others that keeps you going when you are flagging.