East End Born and Bled: The Remarkable Story of London Boxing
PUBLISHED: 09:00 15 February 2020
Jeff Jones recalls the memories from his east London upbringing which sparked a lifelong fascination with his local boxing scene and culminated in his debut book East End Born & Bled: The Remarkable Story of Boxing in London.
"When I was younger boxing was everywhere. I lived 20 minutes from Leyton baths," explains Jones.
"In those days they used to board the baths up and hold boxing and wrestling events, so there were these huge boxing events only up the road from where I lived.
"But I didn't fight myself because it was a bit tough for me - I stuck to football and cricket!"
East End Born & Bled tracks 300 years of east London boxing's evolution, from the first unregulated bare knuckle fights in the 1720s through what Jones calls the "Golden Age" of the 1950s-70s, concluding just after the turn of the millennium.
Despite his boxing obsession, Jones says his early research for the book was accidental as he initially intended only to write an article about the Hackney sports' club he attended as a child.
"I was planning on doing a small story on Eton Manor, an East End boys' sports club I used to go to," added Jones.
"It was their centenary and at the same time I was researching the club I was reading Ray Winstone's autobiography. Ray was a big boxer in his early days before he fell into the film and TV world.
"The more I delved into the history of Eton Manor and their part in the boxing region Ray Winstone was involved in, I thought, 'there's a big story here to be told about boxing in East London,' and I took it from there.
"I made more inquiries, started to track down boxers and gather information. After about six months I realised the amount of information I was getting through was huge. So I changed tack and started to write a book."
In East End Born & Bled, Jones attempts to combine his love of boxing with his prior expertise in family and social history, tracing the rise of boxing in the East End alongside the area's development.
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It features interviews and family histories of boxers - including Stepney-born former featherweight world champion Sammy McCarthy, who sadly died on Monday aged 88 - and covers the entirety of the East End's boxing industry including trainers, clubs, promoters, managers and both the amateur and professional sides of the sport.
Jones speaks of the dynamic mix of cultures in the cosmopolitan East End as European immigrants coalesced with the indigenous population from the 18th century onwards to create a deprived yet colourful melting pot for the development of boxers.
"You had the French Huguenots set up in Spitalfields after they were expelled from France and after that the Irish immigrants came to escape the Potato Famine in the 1840s," explains Jones.
"Then you had a massive influx of central and eastern European Jews from the pogroms in Russia.
"Boxing was the catalyst they used to try to raise themselves out of the impoverished environment they were living in.
"The East End was a place of boxing. South Wales produced countless numbers of rugby union players and the north produced soccer players. They came out of the mines to play their sport whereas in the East End they came out of the docks to box."
Reflecting the hardship of the East End and portraying boxing as a transformative means of lifting its residents out of poverty represent the twin aims Jones hopes the book will achieve.
Asked to choose his favourite of the boxers he came across while researching, Jones identifies two fighters who stuck in his memory above all others.
"There's a group of Jewish boxers who stood out in the bare-knuckle days," Jones says. "They had two world class boxers - Ted 'Kid' Berg and Ted 'Kid' Lewis.
"Two world champions, both fought all over the world, particularly in America. They were two shining lights, two big boxers of the day and they came from the Jewish community.
"They found themselves in the slums of the East End and wanted to get out like everyone else. So they developed their boxing skills to lift them out of poverty."
*East End Born & Bled: The Remarkable Story of Boxing in London will be published on Feburary 15. There will be an open launch event on Saturday February 29 at the Whitechapel Idea Store at 2pm.