A WHISTLESTOP TUBE TOUR
By Dave Brooks (@LDNBOXHISTORY)
Inspired by both boredom during lockdown and Tris Dixon’s recent article about boxing places around the world to visit after the passing of COVID 19, I have come up with a list of twenty famous and obscure places with historical boxing connections around London over the last couple of centuries. You would struggle to do the tour in a day by the way!! Apologies in advance if there is a nearer tube station in some instances. I have added a few more sites of interest in the Google Maps link at the bottom. If any of you visit any of the places listed, please Tweet your photos to me at my Twitter handle at the bottom of the article.
Number 1 – The Thomas A’ Becket, 320 Old Kent Road, SE1 5EU (Nearest Tube – Elephant and Castle – Bakerloo/Northern Line)
An iconic former pub that that housed a world-famous gym above it. The gym has seen a host of all-time greats pass through its doors including Sugar Ray Robinson, Georges Carpentier, and Muhammad Ali but will be forever associated with South London boxing legend Sir Henry Cooper, who trained at the venue for many of his fights throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s. The pub was reopened as “The Rock Bar” in 2017 but is currently operating as a Vietnamese restaurant. The listed Thomas A ‘Becket signs still exists and a blue plaque marking Cooper’s links with the venue resides in the front entrance door. If you fancy a visit to say, “I was there”, then I’ve looked at the menu and it looks good at a reasonable price! #
(Above – Sir Henry at the Becket Gym)
Number 2 – Teddy Baldock Statue, Langdon Park DLR Station. Corner of Bright Street, Poplar E14 0RT. (Nearest Tube – Langdon Park – DLR)
Arguably the best boxing statue in the UK, a wonderful life sized bronze statue of “The Pride Of Poplar” was erected in 2014 in honour of East London bantamweight Teddy Baldock who was crowned World Champion in 1921 at the tender age of just 19 years and 347 days – making him Britain’s youngest ever world champion. A great sight at dawn or dusk. A must visit for a boxing fan whilst in the East End of the capital.
(Above – Teddy’s statue at Langdon Park)
Number 3 – Tom Cribb Pub – 36 Panton Street, Leicester Square, SW14 4EA (Nearest Tube – Piccadilly Circus – Bakerloo/Piccadilly Line)
There are two sites to visit (see Number 4) where the legendary bareknuckle king is remembered – probably most prominently at the “Tom Cribb” public house in Panton Street (situated on the edge of Oxenden Street). An expensive pint but there are some half decent pieces of boxing memorabilia on the walls. There are also plaques externally noting Tom Cribb’s time as a landlord at the location (then the Union Arms) plus another documenting his former opponent Bill Richmond and their fabled bareknuckle duel in 1823.
(Above – Plaque noting Cribbs time at the pub)
Number 4 – Cribb Monument – St Marys Magdalene Churchyard, 1 Greenlaw Street, Woolwich SW14 4EA (Nearest Tube – Woolwich Arsenal – DLR)
A rather ostentatious memorial also exists of Cribb in the grounds of the St Mary Magdalene Church in Woolwich as well as a nearby road named “Tom Cribb Road” (SE18 0FN) in his honour. It’s a bit out of the way but is an impressive resting place for the ashes of Cribb who retired to Woolwich in the 1840’s. It was formerly surrounded by railings which were removed in World War Two and melted down for the war effort.
(Above – The monument before the removal of railings)
Number 5 -The former Royal Oak Gymnasium, 67 Barking Road, Canning Town, E16 4HB (Nearest Tube- Canning Town – Jubilee Line)
The first port of call in Canning Town must be the former Royal Oak Gymnasium on the corner of Barking Road (a short walk from the tube station, just under the underpass). The Royal Oak Public House is long gone but the gym above it was once home to the esteemed Terry Lawless stable and played host to several World Champions including Charlie Magri, Jim Watt and perhaps most famously Frank Bruno throughout the 1980s. The building has been vacant in recent years but is now a bustling Turkish restaurant. Sadly, nothing marks its history as a place that acted as a conveyor belt of champions.
(Above – Frank Bruno outside The Royal Oak)
Number 6 – Terry Spinks Place, Canning Town E16 1GU (Nearest Tube – Canning Town – Jubilee Line)
18-year-old Canning Town dustman Terry Spinks became known as “The East End Idol” after his stunning Gold Medal win in the Flyweight division at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics. Spinks would return a hero and turn professional under a wave of publicity and eventually win the coveted Lonsdale Belt as a featherweight. He is fondly remembered in the form of “Terry Spinks Place” – a community plaza adorned with his name and mural, between Rathbone Market and Barking Road (under the flyover) following his death in 2012.
(Above – Spinks’ name emblazoned under the flyover)
(Above – Terry Spinks Place – just opposite the old Royal Oak)
Number 7 – Bradley Stone Statue, Peacock Gym, 8 Caxton Street, Canning Town E16 1JL (Nearest Tube – Canning Town – Jubilee Line)
The late Bradley Stone is immortalized in bronze outside the bustling Peacock Gym. The locally born Bantamweight would sadly pass away following his brave challenge for the British Bantamweight Title against Richie Wenton at the nearby York Hall in March 1994. The statue was unveiled in 1996 and sits directly outside the world-famous gym (which is home to current heavyweight contender Daniel Dubois amongst others). The gym is featured in the iconic 1990 Ron Peck film “Fighters” which features the emotional and tough journeys of many Peacock fighters and trainers including Jimmy Tibbs, Mark Kaylor and most poignantly Bradley Stone himself.
(Above – Bradley’s statue outside the Peacock Gymnasium)
Bradley is also remembered in nearby Beckton at “Bradley Stone Road” – Postcode E6 5RH.
Number 8 – Ted “Kid” Lewis aka “The Aldgate Sphinx”, Nightingale House, 105 Nightingale Lane Clapham, SW12 8NB (Nearest Tube – South Clapham -Hammersmith and District)
Born Gershon Mendeloff in 1893, Lewis would change from his Jewish birthname to fight under the ring alias of Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, a common stance took by the many Jewish East London pugilists of the era. Lewis would have a mammoth 303 fights and twice become World Welterweight Champion during his 234 victories. Lewis has a blue plaque erected at his former retirement home in Clapham, a 10-minute walk from the station.
(Above – Lewis’ Heritage Plaque in Clapham)
Number 9 – Jack ‘Kid’ Berg aka “The Whitechapel Windmill” -Burlington Court, 88 Cable Street, Whitechapel, E1 8GU – (Nearest Tube – Shadwell – Circle Line)
The phenomenal Jack “Kid” Berg – A Jew born as Judah Bergman, is commemorated with a plaque at his birthplace in the heart of London’s East End. The ghetto is long gone but the site of his former home is worth a visit if in the area. Berg would be a superstar of boxing both in the UK and across the pond in the USA at his peak. He would be crowned World Light Welterweight Champion in 1930 – the highlight of his 192-fight career.
(Above – Berg weighs in for his rematch in New York with the great Kid Chocolate)
Number 10 – Repton Boxing Club, 116 Cheshire Street, Bethnal Green, E2 6EG – (Nearest Tube -Bethnal Green -Central Line)
The Repton has churned out the cream of East End fighters since its formation in 1922. The former public bathing parlour is unique in its decor and has appeared as a gym in many a movie including Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. The building has been renamed “The Gary Barker Gymnasium” in honour of its late former amateur star who tragically lost his life in a road accident aged just 21 in 2002.
The club is unfortunately more associated by the public with former gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray (you will often see “Kray Tourists” having selfies outside) who trained at the gym during their short professional career in the 1950’s but should be remembered more fondly for its former stars who include Maurice Hope (World Light Middleweight Champion), John H Stracey (World Welterweight Champion), Darren Barker (World Middleweight Champion) and Audley Harrison (Olympic champion).
(Above –Rocky Marciano with the Kray twins and Hollywood star George Raft at The Repton in 1965)
Number 11 – York Hall, 5 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, E2 9PJ– (Nearest Tube – Bethnal Green – Central Line)
A competitive fight card can be seen most Friday and Saturday evenings at arguably the best small hall venue in the U.K. Its unique setting gives value for money wherever you are sat whether it be ringside or on one of the famous balconies.
The atmosphere during a toe to toe battle must be sampled to be believed and the hallowed canvas has played host to greats such as Johnny Tapia, Lennox Lewis and Joe Calzaghe in recent years.
A Mecca for U.K. fight fans.
(Above – The enigmatic late great Johnny Tapia entertains the York Hall crowd with his trademark back flip during his 2002 appearance at the iconic venue)
Number 12 – The Ring, 72 Blackfriars Road, Southwark, SE1 8HA– (Nearest Tube- Southwark – Jubilee Line)
“The Ring” public house is a boxing themed pub adorned with memorabilia opposite the site of its namesake pre-war arena. The arena would host dozens of shows a month between 1920 and 1943 featuring the likes of Ted “Kid” Lewis until it was sadly flattened by the German Luftwaffe during WW2. The arena is also mentioned on a nearby plaque (under the road bridge). A pit stop destination on the whistle-stop tour.
(Above – Fans gather in their hundreds to purchase a ticket to a pre WW2 dust up at Britains premier boxing venue)
Number 13 – 3 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green, E2 9LE – former home of Daniel Mendoza – plus Dick Corbett memorial – (Nearest Tube – Bethnal Green – Central Line)
Opposite the tube station (Salmon & Ball exit) is the home of pugilistic pioneer Daniel Mendoza – a fine bareknuckle boxer of the 1700’s whose book “The Modern Art of Boxing” became a bible for the fistic fraternity of the time. A blue plaque is attached at his former home. Mendoza is also commemorated with a plaque at the former Jewish cemetery at Queens College, Mile End. The plaque unveiled by Henry Cooper in 2003 can be found on the external library wall on the university campus. (Neatest tube Mile End)
Across the road from Paradise Row is “The Stairway To Heaven” memorial remembering the tragic 231 who lost their lives in “The Bethnal Green Tube Disaster” during WW2. Former British Middleweight Champion Dick Corbett would be one of the victims of a stairwell crush at the
underground station during an air raid in 1941. He is simply listed as Coleman (his birth surname) on the memorial. A plaque documenting the tragic event is also present on the station steps.
(Above – Mendoza’s plaque at his former home opposite Bethnal Green underground station)
Number 14 – 43 King Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 8HN – Home of National Sporting Club – (Nearest Tube – Covent Garden- Piccadilly Line)
The former National Sporting Club is situated in the heart of London at Covent Garden and arguably can be described as the birthplace of modern boxing as we know it. The private members club was founded in 1891 and would see after dinner bouts fought in absolute silence with talking in the crowd strictly forbidden. The president Hugh Cecil Lowther (the Earl of Lonsdale) would donate a porcelain and 22 carat gold belt for the winners of the British title at each weight in 1909 which would give birth to the famous “Lord Lonsdale Belt” as we know it – it is still worn by British Champions to this very day. The club would move from Covent Garden in the late 1920’s before being disbanded at the start or the Second World War.
The venue also holds the honour of staging the UK’s first ever World Heavyweight Championship bout. Canadian Tommy Burns would successfully defend his title against Briton Gunner Moir with a tenth round KO in 1907. A grainy video of the bout is available to watch on YouTube for those interested.
A green plaque detailing its history was unveiled at the location by The London Ex Boxers Association in 2015.
(Above – New York newspaper article about the Burns vs Moir match up)
Number 15 – 47 Lavender Hill, Battersea, SW11 5QN – former Craven Arms Gym. (Nearest Tube – Clapham Junction – Southern Line)
Now a CO-OP supermarket, the former Craven Arms public house propped up Freddie Hill’s iconic gym, which was the training HQ to the brilliant Finnegan brothers Chris and Kevin as well as a host of other champions including Joe Bugner, Billy Walker and the great Nicaraguan Alexis Arguello (who trained at the gym before his 1981 fight with Jim Watt)
The gym was the subject of a media scrum in 1980 when the unbeaten Marvin Hagler used the venue as his training headquarters for his infamous victory over Alan Minter to claim the World Middleweight Title at Wembley Arena.
Not a lot to see but the nostalgic value makes it worth a visit
(Above – Marvin meets Hackney’s World Light Middleweight Champion Maurice Hope at the Craven Arms whilst in London for the Minter fight)
Number 16 – Peel House, 105 Regency Street, Pimlico, SW1P 4EF – Home of Harry Mallin – (Nearest Tube – Pimlico – Victoria Line)
Perhaps the forgotten man of British amateur boxing, Harry Mallin probably has a decent claim to be the greatest British amateur of all time. Mallin – a decorated Metropolitan Police Officer, would twice strike Olympic gold in as a Middleweight in 1920 and 1924 as well as winning the ABAs on five consecutive occasions between 1919 and 1923. The Pimlico man would amass an incredible amateur record of 302 wins and 1 defeat before coaching the British Olympic boxing squad in 1936 and 1952. The Blue Plaque society recently erected a plaque at his lifetime home in Peel Street, Pimlico.
(Above – Mallin’s plaque and former home)
Number 17 – Former British Boxing Board of Control Gym – Former Noble Art Gym, 94 Haverstock Hill, Camden, NW3 2BD – (Nearest Tube – Chalk Farm – Northern Line)
The former British Boxing Board Of Control Gym aka “The Noble Art Gym” behind The Load Of Hay public house (most recently called The Haverstock Tavern) was the gym of choice for overseas fighters in London defending or challenging for World Titles at either Wembley, The Royal Albert Hall or Earls Court throughout the late 1960s and early 1970’s. Legendary former World Champions Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and Floyd Patterson all trained here for bouts against British heavyweights Brian London, Joe Bugner and Henry Cooper during the gyms existence between 1965 and 1974.
It would also be a favored training venue for one of Britain’s best – the imperious John Conteh who used the venue in preparation for many big fights, an ideal location with running opportunities on nearby Hampstead Heath.
The gym which would also see TV host Eamonn Andrews surprise former British Bantamweight Champion Alan Rudkin for an appearance on cult television show “This Is Your Life” in 1972.
(Above – “Smokin’ Joe prepares for Joe Bugner at The Noble Art)
Number 18 – Goslett Yard, Soho, WC2H 0EA – (Nearest Tube – Tottenham Court Road -Central/Northern Line) also Camberwell Cemetery, Brenchley Gardens SE23 3RD (Nearest Tube – Honor Oak, Southern Line)
A rather macabre Number 18 is the site of former World Light Heavyweight Champion Freddie Mills’ West End nightclub The Nite Spot, and tragically the place of his apparent suicide in 1965. Renovation works have made the exact spot almost impossible to access but none the less the case and its numerous conspiracy theories make it of interest to the boxing “nerd” and it is a place I have laid a flower in the past.
Mills’ grave can be visited at Camberwell Cemetery and a recent video posted online shows it to be in a sorry condition. Any boxing fans living or passing nearby should pay their respects to a complex man who entertained millions when he was one of the most recognized faces in Britain.
(Above – Freddie Mills’ headstone – It’s no longer in such good condition, the gold guild has sadly worn away)
Number 19 – 505 Commercial Road, Stepney Green, E1 0PS– Victor McLaglen Plaque – (Nearest Tube – Mile End -District/Central Line)
I can’t believe many professional boxers from London’s East End have ever won an Oscar but the extraordinary Victor McLaglen done just that. Born in Stepney in 1886, McLaglen would travel to Canada to box and would famously contest a six-round exhibition with the great Jack Johnson in 1908 before returning to the U.K for military services where he would become British Army Heavyweight Champion in 1918.
(Above – McLaglen in a 1920’s promotional shot)
After a modest professional career McLaglen would move to Hollywood and amazingly win a “Best Actor” Academy award for his performance in 1935 flick “The Informer”.
McLaglen’s blue plaque is located at his former home in Stepney Green
Number 20 – Jack Solomons’ former Great Windmill Street Gym, 41 Gt Windmill Street, Soho, W1D 7NB – (Nearest Tube – Piccadilly Circus – Bakerloo/Piccadilly Line)
THE place to be seen for pugilists during the post war boxing years. The busy gym was owned by former bookmaker and number one promoter of the era Jack Solomons. Solomons would manage scores of champions and would promote the lion’s share of the biggest fights held in Britain over three decades. The gym would stage the weigh in for the 1951 super fight between Randolph Turpin and Sugar Ray Robinson where thousands lined the street outside, desperate for a glimpse of the brilliant Robinson as he arrived in his pink Cadillac. Muhammad Ali, Archie Moore and Emile Griffith have also trained at the historic venue. There is sadly no plaque marking its history but Solomons’ legacy lives on with a modern gym and bar trading under the banner of “Jack Solomons” on the site.
(Above – Solomons makes another big fight from his Soho HQ)
David Brooks @LDNBOXHISTORY