Illegal boxing in North East London

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In early November 1888 while the ‘Ripper’ was terrorising the East End, Inspector Alcock and a force of Metropolitan Police officers raided the Havelock Gymnasium on Albion Road, Dalston.

They arrested several men and when they first appeared at Dalston Police Court three were remanded so that more information could be gathered. The three, Thomas Avid, James Porter and John Hicks were brought up on the 9th November to hear the evidence against them. This had come from the Treasury who were trying to determine the nature of the offence they had supposedly committed.

The accusation was that the men had been training for an illegal prize-fight. The prosecution alleged that Hicks and Avis had been staying at a nearby hotel and then training in the gym during the day. When the police appeared they found the men sparring in the ring but the lights dimmed so as not (apparently) to draw attention.

The men were defended in court by Mr Young who said that Porter and Avis (who both worked in a government factory and had ‘excellent characters’) were the heads of rival boxing gyms and were merely ‘trying conclusions in a friendly manner’. This was a strange phrase but perhaps meant they were sparring and might have seemed like they were prepping for a more formal fight*.

Perhaps they were – illegal fights were not uncommon in the period – but the problem the police had was in proving the fact. The men were wearing ‘ordinary boxing gloves’ and were having an ‘ordinary match’ and there was no law against that. There had been a crowd, which had rushed away when the police arrived, and one of the doors had been broken but this wasn’t sufficient to prove that it had been a fight for money.

The magistrate accepted that there was insufficient evidence to send the case to trial although he agreed that the dimming of the gas ‘gave the affair a suspicious aspect’. The rush of the crowd was also suspicious but perhaps explained by the police breaking down a locked door.

The police investigation – presuming there had been one – had gone off ‘half-cocked’. They had probably been misinformed, or set up; it happens. It looks very much like the police were foiled on this occasion and that the men (who were discharged) had managed to get away on a technicality.

[from The Standard, Saturday, November 10, 1888]

*Someone reading this may know more but the modern rules of boxing were created in 1867 (the so-called ‘Queensbury rules’) and set out conditions under which fights were to take place.

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