Britain's early boxing heroes - Tom "The Black Diamond" Cribb

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Britain's early boxing heroes - Tom "The Black Diamond" Cribb Empty Britain's early boxing heroes - Tom "The Black Diamond" Cribb

Post by oxring on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 3:40 pm

The Black Diamond, Tom Cribb is one of the UKs greatest names in pugilism and was one of the earliest recognised HW champions of the world.

Sadly, today, he is remembered for little more than beating the two Americans - Bill Richmond and Tom Molineaux, especially for the first fight against Molineaux which is tainted with ugly allegations of racism. We forget Cribb's greatness in our admiration of his challengers; a great shame as Cribb was an outstanding and deserving champion.

Cribb was born 2nd July 1781 in Bristol. He travelled to London, aged 13 where he became an apprentice bellringer - a profession he abjured on the grounds that he didn't like the dust inside churches. He continued to become a stevedore briefly before settling as a coal heaver at Wapping docks - a profession that earned him both his nickname "The Black Diamond" and his first brush with death, where he narrowly avoided being crushed between two barges on the Thames.

Cribb began boxing in his late teens. He received no formal tuition, learning on the job and practicing with his older brother. Both men were known for their slow footwork and "milling on the retreat" - the 1800s term for counter-punching. His brother will not have presented too much of a challenge in sparring - to my knowledge he never won a fight, and all his fights tended to end early with his defeat. Cribb, however, was of a different class of fighter. On Monday 7th January 1805 Cribb won his first fight, beating the 50 year old George Maddox over 76 rounds in Highgate. Staying busy he defeated the Jewish boxer Ikey Pig later that year in Blackheath, before succumbing to his solitary defeat to George Nicholls over 52 rounds. Cribb had started this fight as the favourite - so we may safely assume that his fight against Ikey Pig had impressed onlookers. Nicholls knew Cribbs tactics and the veteran soundly outboxed the rookie over 52 rounds.

In October Cribb took on the famous American, Bill Richmond in Hailsham. Richmond had a reputation for being a classy boxer - whilst being commonly outweighed by several stone his movement and rolling, weaving defensive technique had allowed him to beat larger men and build up quite a following in the UK. Cribb gave Richmond short shrift - giving truth to the old adage "a good big 'un beats a good littl'un". Cribb soundly beat the smaller man over 90 minutes - a fight that left residual animosity between the two men that resulted in flareups whenever they met down they years. There was a degree of grudging respect, however - Richmond was prepared to second for Cribb on several occasions.

Cribb was a well-seconded fighter - and his seconds gained him numerous advantages in fights that we hear he was on the point of losing. How much truth resides in these stories is difficult to determine, as such events are exaggerated with time - and we all love a good comeback tale. The tale goes, that in his 1807 fight with Belcher, Cribb was exhausted and out on his feet - and would have been unable to meet the scratch after 30 seconds. Belcher's (or Cribb's, depending on who you read) seconds offered odds of 5-1 that Cribb would win. These odds were agreed - but Cribb's seconds demanded they saw the money first - buying Cribb valuable time to recover. Recover he did, rallying to stop Belcher a few rounds later. Stories like this do tell us one thing - Cribb had incredible spirit and heart and excellent powers of recovery.

Cribb earned his shot against the British champion, Gregson in 1808. Gregson, a good boxer in his own right was no match for the younger challenger, who dominated Gregson over 23 one sided rounds.

After a couple of defences, Cribb appears to have decided to settle down. A period of inactivity followed, with marriage and the opening of a pub, which still exists today (now called the Tom Cribb pub, Picadilly).

The next 2 years were not a peaceful retirement, however. Cribb's old foe Bill Richmond had found a protege - the talented and powerful American, Tom Molineaux, famous for having won his freedom with his fists. Molineaux had been talking about the whipping he would give "massa Cribb" - and so Cribb proposed fights between Molineaux and his proteges Burrows and Tom Blake. Neither Burrows nor Blake were up to the challenge that Molineaux presented - Molineaux waltzing past both men in double-quick time. Public pressure was on for a "world title" contest between Molineaux and Cribb.

The two men first met at Copstall Common, near East Grinstead with a roped ring and 20,000 in attendance. Molineaux was at the peak of his fitness and his powers - weighing in at a svelte 15 stone and standing at 6'2. Cribb weighed in at 16 stone - and was overweight and very, very poorly conditioned.

Some revisionist sources declare the fight was a onesided beatdown from Molineaux before Cribb's seconds shamefully cheated and Molineaux inexplicably lost. They cite the fight as an early example of institutionalised racism in British society. I question this as an overly simplistic view. Contemporary sources describe the early rounds as being even, with one man dominating before the other came back into the fight. Further - if Cribb was losing so hopelessly, it doesn't explain at all why Molineaux was to be stopped just 6 rounds after the interruption.

As to the interruption itself, reports vary. Some mention the 20,000 strong crowd swelled into the ring, forcing a prolonged break between rounds whilst the crowd were pushed back, giving Cribb extra time. Some report that Cribb's seconds argued that Molineaux was holding weights in his hands - giving a delay whilst Molineaux and his seconds were searched. This isn't as unreasonable an assumption as it is commonly painted - as Molineaux was known to train with rocks and weights in his hands. Either way, in the 33rd round of a bruising encounter, Molineaux threw Cribb but landed on his head and didn't wish to continue. Molineaux's second persuaded him to go back out for one more round - a round in which he fell again not to rise. Cribb was victorious in an unsatisfying affair after 34 brutal rounds.

Public pressure mandated a rematch, which occurred in September 1811. This time, Cribb had been removed to his backer's Scottish estate where he had trained incessantly for 10 months. Instead of the chubby 16 stones of the previous year, he came in at a svelte 13 stone 6. Molineaux started strongly, closing Cribb's eye by the end of the second round, forcing his second to lance it so he could continue. However, the remaining rounds were one sided in Cribb's favour. By the 9th round, Cribb had broken Molineaux' jaw. This time it was the challenger's turn to benefit from some generous officiating - he failed to make his feet within the required 30 seconds - but he was allowed to box on for 2 more painful rounds before he was knocked cold in the 11th round. Molineaux left the ring with a fractured jaw and 2 fractured ribs, Cribb left with a swollen face but otherwise relatively unmarked.

This second fight secured Cribb's fame - making him become a national hero, with a face that appeared on plates, beer jugs, mugs and Staffordshire figurines. From an illiterate coal heaver from Bristol he was now on nodding terms with Lord Byron and the Prince Regent.

Cribb's life after boxing was not uneventful. He was a page boy/usher at the coronation of George IV and was a well respected member of the community for many years. On his deathbed, dying of heart/lung disease, he famously sat up, punched the air, before uttering his last "The actions still there but the steams all gone".

His memorial, a lion placed over his tomb, still stands, overlooking the Woolwhich ferry in St Mary Magdalene Church. The following was composed as an epitaph for his tomb:

"When some proud Earl or rich patrician dies,
Unmoved we mark the storied marble rise,
Unmoved we read the praises blazoned forth,
And doubt the meed if giv'n to wealth or worth
But truth shall guide this record, and proclaim
Who raised himself without a crime to fame;
Whose heart was tender as his arm was strong;
Who still upheld the right, abbhorred the wrong;
Who stood unconquered Champion in that field,
Where hardy heroes nature's weapons wield-
'Twas poor Tom Cribb- beneath his ashes lie;
Peace to his spirit's immortallity".


The epitath that took it's place is the simple words
"Resect the ashes of the dead"
Which epitaph you prefer is a matter of personal preference.

Cribb was inducted into the IBHOF in 1991.

Cribb's career - please note, some fights will be missing from this, this is as far as I can make out.
Jan 1805 Cribb W76 Maddox
May 1805 Cribb W Ikey Pig
July 1805 Cribb L52 George Nicholls
Oct 1805 Cribb W Bill Richmond
??? 1806 Cribb W Tom Belcher
??? 1806 Cribb W Bill Richmond
Apr 1807 Cribb W Jem Belcher
Oct 1808 Cribb W23 Gregson
Feb 1809 Cribb W31 Jem Belcher
Dec 1810 Cribb W34 Molineaux
Sep 1811 Cribb W11 Molineaux
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Post by Rowley on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 3:57 pm

Fascinating stuff Oxy, have a bit of interest in the bareknuckle era and think Cribb is one of the more interesting guys, is not a fellow like Broughton, Mendoza or Mace who will ever be claimed to have pushed the technique of the sport forward and to be honest seems to have won a good number of his fights by just sheer bloody mindedness and ability to continue to come up to scratch no matter what, however shouldn't be dismissed for possessing these qualities as they are not bad assets for a bareknuckle boxer to have in his arsenal.

The story I have heard most commonly repeated about the Cribb Molyneux fight is the stones in the hand version in that Joe Ward who was working Cribb's corner complained to the ref and managed to buy Cribb those valuable few moments of recovery time, although as you say the fight had been far from the one sided beat down it is often portrayed as up until that point and as you say he did go on to win the rematch in fine style, although it probably warrants saying Molyneux appears to have split his training for the second fight between the pub and bordello.

As an aside Cribb went on to mentor and train Tom Spring who was also to claim the title of bareknuckle champion of England and according to Spring's biography appears to have had a genuine affection for Cribb, will say again oxy a cracking read and always nice to see a mention for the bareknuckle era on here.

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Post by oxring on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 4:09 pm

The great tragedy is that we never saw a fit and trained Cribb fight a fit and trained Molineaux. Molineaux was not in peak condition - whilst Cribb was trained to physical perfection for the rematch - and his weight in their first fight tells the full story as to how seriously Cribb had taken preparation for the fight.

I also find it incredible that 20,000 people turned up to watch the two men fight. The likes of Cleverly and Brook can't persuade 20,000 to watch them today!

Spring went to visit him on Cribb's deathbed I believe - I may be wrong - but it is Spring's report of that enigmatic climax to Cribb's life, with that final challenge against mortality.

Mendoza's man in this was Belcher - which may explain why Cribb fought him twice. Certainly - Cribb was in trouble in their first fight - but by no means in a fatal spot of bother.

Anyway - thanks for replying Jeff - I did suspect that tumbleweed might be the response to this post.
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Post by ShahenshahG on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 4:11 pm

oxring wrote:The Black Diamond, Tom Cribb is one of the UKs greatest names in pugilism and was one of the earliest recognised HW champions of the world.

Sadly, today, he is remembered for little more than beating the two Americans - Bill Richmond and Tom Molineaux, especially for the first fight against Molineaux which is tainted with ugly allegations of racism. We forget Cribb's greatness in our admiration of his challengers; a great shame as Cribb was an outstanding and deserving champion.

Cribb was born 2nd July 1781 in Bristol. He travelled to London, aged 13 where he became an apprentice bellringer - a profession he abjured on the grounds that he didn't like the dust inside churches. He continued to become a stevedore briefly before settling as a coal heaver at Wapping docks - a profession that earned him both his nickname "The Black Diamond" and his first brush with death, where he narrowly avoided being crushed between two barges on the Thames.

Cribb began boxing in his late teens. He received no formal tuition, learning on the job and practicing with his older brother. Both men were known for their slow footwork and "milling on the retreat" - the 1800s term for counter-punching. His brother will not have presented too much of a challenge in sparring - to my knowledge he never won a fight, and all his fights tended to end early with his defeat. Cribb, however, was of a different class of fighter. On Monday 7th January 1805 Cribb won his first fight, beating the 50 year old George Maddox over 76 rounds in Highgate. Staying busy he defeated the Jewish boxer Ikey Pig later that year in Blackheath, before succumbing to his solitary defeat to George Nicholls over 52 rounds. Cribb had started this fight as the favourite - so we may safely assume that his fight against Ikey Pig had impressed onlookers. Nicholls knew Cribbs tactics and the veteran soundly outboxed the rookie over 52 rounds.

In October Cribb took on the famous American, Bill Richmond in Hailsham. Richmond had a reputation for being a classy boxer - whilst being commonly outweighed by several stone his movement and rolling, weaving defensive technique had allowed him to beat larger men and build up quite a following in the UK. Cribb gave Richmond short shrift - giving truth to the old adage "a good big 'un beats a good littl'un". Cribb soundly beat the smaller man over 90 minutes - a fight that left residual animosity between the two men that resulted in flareups whenever they met down they years. There was a degree of grudging respect, however - Richmond was prepared to second for Cribb on several occasions.

Cribb was a well-seconded fighter - and his seconds gained him numerous advantages in fights that we hear he was on the point of losing. How much truth resides in these stories is difficult to determine, as such events are exaggerated with time - and we all love a good comeback tale. The tale goes, that in his 1807 fight with Belcher, Cribb was exhausted and out on his feet - and would have been unable to meet the scratch after 30 seconds. Belcher's (or Cribb's, depending on who you read) seconds offered odds of 5-1 that Cribb would win. These odds were agreed - but Cribb's seconds demanded they saw the money first - buying Cribb valuable time to recover. Recover he did, rallying to stop Belcher a few rounds later. Stories like this do tell us one thing - Cribb had incredible spirit and heart and excellent powers of recovery.

Cribb earned his shot against the British champion, Gregson in 1808. Gregson, a good boxer in his own right was no match for the younger challenger, who dominated Gregson over 23 one sided rounds.

After a couple of defences, Cribb appears to have decided to settle down. A period of inactivity followed, with marriage and the opening of a pub, which still exists today (now called the Tom Cribb pub, Picadilly).

The next 2 years were not a peaceful retirement, however. Cribb's old foe Bill Richmond had found a protege - the talented and powerful American, Tom Molineaux, famous for having won his freedom with his fists. Molineaux had been talking about the whipping he would give "massa Cribb" - and so Cribb proposed fights between Molineaux and his proteges Burrows and Tom Blake. Neither Burrows nor Blake were up to the challenge that Molineaux presented - Molineaux waltzing past both men in double-quick time. Public pressure was on for a "world title" contest between Molineaux and Cribb.

The two men first met at Copstall Common, near East Grinstead with a roped ring and 20,000 in attendance. Molineaux was at the peak of his fitness and his powers - weighing in at a svelte 15 stone and standing at 6'2. Cribb weighed in at 16 stone - and was overweight and very, very poorly conditioned.

Some revisionist sources declare the fight was a onesided beatdown from Molineaux before Cribb's seconds shamefully cheated and Molineaux inexplicably lost. They cite the fight as an early example of institutionalised racism in British society. I question this as an overly simplistic view. Contemporary sources describe the early rounds as being even, with one man dominating before the other came back into the fight. Further - if Cribb was losing so hopelessly, it doesn't explain at all why Molineaux was to be stopped just 6 rounds after the interruption.

As to the interruption itself, reports vary. Some mention the 20,000 strong crowd swelled into the ring, forcing a prolonged break between rounds whilst the crowd were pushed back, giving Cribb extra time. Some report that Cribb's seconds argued that Molineaux was holding weights in his hands - giving a delay whilst Molineaux and his seconds were searched. This isn't as unreasonable an assumption as it is commonly painted - as Molineaux was known to train with rocks and weights in his hands. Either way, in the 33rd round of a bruising encounter, Molineaux threw Cribb but landed on his head and didn't wish to continue. Molineaux's second persuaded him to go back out for one more round - a round in which he fell again not to rise. Cribb was victorious in an unsatisfying affair after 34 brutal rounds.

Public pressure mandated a rematch, which occurred in September 1811. This time, Cribb had been removed to his backer's Scottish estate where he had trained incessantly for 10 months. Instead of the chubby 16 stones of the previous year, he came in at a svelte 13 stone 6. Molineaux started strongly, closing Cribb's eye by the end of the second round, forcing his second to lance it so he could continue. However, the remaining rounds were one sided in Cribb's favour. By the 9th round, Cribb had broken Molineaux' jaw. This time it was the challenger's turn to benefit from some generous officiating - he failed to make his feet within the required 30 seconds - but he was allowed to box on for 2 more painful rounds before he was knocked cold in the 11th round. Molineaux left the ring with a fractured jaw and 2 fractured ribs, Cribb left with a swollen face but otherwise relatively unmarked.

This second fight secured Cribb's fame - making him become a national hero, with a face that appeared on plates, beer jugs, mugs and Staffordshire figurines. From an illiterate coal heaver from Bristol he was now on nodding terms with Lord Byron and the Prince Regent.

Cribb's life after boxing was not uneventful. He was a page boy/usher at the coronation of George IV and was a well respected member of the community for many years. On his deathbed, dying of heart/lung disease, he famously sat up, punched the air, before uttering his last "The actions still there but the steams all gone".

His memorial, a lion placed over his tomb, still stands, overlooking the Woolwhich ferry in St Mary Magdalene Church. The following was composed as an epitaph for his tomb:

"When some proud Earl or rich patrician dies,
Unmoved we mark the storied marble rise,
Unmoved we read the praises blazoned forth,
And doubt the meed if giv'n to wealth or worth
But truth shall guide this record, and proclaim
Who raised himself without a crime to fame;
Whose heart was tender as his arm was strong;
Who still upheld the right, abbhorred the wrong;
Who stood unconquered Champion in that field,
Where hardy heroes nature's weapons wield-
'Twas poor Tom Cribb- beneath his ashes lie;
Peace to his spirit's immortallity".


The epitath that took it's place is the simple words
"Resect the ashes of the dead"
Which epitaph you prefer is a matter of personal preference.

Cribb was inducted into the IBHOF in 1991.

Cribb's career - please note, some fights will be missing from this, this is as far as I can make out.
Jan 1805 Cribb W76 Maddox
May 1805 Cribb W Ikey Pig
July 1805 Cribb L52 George Nicholls
Oct 1805 Cribb W Bill Richmond
??? 1806 Cribb W Tom Belcher
??? 1806 Cribb W Bill Richmond
Apr 1807 Cribb W Jem Belcher
Oct 1808 Cribb W23 Gregson
Feb 1809 Cribb W31 Jem Belcher
Dec 1810 Cribb W34 Molineaux
Sep 1811 Cribb W11 Molineaux


Haahhaha, is there ever a time in this sport when promoter ingenuity didn't turn the tide more than physical force?

Brilliant read, Cheers.

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Post by Rowley on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 4:22 pm

oxring wrote:

Anyway - thanks for replying Jeff - I did suspect that tumbleweed might be the response to this post.

I do fear you might be right mate, you never know though Jimmy Stuart was always keen on the bare knuckle era, you may smoke him out of his cave with this one, if so it will have been worth the effort and then some.

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Post by John Bloody Wayne on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 7:23 pm

oxring wrote:
Spring went to visit him on Cribb's deathbed I believe .

To ask him to stop ducking Naz cos Naz is younger? He's older than I thought.

Seriously, great article and a good insight into an interesting era that I know nothing about. I saw a low budget documentary about Richmond that painted Cribb as the bad guy, and said the crowd swarmed the ring and attacked Molineux in the first fight. At 6'2 and 15 stone, Molineux must've been an absolute monster for that era.

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Post by oxring on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 8:08 pm

I wrote the article because I'd recently finished an e-book on the kindle - the Greatest Champ who never was - Tom Molineaux. Turned out to be a work of fiction, which disappointed me somewhat.

The book is simple - every white character is either a pantomime villain - normally in the form of a vicious bigoted racist or a manipulative sly devil. Molineaux is simple and Richmond is painted as a hero. It also paints Richmond as an hero, intelligent, articulate and concerned about Molineaux's welfare and paints Molineaux as a bit thick.

Actually researching the fight shows that there's a bit more to it than that. Cribb, certainly, doesn't deserve the bad press he receives from it.

And yes - 6'2 and 15 stone of what is reported to be pretty solid muscle - Molineaux would be an impressive specimen today. Cribb would be a cruiserweight - 189-199 pounds and 5'10.
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Post by ShahenshahG on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 8:12 pm

American history is usually a fiction, plymouth rock etc etc, escping persecution blah blah blah. So in truth, nearly everything not said by an acclaimed and unbiased author in boxing should be scrutinised.

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Post by ONETWOFOREVER on Sat 31 Mar 2012, 8:12 pm

Richmond schooled Cribb.

Her then opened a pub. Nice read cheers.

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