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Jimmy Wilde's Early Days on the Boxing Booths

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Post by Rowley on Fri 14 Oct 2016, 7:36 pm

Just finishing a fascinating book about former boxing booth operator Jack Scarrott. I’d guess, like me prior to reading the book, the name will not be overly familiar to many of us but Scarrott is a remarkable figure. He worked a boxing booth for somewhere in the region of forty odd years, firstly as a fighter and then as an owner.  Whilst he is certainly not the only guy to have done that he stands out in that towards the autumn of his life a journalist interviewed him and his reflections on his career appeared in a local paper, serialised over a number of weeks. As such his recollections remain one of the few first hand tales of what life was like on the booths on a day to day basis.
 
What makes Scarrott’s recollections more interesting though is he operated his booth predominantly in south Wales in the early 1900’s and so the number of great fighters who at one point or another have cut their teeth in his booth is truly remarkable. Freddie Welsh worked for him briefly, Peerless Jim Driscoll also had a spell with him and topping even them he also had the legendary Jimmy Wilde working for him.
 
Wilde is to many people’s minds the greatest British fighter of all time and if memory served featured in Boxing News’ Top ten fighters of all time when they published their top 100 some years ago. Whether you consider this a little high or not what is not up for debate is that Wilde is a genuine all-time great, a hall of fame fighter in the truest sense of the word and probably the greatest flyweight of all time.
 
Wilde started life on the booth at the age of 16. As I am sure you can imagine, given Wilde was a flyweight when fully matured, as a sixteen year old he was absolutely tiny. Journalists who witnessed him around this time pegged him at around six stone and given the flyweight limit is only 8 stone it is not too much of a leap of faith to suggest this would be pretty accurate. When Wilde first approached Scarrott for a job as a fighter he looked so frail the only work Scarrott would give him was guarding the rear of the booth to stop kids sneaking in without paying. Once word spread the booth was being guarded by a six stone weakling the number of folk trying to sneak in grew and Wilde had a scrum of folk trying to gain entry. Apparently Scarrott went back to see what the fuss was about and when he saw Wilde laying out folk left right and centre he realised he may have a fighter on his hands and decided to give him his chance in the ring.
 
I am not sure how familiar folk are with the booths but basically folk would turn up and if they agreed to go in the ring they would be matched with someone of similar size and if they could last a few rounds without getting knocked out they’d get a couple of quid for their trouble. Whilst it would be a stretch to suggest those having a go were top tier fighters, bareknuckle fighting was still pretty prevalent in Wales at the time and so between the miners, travellers and bareknuckle fighters trying their hand at winning the money there were some seriously tough boys climbing between the ropes on a daily basis.  
 
When Scarrott first thrust Wilde into the booths he was frequently accused of cruelty. Plenty believed the baby faced, stick thin Wilde was at risk of serious harm being expected to fight the local toughs who frequented the booth. Scarrott tells a tale of a time one local hard man was berating Scarrott for putting Wilde in the ring, despite Scarrott’s protestations that Jimmy could look after himself the unnamed man became more and more aggressive accusing Scarrott of all manner of cruelty etc. To settle the man and convince him of Wilde’s abilities Scarrott offered him a simple deal, put the gloves on, get in with Jimmy and if you last a minute you can have a pound for your trouble. The man duly agreed and climbed through the ropes, only to find himself out cold and being revived 15 seconds later, duly convinced Wilde could more  than look after himself between the ropes.
 
Once Wilde had established himself in the booth he fast became a firm attraction, despite his slight frame he had a trail of knockouts behind him most of whom were twice his size. Despite this there were still those who refused to believe such a slight fighter could be for real or that fists attached to such pipe cleaner arms could wreak such devastation.  One time one of the more cynical members of the crowd accused Scarott of faking, claiming the knockout ‘victims’ were plants to make Wilde look like a phenomena. Inevitably he received an offer to test his theory and win a few quid in the process and equally as inevitably he was disproved in the most brutal manner. He did slightly better than many lasting a full minute before being detached from his senses.
 
Even when Wilde was an established star in the game he frequently travelled back to the booths, always willing to lace them up as a favour to Scarrott  or to keep his skills sharp. Probably the most unlikely but remarkable example of this was when he had won his British title against Joe Symons. Shortly after he fought a display for Scarrott where over the course of four hours he fought and disposed of an unbelievable 23 opponents. This must surely stand as a record for the greatest number of knockouts in the space of a day.
 
Later in his career when an established star Wilde frequently spoke of his time in the booths speaking of this period and Scarrott with genuine affection. Many have claimed the small dimensions of the booth rings gave Jimmy his brilliant appreciation of both space and distance which allowed him to avoid punches whilst remaining within range to get his own punches off. Whatever the merits of these claims it is incontestable Jimmy got his start in boxing on the booths. The booths have long since gone, being phased out as a brutal attraction from a less civilised time. Again the validity of these claims can be debated but what cannot be argued is some truly terrific fighters got their starts repelling all comers on the booth, few better than the truly remarkable Jimmy Wilde

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Post by AdamT on Fri 14 Oct 2016, 9:24 pm

Enjoyed reading this!

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Post by rapidringsroad on Sat 15 Oct 2016, 4:02 am

Great article. I'm old enough to remember Boxing Booths at Fairs,also remember paying my shilling to see a woman show her "bare behind"only to feel let down when it was a teddy bear she showed but that's another story.I'd like to read that book though I can't see our local library getting it.

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Post by Rowley on Sat 15 Oct 2016, 8:40 am

Hi mate, the book is called Jack Scarrotts Prize Fighters by Lawrence Davies, I'll message you his email address as I bought it direct. Not sure he is selling it through amazon as he has had bad experiences in the past.

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Post by Guest on Sat 15 Oct 2016, 12:31 pm

Very good read, appreciated as I am currently reading " The Matter of Wales" by Jan Morris, a blisteringly good read for those Cymrophiles out there..
For those wanting to know more about Jimmy Wilde, ah would just like to point them in the direction of his own book, "boxing was my business", a real page -turner and no mistake.

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Post by milkyboy on Sat 15 Oct 2016, 2:14 pm

Nice read rowley... You'd think there must have been easier ways to make a quid than getting punched in the face for a few rounds... But given they were mostly miners, it was probably a bit of light relief. Life was tough in those days.

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Post by Guest on Sat 15 Oct 2016, 3:11 pm

Tough guys these old school Welsh.For Tommy Farr, life was actually harder when he left the pits and moved to London.His first job involved working in a sewerage and getting sprayed. (Insert own 606 boxing site joke here)

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Post by milkyboy on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 11:01 am

... That was his job Andy? They sprayed sewage on him? Surely they had more humane ways to test their sewage spraying equipment.

"Tommy my nozzle's clogged again, just stand over here while I crank the pressure up a bit"

Just bouncing this thread... Bit of casual banter might get it up to the magic '10' posts for historical threads.

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Post by huw on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 12:14 pm

I'll join in, love any old Jimmy Wilde stories, a complete one off.

Rowley, could you also send me the email with a link to this book.

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Post by Guest on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 1:33 pm

As memory serves Milky , he was doing some manual labour on a beach and although it wasn't his job description to get sprayed with excrement, it did happen on one or two occasions. I may possibly go back to my copy of "Thus Farr" for more details.

Huw, please do read "boxing Was My Business" if you have not, it's been reviewed on here in a sketchy fashion by myself on this site some years ago. Definitely written by him ,slightly flowery writing style which was the fashion back then. Tommy Farr's aborted autobiography "Thus Farr" has the same idiom , but he did trip over his words on occasion bless him.


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Post by milkyboy on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 1:42 pm

andygf wrote:As memory serves Milky , he was doing some manual labour on a beach and although it wasn't his job description to get sprayed with excrement, it did happen on one or two occasions. I may possibly go back to my copy of "Thus Farr" for more details.

Huw,  please do read "boxing Was My Business" if you have not, it's been reviewed on here in a sketchy fashion by myself on this site some years ago. Definitely written by him ,slightly flowery writing style which was the fashion back then. Tommy Farr's aborted autobiography "Thus Farr" has the same idiom , but he did trip over his words on occasion bless him.


Did a bit of farm work as a youth... it always paid to have your wits about you at 'muck spreading' time

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Post by huw on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 1:43 pm

andygf wrote:As memory serves Milky , he was doing some manual labour on a beach and although it wasn't his job description to get sprayed with excrement, it did happen on one or two occasions. I may possibly go back to my copy of "Thus Farr" for more details.

Huw,  please do read "boxing Was My Business" if you have not, it's been reviewed on here in a sketchy fashion by myself on this site some years ago. Definitely written by him ,slightly flowery writing style which was the fashion back then. Tommy Farr's aborted autobiography "Thus Farr" has the same idiom , but he did trip over his words on occasion bless him.


Hi Andy, have that one. Very good read and humble story from a remarkable man. Also have 'The Art of Boxing' which is an interesting book giving his boxing techniques.

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Post by Guest on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 1:57 pm

Thanks, Huw, I 'll search that out.There is a very good book entitled "Boxing A Cultural history" by Kasia Boddy. I have been dipping in and out of this recently. It's got some fantastic pictures, old boxing posters and artefacts , and each chapter discusses a different element. Overall it is a very classy book, a little heavyweight perhaps but for those who like to read about,for example, Norman Mailer, Hemingway and the history of boxing journalism, I recommend it.

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Post by Pedro147 on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 2:07 pm

Rowley wrote:Hi mate, the book is called Jack Scarrotts Prize Fighters by Lawrence Davies, I'll message you his email address as I bought it direct. Not sure he is selling it through amazon as he has had bad experiences in the past.

I haven't ordered it yet but going to get it for a friend for Xmas but I can see it can be found in Waterstones for £14.99

https://www.waterstones.com/book/jack-scarrotts-prize-fighters/lawrence-davies/9780957034235

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Post by Guest on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 4:55 pm

I guess that's the end of this thread then, a visit from Rowley is like royalty these days,even on his own piece.

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Post by Pedro147 on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 5:03 pm

Throw in a Mayweather or GGG like/dislike comment and watch the thread catch fire.

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Post by Guest on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 5:05 pm

Well I am still cooking up my "Spring's Top Ten Ever Threads" post, I hope it to be my magnum opus.Watch this space.

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Post by superflyweight on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 5:11 pm

Yet another crass attempt at populism from jeff and to rub salt in the wounds he even nicked the idea of writing about boxing booths from my legendary article (1 star rating and 7 comments) on the old 606 site.

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Post by Rowley on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 6:33 pm

Sorry superfly. Exchanged a few emails with the author and as he seemed a genuinely nice guy I thought I'd try and drum up some support for his endeavours. Also I did over 200 comments with my top 20 heavies thread, the balance needs addressing.

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Post by huw on Thu 20 Oct 2016, 8:48 am

Pedro147 wrote:Throw in a Mayweather or GGG like/dislike comment and watch the thread catch fire.

Ha-ha the thing is they don't even need to be related to the actual subject in any way, just a casual Wilde was a great boxer from a time when boxers fought in black and white. When has Mayweather ever fought in black and white. Ducker.

Or Jimmy Wilde was a very little guy, GGG mums avoided him ever being a little guy and he was born a fully grown man. #Avoidedsincebirth


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Post by Guest on Thu 20 Oct 2016, 8:52 am

huw wrote:
Pedro147 wrote:Throw in a Mayweather or GGG like/dislike comment and watch the thread catch fire.

Ha-ha the thing is they don't even need to be related to the actual subject in any way, just a casual Wilde was a great boxer from a time when boxers fought in black and white. When has Mayweather ever fought in black and white. Ducker.

Or Jimmy Wilde was a very little guy, GGG mums avoided him ever being a little guy and he was born a fully grown man. #Avoidedsincebirth

Am waiting to see Mayweather's name crop up on the bowls thread...Floyd would have ducked David Bryant and claims, pipe smoking is the same as doping

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Post by 88Chris05 on Thu 20 Oct 2016, 9:07 am

Gem of an article, Jeff. As you suggested, can't say I was / am familiar with Scarrott but looks as if I should check the book out as the company he kept is pretty impressive and suggests he'd have had a few stories to tell.

Wilde certainly did love fighting, though, whenever the chance presented itself.I remember reading years ago that Wilde claimed that, if you include his booth exploits, his total of career fights came to 854! Granted, as your article suggests, most of these may well have been blow outs but there will have been some against much bigger guys who felt at home in the ring, and which must have taken their toll. Booth fighting was no joke.

You have to wonder if this amazing output took something out of Wilde while he was relatively still young. Combine that with his forced inactivity because of the War when he was smack bang in the middle of his peak and it leads you to wonder how the Villa fight might have gone under different circumstances.

Great article.
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Post by Pedro147 on Thu 20 Oct 2016, 10:01 am

I'd never heard of boxing booths until this thread so it's really interesting. Just wondering are there any others that were famous or have interesting backgrounds/stories associated with them?

Were they a British thing only or were they present in the US also?

I bought the book yesterday for my dad's friend for his 80th birthday in January. He's a boxing thoroughbred and is well known in the boxing scene in London and worked with fighters such as Crawford Ashley and so on in the past. He'd be in the background so he's not a public figure. Last year when Hagler was in London for a tour my dad's friend was his minder. He said that Hagler was one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet and that he'd never seen anybody drink as much red wine as Hagler. He said Marvin was putting it down like water and could have up to 6 bottles a night and still be coherent!

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Post by superflyweight on Thu 20 Oct 2016, 11:58 am

Pedro147 wrote:I'd never heard of boxing booths until this thread so it's really interesting. Just wondering are there any others that were famous or have interesting backgrounds/stories associated with them?

Were they a British thing only or were they present in the US also?

I bought the book yesterday for my dad's friend for his 80th birthday in January. He's a boxing thoroughbred and is well known in the boxing scene in London and worked with fighters such as Crawford Ashley and so on in the past. He'd be in the background so he's not a public figure. Last year when Hagler was in London for a tour my dad's friend was his minder. He said that Hagler was one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet and that he'd never seen anybody drink as much red wine as Hagler. He said Marvin was putting it down like water and could have up to 6 bottles a night and still be coherent!

You should have seen my original boxing booths thread on the 606 site!

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Post by Guest on Thu 20 Oct 2016, 12:23 pm

Have tried to look for that article,Superflyweight, but it has been erased from history. As have been all the replies to my threads apparently.

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Post by superflyweight on Thu 20 Oct 2016, 12:46 pm

I looked for it myself. I shall be contacting Google and the BBC directly to make my complaint.

I'd repeat it here but I have absolutely no recollection what it was about in particular and other than what I've read in Jeff's OP, I don't think I know anything about boxing booths.

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Post by rapidringsroad on Thu 20 Oct 2016, 10:11 pm

I believe Jack Dempsey learned his trade in the Boxing Booths. I remember reading that if he was having a hard time in a bout he would push his opponent towards the tent wall where a helper was there with a lump of 4x2 to join in.

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Post by milkyboy on Fri 21 Oct 2016, 9:11 am

Pedro147 wrote:I'd never heard of boxing booths until this thread so it's really interesting. Just wondering are there any others that were famous or have interesting backgrounds/stories associated with them?

Were they a British thing only or were they present in the US also?

I bought the book yesterday for my dad's friend for his 80th birthday in January. He's a boxing thoroughbred and is well known in the boxing scene in London and worked with fighters such as Crawford Ashley and so on in the past. He'd be in the background so he's not a public figure. Last year when Hagler was in London for a tour my dad's friend was his minder. He said that Hagler was one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet and that he'd never seen anybody drink as much red wine as Hagler. He said Marvin was putting it down like water and could have up to 6 bottles a night and still be coherent!

A 79 year old minder! Tough guy!

6 bottles of wine a night and he still can't numb the pain of the Leonard fight!

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Post by Guest on Fri 21 Oct 2016, 11:22 am

Yeah, Hagler makes D4 look like a veritable polymath of subject matter in comparison.

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Post by Pedro147 on Fri 21 Oct 2016, 12:22 pm

milkyboy wrote:
Pedro147 wrote:I'd never heard of boxing booths until this thread so it's really interesting. Just wondering are there any others that were famous or have interesting backgrounds/stories associated with them?

Were they a British thing only or were they present in the US also?

I bought the book yesterday for my dad's friend for his 80th birthday in January. He's a boxing thoroughbred and is well known in the boxing scene in London and worked with fighters such as Crawford Ashley and so on in the past. He'd be in the background so he's not a public figure. Last year when Hagler was in London for a tour my dad's friend was his minder. He said that Hagler was one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet and that he'd never seen anybody drink as much red wine as Hagler. He said Marvin was putting it down like water and could have up to 6 bottles a night and still be coherent!

A 79 year old minder! Tough guy!

6 bottles of wine a night and he still can't numb the pain of the Leonard fight!

In fairness, I don't think Marvin would need too much minding haha. It was more getting him from A to B and keeping things on schedule and all that jazz.

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Post by milkyboy on Fri 21 Oct 2016, 12:37 pm

... Yeh, I suspect he can still handle himself... Even after 6 bottles of plonk!

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Post by Rowley on Sat 22 Oct 2016, 12:05 pm

milkyboy wrote:... Yeh, I suspect he can still handle himself... Even after 6 bottles of plonk!

Starting on Marvin when he has got a drink in him seems a spectacularly bad idea.

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Post by milkyboy on Sat 22 Oct 2016, 1:19 pm

I guess, if he's oiled up though, he might do something stupid like fight orthodox. Very Happy

I suspect it's a spectacularly bad idea to start on him when he's drunk, in a bad mood, sober, in a good mood, asleep. Just a plain bad idea.

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Post by dower on Sun 06 Nov 2016, 11:04 pm

I have just finished reading the Jack Scarrott book, and I really enjoyed it.  I wrote to the author a few years back to ask about a famous welsh bare-knuckle boxer named Redmond Coleman and he gave me a lot of the research that he had uncovered.  The Jack Scarrott book ties in to an earlier book that he wrote called Mountain Fighters, Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing which covers a lot of the early welsh bare-knuckle fighters who were called mountain fighters because they fought illegal matches on the mountains so the police couldn't interfere with their matches.  It sells for quite a lot of money on amazon second hand.

A lot of the fighters really haven't been covered in other books, some like the bare-knuckle champion of Wales, William Samuels are really worth reading about, Samuels was the only man to get in the ring with John L. Sullivan on his tour of the UK.  Others of interest are Dai St John, Redmond Coleman, and Robert Dunbar, who was a very fierce one-eyed bare-knuckle champion.  Scarrott was very familiar with the bare-knuckle mountain fighters, who used to come off the mountains to challenge his booth boxers, and he freely admits that they were very scared of them.  There is also a lot of pictures and portraits of the early fighters in both books.  I bought this one because it was featured in the local paper, as the book contains a chapter on Dai Dollings, who taught Ray Arcel, and was a bare knuckle boxer who knew Scarrott.

Dollings is sometimes mentioned in passing in other boxing books, but I have never read a summary of his entire career, and it is really interesting reading.  Scarrott's story is interesting because it really bridges the gap between the bare-knuckle mountain fighters and the early famous Welsh boxers who fought on his boxing booth.  This time period hasn't been covered in any of the other welsh boxing history books, the boxing booths rarely get a mention, but nearly all the welsh fighters started in them.  It's well worth reading.

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