Jack Broughton … boxer
Lennox Lewis’s triumphant defence of his world heavyweight title, and the emergence of East End Olympic hero Audley Harrison, confirm one thing – unfashionable and controversial though boxing may be in many quarters, the East End retains an extraordinary enthusiasm for the sweet science.
And that’s an enthusiasm only matched by our capacity for producing championship fighters.
But if Lennox thought his points win was an epic battle, he has a Wapping waterman to thank for it being such a relatively brief contest. And the well-protected Audley has the same fellow to thank for the first moves to body protection for pugilists.
In the mid-1700s boxing was a brutal sport. Rules were few, bouts open-ended, and physical protection non-existent. The winner was the last man standing and the loser often paid with serious physical or mental damage… or even death.
This was a problem for Jack Broughton. Jack, the third heavyweight boxing champion of all England, augmented his waterman’s wages with bare-knuckle street fighting, but increasingly trained and managed a stable of fighters.
Modern boxers talk about leaving the fight in the gym due to over-training; Broughton’s boys often couldn’t make the fight because they had beaten one another so badly in the gym.
But rigorous training was needed to produce a bare-knuckle fighter capable of going dozens of rounds, so Jack set to thinking. His solution was to invent mufflers, the earliest boxing gloves, which made their first appearance in his Hanway Street gym in 1743.
Brutal prize fights
And Jack, having invested time and money in training promising young fighters and crowd favourites, saw the problem in their careers being curtailed by injury and death in the brutal prize fights so, at the same time, he devised his own set of competition rules.
The London Prize Ring rules were boxing’s first, and pre-dated the more famous Queens- bury Rules by a century or so.
It would be a mistake to think that Jack had gone soft – in a handbill published during the 1740s, he described boxing as simply the most successful method of beating a man deaf, dumb, lame and blind.
But his ideas proved so effective in prolonging the careers of fighters that the rules he prepared in 1743 remained in effect until 1838.
In their new form, they were the benchmark for fighting until the last bare-knuckle championship bout in 1889. After 1889, gloves became the rule, so Broughton’s ideas persist to this day.
The rules were as follows: no hitting below the belt; no hitting an opponent who was down; wrestling only allowed above the waist; fights to be contested in rounds, with a 30-second rest period in between; rounds to be over with a knockdown; and fights over after a rest period if a fighter couldn’t toe the mark or come up to scratch.
This mark was a square of a yard chalked in the middle of a stage which boxers had to approach at the start of each new round.
The rules were sponsored by Jack’s patron, William Augustus, the Third Duke of Cumberland. Augustus was to become known as Butcher Cumberland for his merciless slaughter of Jacobite Scots at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. The Duke also had a taste for bloody sports, wagering huge amounts on Jack’s successful fights.
As a sideline, Jack began to teach sparring with mufflers to the young relatives of the Duke of Cumberland. But the pair fell out after Broughton was beaten by Jack Slack in 1750.
The Butcher lost £10,000 on the fight and his interest in pugilism soon afterwards.
He may have fallen from favour with Cumberland, but Jack enjoyed a long and comfortable retirement. When he died in 1789, a wealthy 85 year old, he was still a national hero, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.