Tom Spring vs Jack Langan 1824 bare knuckle "Champion Of All England" 70 rounds and two and a half hours heavyweight contest! commemorative circa 1949 vintage souvenir ashtray (stamped on reserve 1266, Gray's Pottery made in Stoke-On-Trent, England). Inscription reads:-
"Since boxing is a manly game,
And Britons recreation.
By boxing we will raise our fame,
Bove any other nation.
Throw pistols, pomards, swords, a side.
And all such deadly tools;
Let boxing be the Britons pride,
The science of their schools".
Tom Spring vs Jack Langan I & II
Tom Spring vs Jack Langan Championship of England, 7th January 1824, Worcester, England.
Spring won 77th round, lasting 2 hours and twenty nine minutes.
Tom Spring vs Jack Langan 2nd Contest Championship of England, 8th June 1824, Warwick, England.
Spring won 76th round, lasting one hour and forty nine minutes.
In 1824, more than 30,000 people turned up in Worcester to watch local hero, Tom Spring, in a bare knuckle fight for the "Championship of all England".
The fight went on for more than 70 rounds, and two-and-a-half hours.
Tom Spring beat the challenger, Jack Langan.
The fight was such a big event that people climbed the masts of sailing ships in the nearby River Severn to watch, and two of the stands collapsed, injuring many of the spectators.
Tom Spring was born at Woolhope in Herefordshire on 22 February 1795, he was born Thomas Winter, but changed his name to Spring when he took up professional boxing.
His mentor was the heavyweight champion of England, Tom Cribb, who took him under his wing, and eventually passed on his title.
Then, as now, top boxers were famous (and in some cases infamous) figures, and, as this description in the Worcester Journal in 1824 reveals, Tom Spring was a popular figure:
"He is respected for the amenity of his manners, the quietness of his disposition, his courage, his coolness, in fact, all those good qualities and good points which stamp him, in the whole, a real John Bull, and such a one as any Englishman in any quarter of the Universe, would be proud indeed to show as a specimen of the natives of the country he came from."
He managed the rare trick of retiring from the ring at his peak, and of keeping both his wits and his money when his fighting days were over.
Pitching For Pitchcroft
Tom Spring had already been heavyweight champion of England for three years when he faced his Irish challenger on Worcester racecourse.
The city had faced some stiff competition to get the title fight, with Lichfield, Birmingham and, most particularly Warwick, all being keen to stage the contest, as the Worcester Journal recorded at the time:
"The Warwick folk were most anxious it should be there, and they bid 150 guineas; the Worcesterites topped this considerable. The stakes were 300 sovereigns a side, and all money matters."
The purse of 300 sovereigns was a considerable one the equivalent of more than £25,000 in today's money (2010).
The promoters, though, would have no worries about making their money back, for, as Worcester Journal recorded, the fight drew huge crowds to the city:
"On no occasion, within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, has our city exhibited such bustle and confusion. From dawn of the morning until eleven o'clock the throng of persons, both plebeian and noble, on horseback, on foot, and in carriages of every description, which poured in aft every avenue, was immense, and we are confident we do not exaggerate when we state the number was 40,000."
Bare Knuckle Boxer
The Berrows Journal, who were altogether less enamoured with the idea of fight, put the crowd at 30,000, and were quick to point out to their readers that "we would not have our friends think we are admirers of such spectacle, or advocate of the Science of Boxing."
Conditions on that January day in 1824 were hardly ideal, and as the Worcester Journal wryly recorded "a trifling obstacle presented itself, the ground was covered in water."
Frantic attempts were made to drain the notoriously flood-prone racecourse, and temporary wooden stands were put up to give a view of the 24 feet square ring, which had been raised two feet off the ground, in the vain hope that more people would be able to see.
The temporary stands, and the grandstand were packed, and, according to the Worcester Journal, many people resorted to more unorthodox way's of seeing the fight:
"The craft in the river was moored opposite the spot, and, from its rigging, a great many obtained an excellent sight; the trees in the distance were also peopled."
One reason for this could have been the ten shilling admission price, £40 in today's money.
If the Worcester Journal's estimate of the crowd is right, this means the promoters would have taken more than a million pounds, in today's money.
Betting was keen at ringside, with Tom Spring, at 3-1, being the clear favourite.
Disaster At The Start
Tom Spring, being a local boy, was the first to arrive, formally throwing his hat into the ring at 12.30.
For an hour or more after that there was no sign of the challenger, and, according to the Journal's man at the fight, the crowd began to get restless, anxious, no doubt, to get their 'ten bob's worth."
"Hudson (his second), began to enquire anxiously after his man. The multitude also began to show symptoms of impatience, and apprehension of disappointment."
According to the Berrow's man one wag in the crowd offered odds of 10-1 on a 'no show'.
Eventually Jack Langan appeared and the two fighters stripped ready for the contest. Berrow's Journal had employed a specialist boxing writer to cover the fight, and he gave their readers a vivid description of the challenger.
"Langan's bust was fine, his arm excellent, but defective in his loins, his legs not good, and his knees not strong, not well rounded and the judges thought he had 'done too much work'; i.e. his training was too severe."
The 'tale of the tape' reveals that Tom Spring was much the bigger man:
Tom Spring, also known as 'The Light Tapper' weighed in at 13st 8lbs, and was 29 years old. He was famous for his "Harlequin step", the "Ali shuffle" of its day.
Jack Langan, weighed in at 12st 4lbs and was known to be a durable fighter, and particularly good at wrestling.
In those days boxing was (superficially) a gentlemen's sport, and there was no 'trash talking' as the two fighters met and shook hands the Berrow's Journal recording the following exchange.
"I hope you are well Langan." "Very well, my boy; and we'll soon talk to each other in another way."
The fight was about to start when one of the temporary stands collapsed, hurling spectators 20 feet or more to the ground another stand collapsed during the second round and "the shock completely paralysed the ring.", according to the Worcester Journal.
Despite the numerous serious injuries to spectators the fight went on, though there would be recriminations afterwards about the construction of the stands.
Boxing in the 19th century was much closer to the mixed martial arts contests of today, than to modern day boxing.
Fighters could, and did, wrestle or throw each other to the ground, and the lack of gloves meant that flurries of punches were rare.
The fights were also very long the first round at Pitchcroft lasted ten minutes and there was no limit to the number of rounds.
There was also little crowd control, with the Worcester Journal reporting that by round 17 the ring had been "broken in at every side and was not 10 feet square."
By the time the fight was stopped, in either the 84th or the 77th round, depending on which paper you read, there were more than 200 people inside the ring.
At the end of the contest, according to Berrow's boxing specialist, "Langan was picked up groggy and stupid. 'Take him away' was the cry."
His second declared he should "fight no more" but Langan refused to leave the ring when he came around: "Clear the ring and let me fight I have not given in, I can fight for an hour." were his words, reported in the Worcester Journal.
Berrow's Journal was also impressed with his courage: "He is most certainly one of the gamest men we ever witnessed."
There was supposed to be another fight afterwards, Neale v Belasco, but it was too dark.
Looking back after a week, the Worcester Journal declared that "There was not one real good hit in the fight - not one clean knock-out blow."
This didn't stop them selling a bound copy of their account of the fight for 3d.
Later, Springs' camp announced his left hand was "so much injured that he was not able to strike an efficient blow with that hand." to explain why he hadn't knocked out his opponent sooner.
Incredibly the two men met again six months later at Warwick (they really did want the fight), on 8 June 1824, with Spring winning in 76 rounds.
Post Fight Recriminations
The scandal over the collapsing stands rumbled on for weeks after the fight.
"It is not in the power of language to give a picture of the scene of disorder and distress which ensued the number of broken limbs was very great." said the Berrow's Journal and the Gloucester journal was similarly stumped for words: "We really are at a loss for language of reproof sufficiently strong to characterize this highly culpable conduct."
In the case for the defence the shadowy figure of Chas Share was quick of the mark he sent a letter to both local papers the day after the fight expressing his 'deep regret' and claiming he had told his builder to "spare no labour or expense, and the builder, who put them up, was most desirous to do so, although it has unfortunately proved otherwise."
William Wood, who supplied the timber was also quick to pass the buck, making it clear in another published letter that he had "nothing whatever to do with the erection of the building.", even though he supplied some of the labourers who did the work.
The papers cited hasty construction and the muddy state of the field for the collapse, and the Berrow's Journal recorded injuries including a fractured thigh and leg, fractured ribs, compound fractures and 'violent bruises'.
Then, as now, there was an anti-boxing lobby: one letter in Berrow's Journal condemned the whole spectacle, fearing it would bring down the British Empire.
The anonymous letter writer, under the pseudonym of M, predicted a time when "the prize fighters amongst us will be as numerous as the Roman gladiators were when Rome was declining in glory."
Tom Spring retired after the fight, and went on to be closely involved in the development of the sport, as well as keeping the Castle Inn at Holborn, in London.
Tom Spring and John Langan
John Langan, an Irishman who was much heavier than Tom Spring and also slower in the ring. Some 30,000 spectators turned up for their first match at Worcester Racecourse in 1824, but unfortunately the grandstand was not up to the task and many people were injured when it collapsed. The fight itself went on for a crippling seventy seven rounds, and finally even the bloodthirsty crowd were sickened and bayed for it to be ended. Spring’s hands were badly injured, and Langan was a complete mess! A few months later they met again in Chichester, although Spring’s left hand was still virtually useless he gave Langan another pasting, it was a testament to his kind character that instead of flattening Langan when he was done for, he merely pushed him to the ground.
Condition very good (small blemish marks & faded letters A&R)
Gray’s Pottery produced various print designs in the 1950's destined primarily for the North American market, including some depicting sports personalities such as Spring & Langan (pattern S1588), Molineaux & Cribb (patterns S1587 & S1589), Mynn & Parr (pattern S1522). It appears that these were sold through the American retailer Mottahedeh.
Gray’s Pottery was a decorating business buying-in so called ‘white ware’ from various manufacturers, among them being Lancaster & Sandland of Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. Gray’s would use a large bold stamp in attempting to completely cover the ‘understamp’ of the pot maker.
Tom Spring (born Thomas Winter) (22 February 1795 – 20 August 1851) was an English bare knuckle fighter. He was heavyweight champion of England from 1821 until his retirement in 1824. After his retirement he became landlord of the Castle Inn at Holborn in London, where he arranged the patronage and contracts of many of the major boxing events of the period while overseeing fair play in the ring.
Spring was born at Witchend in Fownhope, Herefordshire. His true surname was "Winter", which he changed to Spring when he became a professional boxer. His first career was as a butcher, the trade in which he was employed when he had his first known fight in 1812, against John Hollands. He had been encouraged to box from a young age by his father, who had constructed a sand bag for him to train with. Later his father was jailed for debt, which destroyed Spring's relationship with him. In 1814 Spring met the legendary heavyweight champion Tom Cribb who was staying nearby. Cribb was impressed by Spring's prowess, and persuaded him to go to London under his patronage; this was the beginning of Spring's boxing career. That year, Spring travelled to Mordiford and won a fight in 11 rounds, after which he won a £3 stake.
Spring is considered one of the most scientific of the early English boxers, an approach that set him apart from most of his contemporaries. Not possessing a strong punch he honed a fine defense, and a powerful left hook.
Aged 23 Spring twice fought the very experienced Ned Painter, winning the first bout and losing the second. His defeat of Jack Carter in 1819 earned him some notoriety, and he toured the country giving exhibition matches with the reigning English heavyweight champion Tom Cribb. Cribb on his retirement in 1821 handed over the championship title to Spring. To defend the title Spring offered to fight anyone in England. No one challenged him until 1823, when he fought Bill Neat. Neat referred to Spring as a "lady’s maid fighter" because of his weak punch. The fight lasted just 37 minutes, with Spring victorious after knocking Neat down in the first round and cutting him severely in the second. This victory ensured that Spring was officially recognized as the heavyweight champion of England.
In January 1824 at Pitchcroft, Worcester Spring fought against the Irish fighter Jack Langan. The fight was for a purse of 300 sovereigns (about £25,000 in 2010), and drew a crowd of some 40,000 and lasted 77 rounds.
The two boxers had very different styles – Spring was light on his feet and fast, while Langan was slower and heavier. Spring was victorious against Langan on a second occasion.
In 1824 Spring decided to retire from boxing, his hands, never strong and always easily damaged, were now weakened. Throughout his career Spring had often managed to avoid damage with his fast hits and what became known as his Harlequin Step; this was a technique he developed of putting himself just within reach of his opponent, then avoiding the instinctive punch while simultaneously delivering one himself.[3
On his retirement he purchased the Castle Inn at Holborn, which under his management became the unofficial headquarters of English boxing; fights were arranged and contacts signed under his supervision. English boxing at that time has been described as full of "gambling-related corruption" when "disqualification and open cheating were common". On 25 September 1828 an organization known as the Fair Play Club was formed to try and clean up boxing's image, "to ensure fair play to the combatants" and "to preserve peace and order in the outer ring"; this was in addition to the London Prize Ring rules, which had been devised by Jack Broughton almost a century earlier. Spring was elected as the club's first treasurer, and was also authorised to employ officials to enforce the new rules and prevent invasions of the ring by supporters.
Spring, however, was not immune from criticism himself. Vast amounts of money were bet on the outcome of fights and inside knowledge could make the holder enormous sums. Spring twice arranged fights for, and personally seconded, the Irish heavyweight champion Simon Byrne. In 1831 he put Byrne in the ring against the heavyweight champion Jem Ward, knowing that Byrne was unfit and out of condition; Ward was known to be corrupt, having once thrown a fight for £100. Spring finally pulled Byrne out of the fight in the 33rd round, allowing Ward to retire and retain his title. The boxing commentator Gilbert Odd described this fight as a "disgraceful affair".
On the second occasion he seconded for Byrne, in 1833, Byrne was fighting James Burke for the heavyweight title. This was the longest fight in boxing history until the famous bout between Andy Bowen and Jack Burke in 1893, which went 111 rounds. It was brutal and bloody, but vast sums were riding on the fight. In the 99th round Spring had to carry the barely conscious Byrne to the mark to fight. Byrne was quickly knocked unconscious and died three days later. The death finally led to a reform in the rules governing English boxing.
In retirement Spring became very wealthy. He is known to have married and had two children. He split from his wife, and, in spite of the wealth Spring later acquired, she died destitute in the Holborn workhouse. But Spring remained well respected for his kindness and good manners outside of the boxing ring. His reputation was in itself an achievement for a fight promoter of this era. After his death on 20 August 1851 his funeral was well attended, with many neighbours from The Castle, Holborn, walking with his coffin to West Norwood Cemetery. Spring was buried under his real name of Thomas Winter.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a short story, "The Lord of Falconbridge", with Spring as the protagonist.