Explore Your Archive – Pride and Pugilists: Round Two

D5459/4/32/2 A Milling Match, Thomas Rowlandson, [1811]

D5459/4/32/2 A Milling Match, Thomas Rowlandson, [1811]

Jem Belcher had been left partially blind since 1803 after the ball struck his left eye during a game of rackets.  All too familiarly, he carried on after his 1805 defeat to Henry ‘Hen’ Pearce ‘The Game Chicken’, and suffered further losses against the future champion Tom Cribb in 1807 and 1809.  He seems to have been arrested after his last fight, and the Gell letters chart his misfortune that year.  

I have been fagging myself to death to settle the business of my ally Jim Belcher & what with Windham, Lord Archibald, Jackson, & Adam the Lawyer, I have at length got a letter for him to Mr Nolan the great Lawyer who attends at Guildford quarter sessions, who is to defend him for nothing.  That Brute Tom who ought to have gone with him is not only gone to Newmarket to Captain Barclay himself, but has taken with him or rather is taken by a Mr Shelton who should have been bail or security, but I will blow them both well up when they return, d— them.  If you have any of the guts of charity in your r*ctum send me some money for him and I will give it him from you, for he feels a great difference in not being the winning man.

D258/50/22, [2 July] 1809

An August letter to Phillip Gell provides an update on legal proceedings and financial woes, aswell as the latest news.

I hope to be with you by the first of October, for a fortnight.  Pray write to me at Lord Oxford’s, Eywood near Presteigne, Radnorshire directly.  If I had time I would get acquainted with all the young pugilists at Bristol, of which there is a fine young flock who will probably arrive in town in a year or two.  I have directed Jackson to get you a Barclay handkerchief.  Thank you about Mr Kinderley & James Belcher, but the people were so kind to me about it that he would have had all he wanted in court but it was put off till October at Kingston when by the blessing of God I will rout the beasts by the assistance of Mr William Adam & Mr Nolan at Kingston.  Why the devil don’t you write to Henry Raikes.  He does not object to the country & would have bought your living before this time had you managed properly.  I stopped the boat in my way here & landed at Boyle farm to know if Old Raikes had heard of you, no damn me no, so you will lose you living & I & Jim Belcher our regalo.  Lady Elizabeth Forbes has got some good naughty for you when you meet again…There is a fight this day between Richman the black & Maddox who is as you say a slow chap.  People think Richman will win & I have just sent James Belcher by the coach to second that Lilly hero hoping he will put a guinea or two into his pocket by it.     

D258/50/27, 11 August 1809

Unfortunately the court’s verdict did not go Belcher’s way.

Only think, I took Jem to Kingston, no causes tried that day.  He went the next Mr Nolan defended him 3 hours.  He was had up to day Oct 5 2 hours.  He was indicted on 4 charges.  Only guilty of fighting “verdict”.  But one of the jury stuck out & the rest wanted to lick him.  The consequence is that he is come home but is to go on Novr 5 to hear the Judge’s decision.  It is a d—-d shame I wish he had the thrashing of them all.  He is very grateful for your regalo, & Tom who has been sparring to night for Bittons benefit asked after you very kindly.  When you come a-Parliamenting I hope you will come to Benham.  Craven comes here on 11. I came on 1st.  Damn the Judge & Jury for he cannot see about a house with a sign while this hangs over him poor fellow.  

D258/50/29, 5 October 1809

The damned sons of B*****s have confined Jem for 28 days in the County goal Horsemonger lane from 2nd of November blast them.  I sent him a letter saying you, I & Keppel would be answerable for Jem & Mr Frowman has promised the license so on the 2nd or 3rd of December Jem will be out & in his old situation I hope.  I went twice to see him as I passed through Town.  He is very cheerful & merry poor fellow though only to be seen from 12 to 2.  Tom lives almost next door which wir virry good hearing for me.  I don’t think he wants anything, but he is so modest I cannot found out except by a trap so I have sent Richmond to find out.  Said Richmond has received forfeit from Cropley who won’t fight…Jem had a very poor benefit previous to his confinement there being nobody in town…Tom Belcher has a benefit soon after that, at which I shall be if possible…The Covent Garden gets worse & worse.  I saw the Lord Mayor’s show as I returned from seeing Jem in prison.  County gaol Horsmonger lane.  There is a man in the same place with him confined for some small offence of very genteel appearance who does every thing for Jem even to cooking as if he were his servant so well liked is he by every body.  I am very glad tis no worse, he sends his grateful regards to you and as I knew you would like to hear of him I write.               

D258/50/30, 11 November 1809        

Despite Gell’s efforts ( D258/50/31, December 1809 “…Jem is out & I am working to get him re-established.  I think I shall succeed…”), the elder Belcher brother slipped further into decline and died in London in 1811. 

Cropley & Power are to fight & they have matched T Belcher against Lilly White but as I was told the black would prove the best man I have given Tom a lecture about his brother losing his fame by over fighting & convinced him that unless he is sure of winning he ought not to try having left off with 5 victories since his defeat by Sam over Dogherty, Farnborough & Cropley.  He is convinced by my arguments & as 50£ is wanting in the purse Hi doant think it wull be a fite.  

D258/50/39, 16 July 1810

Tom Belcher seems to have fared better than his older brother.  Despite fighting a few more times after this, he was at one point owner of the famous boxing watering-hole the Castle Tavern in Holborn, and eventually died in 1854. 

As one of her chamberlains, Sir William Gell left England in 1814 to accompany the former Princess of Wales, now the exiled Queen Caroline.  He remained in Italy, continuing to publish topographies, with continual money problems, until his death in 1836.  His letters (D258/50/1-155) are available to view at the Record Office on CD 152.

EYA-poster-story-boxes

Advertisements

On This Day: ‘Spitfire in Court’

From the Alfreton and Belper Journal, 3rd December 1909:

SPITFIRE IN COURT

A CHESTERFIELD PRISONER’S ECCENTRICITIES

An extraordinary statement was made by a prisoner at the Chesterfield Borough Police Court, on Monday, the person in question giving the name of Luke Spitfire, of no fixed address, who was something of a “spitfire” by nature.

The man was charged with stealing a Bible, valued at 50s., from the Chesterfield Parish Church, on Saturday, and evidence was given that prisoner was seen to emerge from the building with the book underneath his coat.  Benjamin Gascoigne, a young man living in Durrant road, Chesterfield, asked Spitfire what he was doing with the Bible, and he replied that he was going to sit down and read it, although it was too dark to do so.  Police-constable Kee arrested the man, who made no answer to the charge.

Spitfire loudly requested the attendance of the priests to identify the Bible as the property of the church.  Having entered a plea of guilty, the accused went on to make the following amazing statement: “I have been a ratepayer for 20 years, and of course every ratepayer helps to keep the Bishops and the priests and everybody else between, and supposing I was stealing the Bible, I was only stealing part of my own property.  (Laughter).  It is no earthly use to me, because what is in the book I have swallowed.  I claim to be tried by my peers.  I am a B.A. and an educated man, and I am the same as Lord Byron, when he committed murder, he claimed to be tried by the Lords, and he got off.  I claim to be tried by my equals and not by ‘vagabones’.”  (Laughter).

Sentence of 28 days’ hard labour was passed.

The County Local Studies Library holds the Alfreton (and Belper) Journal, 1870-1935 – just ring to book a microfilm reader.