From the mid-nineteenth century bare-knuckle prize-fighting in Britain was reported as being in retreat. Yet, despite opposition and condemnation prize-fighting retained a ubiquitous social and cultural presence, both inside and outside the ring. Large crowds made up of people from all classes and walks of life continued to enjoy the bloody and atavistic spectacle of two boxers fighting until one was unable to come 'up to scratch'. Well-known fighters enjoyed considerable fame and fortune, however, for many it was a precarious occupation, but deemed worth the risks involved. Most studies of prize-fighting have focused on the earlier bare-knuckle Regency ‘Golden Age’ or on twentieth-century gloved boxing and this transformational and transitional phase of prize-fighting is largely ignored or used to compare against the inexorable advance of modernised and more commercially successful sports. However, this period witnessed the most remarkable bare-knuckle fight in Britain for decades and the Queensberry Rules introduced a more acceptable and better-regulated alternative. This paper uses my current research to explore the link between the geographies and finances of prize-fighting. It reveals that rather than witnessing the decline and fall of prize-fighting it had in fact flourished in new contexts and persisted into the late-nineteenth century and beyond.
Ben Duncan-Jones is a PhD student at De Montfort University.
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