Notes & Queries

Fisticuffs!

The Mendoza – Humphreys Prizefight – Stilton 6th May 1789

Extract from Annual Register for 1789. Chronicle p 206 (2nd edn pub 1802)

6th May 1789. The long-expected battle between Humphreys and Mendoza took place on Wednesday at Stilton. A spacious amphitheatre was erected for the purpose of seeing this contest in the park of Mr. Thornton.* It consisted of an erection of tents round a space of forty eight feet in circumference raised one above the other and capable of holding between two and three thousand persons. About that number of spectators were present. The highest seat was removed at the distance of eighteen feet from the ground and every man could see the combat clearly and distinctly.

Between one and two o’clock Humphreys appeared on the turf accompanied by Johnson as his second, and a person whose name we did not learn as his bottle holder, and Mr. Coombs as his umpire. Mendoza soon afterwards entered the field of action attended by his second Captain Brown, his bottle holder Ryan and his umpire Sir Thomas Appryce. They stripped and setting to the seconds retired to the separate corners of the enclosure according to the previous agreement of both parties. After a contest of an hour and a quarter, Mendoza was declared conqueror.

*This fight took place in the garden of Stilton House – demolished in November 1986.

A fatal punch-up en route

As Ward the boxer with others of the fraternity was travelling on the Lincoln stage to assist at the boxing match between Humphryes and Mendoza at Stilton, while the coach waited at the Black Horse Enfield Highway he was challenged by one Swain, a blacksmith of Enfield who was always forward on such occasions. After several blows exchanged on both sides, Swain gave out and retreated to the bar of the house. The other pursued him and gave him two blows which instantly dispatched him. Ward and his companions made the best of their way to London but were stopped in a postchaise and committed to prison. The coroner’s jury divided in their verdict, nine deeming it manslaughter and seven murder, on which Ward was not admitted to bail and the parties were bound to attend at the Old Bailey.

From the same Annual Register we read that on 22nd October 1789 Bill and Joe Ward were Johnson’s second and bottle holder in a bout between Johnson of London and Perrins of Birmingham – won in 1½ hours by Johnson before 3000 people at Banbury. Later at Banbury Big Ben beat Jacombs for £100 a side and George the brewer beat Pickard in ½ hour in the bloodiest battle ever seen. The same year at a gravel pit near Rickmansworth Johnson beat Ryan after 32½ mins on 11th February with 6000 present and £512 was taken in door money.

(Extracted by G.E.Dixon Hon Librarian Peterborough Museum Society)