Jack Scarrott’s Prize Fighters – Memoirs of a Welsh Boxing Booth Showman

‘Fifty years I’ve been in the game, mister, and all that time I’ve been right here in the mining valleys. I know every town and village in South Wales, and I knew every boxer worth calling a fighting man they ever turned out. Dai St. John, Tom Thomas, Jim Driscoll, Freddy Welsh, Johnny Basham, Jimmy Wilde, Percy Jones, and many more that were before their time. I knew them all, and a good few started with me in my booth. I was scrapping for a living in a boxing booth before I started a booth on my own, and I was only about twenty one when I started on my own. Believe me, the life of a booth boxer in those days was tough. Mountain fighters! That’s what they called the miners who used to fight bare-knuckle on the mountains…’

Jack Scarrott was born into a family of travelling people in 1870, and travelled throughout South Wales in his youth, coming into contact with many of the bareknuckle fighters of his time before starting his own fairground boxing booth where spectators were invited to ‘step up’ and stand against his own boxing champions for a number of rounds in order to claim a cash prize. Travelling throughout South Wales in the years that followed, Scarrott’s travelling ‘Pavilion’ would become famous for the number of boxers that it would start on the way to national acclaim. In addition to the more familiar names of gloved boxing champions that Jack Scarrott recalls, there are also numerous tales of the early knuckle fighters of South Wales, including such notable fighters as William Samuels, Martin Fury, Shoni Engineer, Robert Dunbar, Dai St John, and John O’Brien. Jack Scarrott’s memoirs, first printed in serialised form in 1936 have never been published in book form until now, and benefit from an expanded in-depth look at the events that comprise his recollections of nearly fifty years of boxing history, from the days of the forgotten bare-knuckle men of the mountains to the boxing champions that would start their careers under the flapping canvas of his boxing booth. Illustrated with over 50 rare photographs and illustrations, Jack Scarrott’s Prize Fighters- Memoirs of a Welsh Boxing Booth Showman, stands as one of very few accounts of a time long forgotten when bare-knuckle battlers and fledgling glove fighters fought for supremacy on the fairgrounds of South Wales.

The following has been provided by the Publisher:

Table of Contents:

Part 1:

Fifty Years of Boxing in South Wales
Memoirs of a Welsh Boxing Booth Showman

(Jack Scarrott’s personal memoirs, recounted in 14 instalments)

Part 2:

Jack Scarrott’s Prize Fighters

Chapter 1 Fothergill Street
Chapter 2 Martin Fury vs. Jack Hearn
Chapter 3 William Samuels
Chapter 4 William Samuels vs. Bob Dunbar
Chapter 5 Shoni Engineer vs. Tom Books
Chapter 6 Shoni Engineer vs. Dublin Tom
Chapter 7 Death on the Mountain
Chapter 8 William Samuels vs. Toff Wall
Chapter 9 William Samuels vs. John L. Sullivan
Chapter 10 Shoni Engineer vs. Jem Guidrell
Chapter 11 Shoni Engineer vs. John O’Brien
Chapter 12 Boxing Booth Days
Chapter 13 William Samuels in the Lion’s Den
Chapter 14 Shoni Engineer vs. William Samuels
Chapter 15 Scarrott’s Boxing Booth
Chapter 16 Doctor William Price
Chapter 17 Dangerous Jack and the Japanese Strangler
Chapter 18 Bob Fitzsimmons
Chapter 19 The Resolven Giant
Chapter 20 Skerrit’s Boxers
Chapter 21 Dai Dollings
Chapter 22 Peerless Jim
Chapter 23 The Bullfighter
Chapter 24 Gentleman Joe
Chapter 25 The Mighty Atom
Chapter 26 Scarrott’s Pavilion
Chapter 27 Scarrott’s Amusements

Further Information:

This book, a continuation of the previously unrecorded Welsh boxing history covered in the book Mountain Fighters, Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing, by Lawrence Davies (Peerless Press, 2011) and explores the world of the mountain fighters and early glove fighters of South Wales in the form of an expanded commentary on the memoirs of John (‘Jack’) Scarrott (1870-1947) the famous boxing booth proprietor and boxing promoter who assisted such well known Welsh boxers as Jim Driscoll, Tom Thomas and Jimmy Wilde on the road to boxing glory. Many of the first of the most famous fighting men to have emerged from South Wales are profiled within this book including:

Martin Fury and Jack Hearn- two of the most famous bare-knuckle fighters to have emerged from the gypsy camps of South Wales, and the forgotten story of their great battle.

Shoni Engineer – the one-time claimant of the Welsh middleweight title, with full accounts of his battles against ‘Dublin Tom’, Tom ‘Books’ Davies, Jem Guidrell of Bristol, John O’Brien and William Samuels.

William Samuels – the flamboyant heavyweight champion of Wales, with an expanded accounts of his rivalries with Bob Dunbar, Toff Wall, Tom Vincent, and Shoni Engineer, as well as an in-depth look at his later career and his remarkable impact on the history of Welsh boxing.

Dai St. John – The towering miner from Resolven, who whipped ‘man after man’ with bare knuckles as a teenager before his great rivalry with John O’Brien the Cardiff born Welsh middleweight champion, and his dramatic rise to the status of national hero in the Boer War.

Bob Dunbar – the fearsome bare-knuckle fighter and booth boxer, who went on to claim the lightweight championship of Wales, his great defeat of William Samuels in 1882, and the tragic untold story of the events following his retirement from the ring.

Dai Dollings – the bare knuckle fighter and booth boxer from Swansea who would become one of the most famous and influential boxing trainers of the early 20th century after emigrating to New York and becoming the chief trainer at the world famous Grupp’s gym – where he seconded some of the most famous fighters of the squared circle, and tutored the renowned boxing trainer, Ray Arcel.

Numerous fighters who featured on Jack Scarrott’s boxing booth are also fully explored within the book, along with tales of their early fights on Scarrott’s ‘Pavilion’ including such luminaries of Welsh gloved boxing as:

Tom Thomas – The gentle farmer’s son from Penygraig who would become British middleweight Champion after many battles on the travelling boxing booth of Jack Scarrott, and the tale of how the cruel lick of a gypsy’s whip made him pull on the boxing gloves.

Jim Driscoll – The Cardiff boxer known as ‘Peerless’ Jim who was crowned British featherweight champion, and became the toast of Great Britain following his defeat of Abe Attell, the world featherweight champion.

Jimmy Wilde – the astonishing tale of Wilde’s rise to fame as world flyweight champion and arguably the greatest boxer of all time, his many knockout victories on the boxing booth, and the legendary day when he knocked out 23 seperate challengers.

Pedlar McMahon – a ‘pocket Hercules’ and boxing booth champion, his rise to fame on the boxing booth of William Samuels, his great rivalry with booth boxer Frank Lowry and tales from his time as a champion of Jack Scarrott’s booth.

Joe White – A Swiss-Canadian middleweight who became one of the favourites on Scarrott’s boxing booth, his early contests on the boxing booths of South Wales through to his challenge to a young Freddie Welsh as a battle hardened veteran.

‘Dangerous Jack’ – one of Scarrott’s early champions, a ferocious black fighter, known for his slashing style who put down mountain fighter after mountain fighter, and the hilarious story of his discovery by Jack Scarrott himself.

‘Yuko Sako’ – The ‘Japanese Strangler from Yokohama’ – the strange but true story of one of Jack Scarrott’s booth boxers – a compact Welshman disguised as a mysterious Japanese fighter to draw the interest of the fairground crowds.

Details of the early careers of many Welsh champions and notable booth boxers of the period are explored within the book, including Percy Jones of Porth – the first Welsh world champion, Frank Moody of Pontypridd – British & Empire Middleweight Champion, Johny Basham of Newport – British & European Welterweight Champion, Jack Davis of Pontypridd – who once challenged for the British heavyweight title, Freddie Welsh of Pontypridd – lightweight champion of the world, Patsy Perkins – lightweight champion of Wales, Jimmy Dean – the famous ‘Cast Iron Man’ of Pontypridd, ‘Darkey’ Thomas, Frank Reed, William ‘Mother’ Lee, Dai ‘Rush’, Thomas ‘Bungy’ Lambert, Arthur and William Butcher of Talywain, ‘Twm’ Edwards of Aberdare, and ‘Bullo’ Rees of Aberavon.

Prior to the publication of this book, many of these men have never been recorded in any other book of Welsh boxing history, and along with Mountain Fighters, Lost Tales of Welsh Boxing by the same author, they comprise the most complete recorded history of the origins of Welsh boxing and the early Welsh glove fighters ever published. Both books represent over fifteen years of intensive Welsh boxing research on the part of the author, and have a combined length of nearly 1,000 pages covering a century of Welsh boxing history. Illustrated with over 50 mostly unpublished photographs and illustrations, ‘Jack Scarrott’s Prize Fighters – Memoirs of a Welsh Boxing Booth Showman’ is a must buy for any boxing fan who wishes to re-discover the origins of Welsh boxing, and read the astonishing story of Jack Scarrott, the acclaimed showman and boxing pioneer, who until now had been consigned to little more than a footnote in the careers of the great Welsh boxing champions.


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