Nothing can stop city’s boxing production line
PUBLISHED: 16:34 21 June 2017 | UPDATED: 16:34 21 June 2017
From Jem Mace to the Walsh boys and from Ginger Sadd to Jon Thaxton....Norfolk has produced, and still is producing talented and tough boxers.
Professional or amateur, little or large, it takes an awful lot of courage to step into that ring.
And we should be proud of the boys – and now girls – who pull on the gloves to represent a club, city, county or country. It takes raw courage.
Many of our boxers emerged from Norwich Lads Club, the first club of its kind in the world, set up by the police to give boys a purpose in life.
There have been many other clubs over the years and men who have dedicated much of their lives to helping and training boxers, Glen Saffer, the late Ray Pease included.
The Prince of Denmark, Broadside, Diamond and the rest. Now Norwich Kickstop Gym run by Graham Everett and Jon Thaxton is turning out some great local boxers.
The history of boxing in the city and county goes back to the days of brutal and blood-soaked illegal prize fights – many on Mousehold which attracted huge crowds. They fought until one of them couldn’t continue.
The story of Jem Mace starts in 1831 when Anne Mace, married to William, a blacksmith, gave birth to a son, James, at Beeston in Norfolk. The family lived in a cottage and were semi-literate.
James, always known as Jem, never went to school but helped his dad on the road as a travelling smithy. He went to work for a cabinet maker at Wells when he was 14 and Mr Fox taught him to play the fiddle.
He always knew he was handy with his fists and he proved the point when he knocked out two burly fishermen who had stamped on his violin and a third one fled the scene. The crowd that gathered cheered young Jem – and gave him enough money to buy a new instrument.
The young fiddler turned to earning a living as a prize fighter with the rough and tumble travelling fairs and circuses. He was known as “The Lad with the Golden Arm” and he headed into Norwich.
Jem didn’t have one weakness but three. Drink, music and ladies. He once had a hiding from Norwich hard man Jack “Licker” Pratt on Mousehold so from then on he “pickled” his fists before fights with horse radish, whisky and hedgehog fat.
He won the re-match.
He was the landlord of the White Swan in Swan Lane, Norwich, in the 1850s but he was forced to leave the city after he failed to turn up for a fight in London after a drinking session... people lost a lot of money and an angry mob tried to burn down the pub. His wife and children also had to flee.
Mace moved to London, then travelled the world and went on to become one of the greatest boxers to have ever lived and he had an extraordinary life.
He beat the best America had to offer, set up a boxing school for kids in Australia, fathered at least 14 children with five women, gambled away a fortune and ended up as a penniless busker,
Jem died in 1910 and eight years later the Norwich Lads Club opened its doors. - the first club of its kind in the world to be run by the police to get the boys off the streets.
Boxing was always popular and the 1930s were the golden years with the likes of Ginger Sadd, Chucky Robinson, Jumbo Jarvis and Jack Forster becoming local heroes.
In a professional career from 1932 to 1951 – he spent the war in the Royal Norfolk Regiment – Sadd had 216 fights, won 158 (38 within the distance), drew 14 and lost 43. He was described as “a cool, calculating boxer with a nimble brain and twinkling feet.
He and his brother Dick went on to be coaches at the club. And among the men who must be remembered when writing about the Lads Club are Don Pratt and Ronnie Brooks. They were a unique double act. Great men who helped so many others.