Tommy Bowers: Former champion boxer and west Norfolk businessman
A bareknuckle boxer from west Norfolk, who fought more than 500 bouts as a professional, Tommy Bowers, has died aged 97 at his Northwold home.
After gaining his boxing licence in 1928 at the age of 16, he became the eastern area champion at welterweight shortly before the outbreak of the second war, when he defeated Ronnie Barber at Lowestoft.
He became a successful businessman and funeral director and also community leader, serving as chairman of Northwold Parish Council for some years.
Born in a Lincoln workhouse, his mother had moved to Methwold to find work. After leaving the village school, he started work on a pig farm, earning 12 shillings or 60p in his first week – and paying his mother eight shillings for his keep.
He then looked after the horses, which was a more responsible task but did not pay any more. When he saw an old man being beaten up, the teenager successfully intervened and the local postman was so impressed, he fixed up a proper boxing match with a local promoter. He knocked out his opponent in the second round and won 7/6d (37.5p). Self-taught, when he started he didn't have shorts or even boots and fought in his stockinged feet.
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More bouts followed as Tommy 'The Methwold Ploughboy' Bowers fought in matches the length and breadth of the country. By his 19th birthday, he had fought more than 100 times and said that his long reach for his weight gave him a useful edge. During the war, while serving in the Army, he boxed for the Royal Engineers.
But boxing was always a way of earning some extra cash for his family. In his 20-year career as a welterweight, fighting under 9st 10lbs, he broke his nose at least eight times. But as he moved from ploughboy into the building trade, his ring craft supplemented his weekly earnings. Even in 1968, his boxing fame was such that a letter from a fan in Germany addressed to 'Tommy Bowers . . . a local hero in East Anglian Rings' was safely delivered to his Northwold home.
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He was a member of Ceres Lodge of the Masons at Swaffham for many years, and also built the village's sports and social club.
He had married Queenie, who had lived at nearby Stoke Ferry, before the war. In those early days, she looked after the financial side of what became five businesses in the village including shop, hairdresser, builders' merchants and the funeral directors, now run by his grandson Philip.
He is survived by five children, 10 grandchildren and a great grandson.
A funeral service will take place at St Andrew's Church, Northwold, on WednesdayDecember 19 at 1.45pm.