PRIZE FIGHT NEAR EPSOM


Pen and ink drawing of the police raid on the illegal prize fight

A rumour has prevailed for some weeks amongst the pugilists of London that a prize fight for £100 had been arranged between J Massey, who was recently defeated by J Knifton (known as the "Eighty-one Tonner"), and William Middings; and the police, who had received an inkling of the projected fight, have been endeavouring for the past few days to discover the time and place of meeting. After considerable scheming on the part of the promoters of the encounter, the venue was fixed at a secluded spot on a by-road between Belmont, the southern end of Sutton, and the historic mansion, The Oaks, after which the celebrated race takes its name. About forty persons, including many of the upper class, journeyed down to Sutton by the 5.55 train on Wednesday morning, whilst not a few drove from the metropolis. An artful, though not original, ruse was adopted to get the pugilists and attendants likely to be recognised to the spot. A large box van, similar to those used for the removal of furniture was chartered, and in this conveyance they were taken to the scene of action. No time was lost in preliminary arrangements. A ring, conventionally correct in every detail, was pitched, and it may be said that the encounter was conducted throughout in the strictest principles of the prize ring. A well-known ex-pugilist was appointed referee, and at seven o'clock the men faced each other. Great pains had been taken in getting them in what is termed "fit" and both were in excellent physical condition. Middings has lost the use of one eye, and was on that account, at a disadvantage, but there was very little to choose between them otherwise. It is not necessary to follow round by round the details of the fight, which lasted seventy minutes. At first Middings took the lead, and gained both first knock-down blow and first blood; but Massey proved equal to the occasion for a time, and the battle proceeded with alternate fortune to either. Massey's aim was, of course, to close his opponent's practicable eye, and though he sacrificed himself frequently to gain this end, his tactics were in some measure successful. Unfortunately for him, his right arm was disabled after a few rounds, but, with his power of punishment and defence so restricted, he held his own. As is almost always the case during a protracted fight, it seemed now and then as though one or other would not be able to answer the call of time, but the skilled attention of the seconds enabled them to continue the contest. Middings was, after an hour's fighting, the stronger on his legs, but his solitary eye was fast closing, and he did not hit with the same strength as his opponent, whose damaged arm caused him great pain. Just after a fast-fought round, however, and while every one's attention was directed to the men, a posse of police appeared on the scene. A general stampede, of course, ensued; the mounted spectators galloped off across country, while the others made the best of their way, scattering in all directions. Massey and Middings were not in a condition to help themselves, and, as it was impossible to get them away, they were arrested, together with a number of others.
     The particulars relating to the appearance of the police were given in the afternoon at the Croydon Borough Police Court, when William Middings, described as a slater, of Murray-street, Hoxton; John Massey, a porter, of Neal-street, Long-acre; and nine other persons, were charged with being concerned together and unlawfully engaging in a prize fight that morning, in a field in the parish of Carshalton. A great amount of public interest was manifested in the proceedings, and the court was crowded. The prisoners above mentioned, whose faces were dreadfully disfigured, were described as the principals, the seconds being Daniel Morris and John Knifton. The police produced in court the stakes and ropes which had formed the ring, sponges, towels, a bottle of water, shirts, collars, &c, many of which were besmeared with blood. - The first witness called was Police-constable Thomas Shepherd, 95 W, who deposed that at half-past six that morning he was on duty a Carshalton and saw a large furniture van being driven on to Mr Jones's farm premises. Presently he saw the carman (Wood) in the road, and asked him what he was doing there with a van. He replied that he had brought a lot of new furniture down. Witness then met an attendant from Banstead Lunatic Asylum, who told him that there were fourteen to sixteen men going across the Downs. With that witness remarked to Police-constable Sutton, who was with him, that he suspected there was something wrong, and they walked in the direction of The Oaks together. Look- into a wood they saw a number of people near the corner of the Queen's-road. Witness heard somebody say, "What shall we do for referees?" He saw Middings there, and also Massey, Morris, and Knifton were inside a ring that had been formed. Some ropes had been produced from a sack. The first man that he noticed was George Baker. The ring was formed of ropes and sticks fixed in the ground. Somebody proposed that one of them should volunteer to act as referee. He did not hear what answer was given. There were between forty and fifty persons standing round. Witness next heard "Toss for corners." Upon that he sent Sutton for some assistance. Middings and Massey then began fighting, Morris and Knifton having stripped them of their upper garments. The two former were now inside the ring. They fought until a quarter-past eight - just an hour. Three other constables arrived with Sutton, and they all made a spring into the centre of the ring. A cry of "Police" was raised, and a general stampede ensued. Witness took Knifton into custody, and the other officers apprehended Middings, Massey, and Morris. - In reply to the magistrate, Middings said, "I am guilty, sir." - After some further evidence had been given by the police, and some statements volunteered by the four prisoners had been taken, Mr Edridge ordered a remand, and said he should require Middings, Massey, Morris, Knifton, and Wood to find bail in the sum of £50 each, and their own recognisances in £50; and the other prisoners would be released on their own bail, providing the police enquiries were satisfactory. They were all removed in custody.

Illustrated Police News, 11 October 1884



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