“Boys, I’m with you”

I’m still working on my first article about wrestling journalist Walter ‘The Cross-Buttocker’ Armstrong but in the mean time wanted to share a write-up from The Sporting Life‘s 2nd December 1897 issue. Easier-to-read extracts are copied out at the bottom of this post.

It’s really rather heart-warming (unless you’re “flannel-belly” Harry Oliver!), and just one of many pieces illustrating the real comradeship, friendship and close-knit network forged by Jack Wannop and the young men of south east London. These charity boxing and wrestling benefits were held regularly at Wannop’s gym or nearby public halls to raise money (and morale), either to support each other or for the widows of lost friends.

Walter Armstrong’s writing style was fairly unique, and often quite hilarious, so while this piece doesn’t have a byline I can make an educated guess on the author.

The venue, Amersham Hall, was often rented out for wrestling and boxing at the time and seated around 500 spectators. Various clues from local newspapers indicate that it stood on the corner of Amersham Vale and New Cross Road, opposite one of the New Cross railway station platforms, so most likely on the plot now occupied by a PDSA veterinary clinic.

Almost every New Cross building identified through my research as a public entertainment and athletics venue has now been demolished but it’s a lot of fun, and hopefully of value, to find and ‘rebuild’ them through this project. Wait until I get started on the New Cross Public Hall. There are lions involved.

Thomas Thompson died in 1906 at the age of 37, having been “ailing for some time” and he’s buried in what is now Old Camberwell Cemetery. I know roughly where he is but don’t know yet whether he has a headstone – busy weekends and poor weather have prevented me visiting but I’m hoping to soon.

BENEFIT TO “CURLEY” THOMPSON, OF NEW CROSS, AT THE AMERSHAM HALL

Tom Thompson, educated in the science of boxing and wrestling by the astute Jack Wannop, happened to break his leg in two places on Derby Day last, and was tendered a benefit last Monday night at the Amersham Hall, New Cross.

“Curley,” as his intimates denominate him, was billed to do battle with the irrepressible Dais Patte as a final wind-up. But just when this great set-to was looming in the big future, Tompson broke the other leg, we presume in order to match the one already in the splints. The consequence was that the “Curly” one was not present.

His brother Jim, however, managed the business of the evening to perfection, aided by Mr Walter Lombarto, who officiated as MC. The well-appointed hall was crowded to excess, and the utmost enthusiasm and goodwill anent the disabled hero of the evening prevailed…

…It is impossible in a brief and hurried notice to mention a tithe of those present bent on assisting good old “Curley” now down on his beam ends, and snugly tucked in between the blankets.

Game to the last, Thompson sent word to the “boys.” “I’m with you.”

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