New Cross, London, might not be well-known as the ‘home’ of British wrestling or boxing, but back in the 1880s and ‘90s, hundreds – sometimes thousands – of people flocked to the area’s pubs and public halls to watch men (and the occasional woman!) punch and grapple for a cash prize, trophy, or moment of glory.
In 1881 Cumbrian carpenter Jack Wannop (1854 – 1923) and wife Miriam (1858 – 1948) settled with their growing family in New Cross, where they stayed until their deaths. Wannop founded the first New Cross Boxing Club in the early 1880s, claimed the unofficial ‘English championship’ wrestling title after an 1884 match in Deptford, and in 1888 made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic after journeying to Chicago to take on Evan ‘The Strangler’ Lewis.
As a wrestler Wannop had a remarkable impact on pioneering and popularising wrestling as a sport in London over the years before its early-1900s ‘golden age’. As a heavyweight boxer with a preference for the ‘old style’ – bare fist – he took on some of the era’s best known names (with mixed results!) and trained a generation of south east Londoners from his New Cross gymnasiums, all of which are long-demolished.
Despite being a pillar of the community in his day and, it could be claimed, a national sporting celebrity, Jack has spent the past 100 years in an unmarked grave at Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries.
Marking a century since Jack’s death I’m so excited to invite you to join me for a talk in the chapel close to his family’s burial plot. I’ll be talking about Jack’s life and career and that of three friends who share the cemetery with him – ‘the Herculean’ heavyweight wrestler and Greenwich publican George Brown, aka Wannop’s Big ‘un; boxer and wrestler Dick Leary; and bookie Warren ‘Dais’ Patte, who put up the money that made the action happen.
Reserve a seat now via eventbrite
Thank you to Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries for hosting this talk.
Expect tales of violence, tragedy, and donkey wrestling!
Please dress warmly for this event as we will be in a very old chapel, in February, in England.
Entry is free but donations toward the Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries are very welcome.
2pm Sunday 19 February 2023, Ladywell Cemetery Chapel, Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries, London
About me, the speaker:
Sarah Elizabeth Cox is a wrestling and boxing historian who specialises in the late-Victorian period in East and South East London. She is a recent graduate of the MA History at Goldsmiths, after completing a dissertation on Jack Wannop and his gymnasiums. By day Sarah is the PR Manager for pregnancy charity Tommy’s and by night she has contributed articles or research on Jack and his friends for the Lewisham Ledger, Who Do You Think You Are magazine, FOBLC, and the National Archives. She is currently working as an historical advisor on forthcoming Disney+ 1880s boxing drama A Thousand Blows.