‘I’ll shoot you in the eye with my fist.’ – A Biographical Sketch of the Gentlemen’s Instructor, John Plantagenet Green (Part II)

It’s in 1870 that Green’s so-called private life begins to appear in the press as often as his professional one.

In May 1870 Green was summoned to Hammersmith Police Court charged with assault. Under the headline “Can’t Help His Colour”, the West London Observer reports, with scant detail: 

“Plantagenet Green, a man of colour, of 1 Bradfield Terrace, Walham Green, was summoned for assaulting Timothy Mahoney. The complainant having stated his case. The defendant said the complainant first called him a black imposter. If he was black he could not help it. He never insulted him. Mr Dayman dismissed the summons.”

There’s nothing more to be found on this incident but it is one of several appearances for Green in the docks over the next decade following confrontations with other men.

Celebrated boxer Nat Langham – the man who had employed Green as an in-house boxer at his pub, the Cambrian Stores in the 1850s – died in 1871. Green was among attendees at his funeral, the service being “packed to excess” with the great and good of the London Prize Ring. Stephen Nathanial Langham, who was never champion “but deserved to be” according to the Morning Advertiser was buried close to ‘Gentleman’ John Jackson, English champion of the late 1790s. The Cambrian remained open on Castle Street, Leicester Square, under George Langham, advertising itself as the city’s “premier sporting house, the resort of the best and ablest professors of all sports, especially boxing”.

In March 1872 we find the middle-aged Green sparring with Bat Mullins at a grand assault at arms at the Royal Amphitheatre at High Holborn, the event proving such a success that it was repeated just three days later, with Green matched against Ned Donnelly. “Enthusiastically recalled… they bowed their acknowledgement to admirers”.

With some 20 years as a boxer under his belt, we can also find Green in 1872 boxing on several occasions at the Cambridge, Newman Street, Oxford Street, where a typical line-up at the time included Jem Mace and a chap called ‘Stiff-un of Norwich’ (!). Up against a T.Hogan at Christmas, Green was “all over his man in a rattling set-to with the gloves.”

Green may or may not have appeared at a benefit for the Music Hall Artists’ Protection Society in February 1873, The Era didn’t quite catch the name of all the boxers who exhibited, as some had stand-ins, but knew his name to have been on the programme. 

In July 1875 an inquest was held for the sad and strange death of a 17 year old by the name of John William Curtis, whose body had been pulled from the Thames by a lighterman rowing up to Fulham. Curtis was the son of a proprietor of oil and colour depots in the West End and the family were based in Walham Green, the same part of London as Plantagenet. 

Curtis was from a good family and had a respectable job as a clerk at a law firm, but had found cause to pawn his watch shortly before his death, receiving £2 for it. The following day he returned to the pawn shop with a gold chain and locket and received the same sum.

When his body – which is believed to have been in the water for six days – was pulled out and his clothes searched, Curtis’s pockets contained an empty purse, two pawn stubs, address cards for people named Jennings and Tavernor, three half-pence in money, a silk handkerchief, and… a benefit card for Mr Plantagenet Green. 

With the Coroner unable to determine exactly how or why Curtis had entered the water, the jury delivered an open verdict of “found drowned”. 

Why Curtis had a benefit card for Green in his possession I cannot determine although it doesn’t help that I’m not entirely sure what a benefit card was or was for during this time period. Information and suggestions are, as always, welcomed.

Green was still boxing at 50. During a night at the Cambridge in January 1877 he “appeared on the stage and showed he had not forgotten the skill that for so many years had been identified with his famous name”. His set-to with Professor George Flinn “was unusually good, had merited the applause it deservedly received,” according to the Sporting Chronicle.

Green’s home life that year did not sound as positive. In what can only be described as a gossip column, The Referee in August 1877 printed the following: 

“Plantagenet Green, the black fighting man, had an offspring by a woman and brought it home to his wife; then he had another offspring and brought that home to his wife; then his wife ran away. She was evidently afraid she had dropped into a berth where families are too liberally supplied.”

The increasingly complex situation between Green and his wife reached a number of regional papers in the summer of 1877. As reported under the headline “The Two Professors”, the situation was thus:

“Plantagenet Green, a man of colour, described as a teacher of boxing, appeared at the Hammersmith Police Court to answer a summons for abusing and threatening Mr William Ridley, a professor of music residing in Moore Park, Fulham. Mr Waring defended. The complainant said the defendant was in the habit of annoying him.

“On the evening of 15th August he came to his house, called him a religious humbug and threatened to blow his brains out with a pistol. The defendant had had a black child with one woman, and a white child by another, and on his taking them home his wife ran away.

“In cross-examination, the witness said the defendant’s wife ran into his house at 10 o’clock at night for shelter. Mr Waring asked the witness whether this woman had not run away with his son? Witness replied in the negative. His son was a pianist and travelled with a dramatic company. He was away when the woman left her husband… the woman never took lessons in the witness’s house. He also complained of the defendant knocking on his door.”

Green’s lawyer said that he could prove Green’s wife was having an affair with Mr Ridley’s son as they’d been seen together (it was also pointed out by the judge that door knockers are put up to be knocked!), with Ridley’s lawyer arguing that even if it were so, a man’s wife having an affair doesn’t give the man the right to abuse the other man’s father. 

Mr Waring denied that Green had threatened Ridley, arguing that he had simply visited his home to enquire after his wife. One witness said that Green actually “threatened to shoot Ridley in the eye with his fist” while another backed up the claim that he regularly saw Ridley’s son and Green’s wife together. 

The Judge, Mr Woolrych determined that whatever grievance Green had, it did not give him the right to invade Ridley’s home. An Inspector Hull, who had known Green some 20 years, gave him a good character statement, and Green was sentenced to 14 days imprisonment or a fine.

The 1880s: Another threat to smash a man’s skull in

The 1880s arrived with little sign of Plantagenet Green, but he was definitely still in the land of living as in March 1883 we find him listed among men, including Bob Travers, attending a benefit for boxer George Gregg at the Phoenix, Stacey Street, in Soho. Whether or not he donned the mittens isn’t clear.

A year later, difficulties with his wife (the same one or a successor, I’m not sure) returned. Green, who was at this point may or may not have been around 57 years of age, was described as “formerly a pugilist” by Reynolds’s Newspaper and the London Weekly Dispatch when he was summoned to court in Westminster for threatening a man named John Carmichael and causing Carmichael to believe he would be physically harmed.

Carmichael, a draper based at 43 Montpelier Square, Brompton, said that on the evening of 12 March, Green had excitedly rushed into his shop and accused him of keeping Green’s wife from her home and of cohabiting with her. Reynolds’s continues:

“He threatened to smash the witnesses’s face in, and raised his fists in a threatening manner. He knew nothing whatsoever of the defendant’s wife, did not know her even by sight, and had never seen her to the best of his knowledge.”

To much laughter in the court room, the magistrate asked Carmichael if he even knew whether Green’s wife was white or black. 

John Greasie, Carmichael’s business partner, said that Green had rallied some 50 people outside the door of the drapery and kept yelling “Where is my wife?” and “threatening to smash Carmichael’s b—- skull in”.

It emerged that Green had been annoying the pair for three years, regularly entering the shop and creating a disturbance. Green said that both Carmichael and his porter knew his wife “well” and they were “tallymen” (who sold things on credit or instalment plans) and so he’d forbidden her from visiting the store. Green, who told the judge that he still managed a boxing gymnasium, was told he would have to find a surety of £5 to keep the piece for six months or face time in prison. He chose the latter as, according to Reynolds’s, he did not have the money available.

The 1890s: Remembered as clever, first-rate, and a dandy 

In 1889 a column in The Referee about Peter Jackson which references numerous black boxers from British pugilistic history mentions Plantagenet Green as a name “most familiar until recently” in the West End of London, but does not observe whether he was still alive. A few months later, the Sporting Life in an article on George Dixon also discussed the tradition of impressive black fighters in England:

“For have we not had Tom Molyneaux, Bill Smith, Jemmy Robinson, the ebony phenomenon, George Robinson, Plantagenet Green, that sterling bit of stuff, Bob Travers, who is still amongst us, and many others.”

With Travers noted as still living but it being unclear in his friend Green’s case, it might be supposed that he Green may have died at some point between 1885 and 1890 but I’m yet to find an obvious report or obituary to support it. 

Another brief history of black British boxers in Boxing World, 1890, again observes Travers’ mortality but does not make clear Green’s status. 

An 1898 Boxing World feature on the arrival of black lightweight Andy Watson of Boston clearly describes Green as “the late Plantagenet Green of prize ring fame” in an unnecessary reference to Watson’s darker skin tone being similar to that of Green’s. 

Plantagenet Green’s name lived on among the boxing nostalgia columns popular in the first decades of the 20th century. His reputation as a boxer endured, with the Sporting Life recalling in 1915 that Green was good, but “never in the same class” as Bob Travers. He was, however, a “clever and first-rate instructor… though inclined to punish his pupils more than all of them cared for”. 

Columnist Pollos in his reminiscences of “sport and bohemia in the 70s” also described him as a dandy with a preference for white women. I’ll give Pollos the final word:

“The last time I saw him was years and years ago when he boarded a bus on which I was seated in the Fulham Road and took the opportunity of presenting me with his card. He said that he owned a house in the vicinity, and very likely it was the case, for he appeared to be fairly prosperous and, at all events, I’m sure Solomon in all his glory never aspired to such a waistcoat as he had on. Its memory haunts me still, though I haven’t the least idea as to what has become of its wearer.”

2 thoughts on “‘I’ll shoot you in the eye with my fist.’ – A Biographical Sketch of the Gentlemen’s Instructor, John Plantagenet Green (Part II)

  1. A possible match:
    6 Bradfield Terrace 1871 census:
    Edward Green aged 33, Occupation: ‘Cook on Ship’, Place of birth: Barbados, W. Indies, and
    Harriett P Green, wife aged 23, Place of birth: Laughton, Sussex.
    (Ancestry transcribed Harriet as Daniel, no surprise given the enumerator’s handwriting.)
    Household schedule number: 104, Piece: 70, Folio: 38, Page number: 18


    1. Now updated the blog – huge thanks again Bill. The only slight oddity is that a newspaper gave his address in 1870 as 1 Bradfield Terrace rather than 6 but I think it’s common sense to suggest this was a reporting error or he’d simply moved next door – the chances of two black men called Green within a couple of doors of each other being rather remote! Hey… unless he was a brother… 🙂

      The 1871 census is certainly the worst I’ve had to use for anything to date when it comes to handwriting!

      I’ll do a bit more digging this week now we know this info and see if I can get more on possible date of death, especially, and try and get some clarity on his actual DOB too… -S.

      Liked by 1 person

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