Hello, I’m Sarah. Thank you for visiting my blog documenting ongoing research into Jack Wannop and his weird and wonderful wrestling and boxing circle in New Cross and Deptford (although we might occasionally venture further afield) in the late-Victorian period (and we might occasionally go into the 20th century a bit by a decade or so).
My first post on 22 February 2019 explains a little bit more about what this blog is for. Some information presented in that early article might have changed in the years since.
By day I am the Media and PR Manager for Tommy’s, the UK’s largest charity funding research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. Until recently I worked at Goldsmiths, University of London as a press officer, based in a new-build office built on top of the exact part of the New Cross road that once held a house lived in by Jack Wannop and family in the 1880s.
Press Officer-ing is a job I’ve done since 2010 for various higher education institutions, including Queen Mary, Brunel, Trinity Laban and Gresham College. In 2018 I realised I’d spent more than enough time promoting other people’s research and decided to work on my own too. Before all this I spent a little over seven years pulling pints. My CV also includes stints as PR and events volunteer at Barts Pathology Museum, co-organiser and occasional performer for nerd comedy nights Science Showoff and Books Showoff, and theatre critic for Stage Review.
A decade ago, I graduated from the University of East Anglia with a BA Politics and an MA International Relations and Asia-Pacific Studies, completing a dissertation on the failure of UN Resolution 1325 to protect women and children from sexual violence in war-zones. In December 2020 I finished an MA in History at Goldsmiths, taking classes in modern European genocides, the history of violence, historiography and research skills, with a dissertation on Jack Wannop and his boxing and wrestling gymnasiums. In 2019 I contributed toward this very cool Journal of Zoology paper on the history of ring-necked parakeets in the UK, and led on its publicity campaign.
My research into men punching each other to a bloody pulp began as a bit of light-hearted fun in between all the genocide stuff. Now the MA is finished I’m planning to turn this work into a group biography, weaving together Jack’s story with those of other boxers and wrestlers around at the same time who were ‘forgotten’ by pugilistic history. They include the south Londoners George Brown, Tom Thompson, Dick Leary and Walter ‘The Cross-Buttocker’ Armstrong, and east and central London’s Caribbean-born or black American fighters Ching Hook, Jack Davenport, Jack Watson, Charlie Bartlett, Alec Munroe and the Sisters Mills.
I live partly in Hither Green, south east London, and partly (mostly, tbh) on Twitter: @spookyjulie / @wrestling1880s
Before the pandemic I was extremely deep into an early-mid-30s crisis and started pro-wrestling training at EVE Academy and London School of Lucha Libre in Bethnal Green. I was never any good but do look pretty cool dressed up as a scary, masked, leather-clad, purple-haired, 6ft vigilante bat woman…
Enormous thanks to: Geoffrey Thurley and the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries for helping me find Jack; everyone at Goldsmiths who has either encouraged my project or provided inspiration for it, including Professor Tim Crook, Professor Les Back and Dr John Price; Dr Alice Jones Bartoli and Dr Ben Swift for their thoughtful and generous help; Tony, Danielle and Theresa of Wannop family fame, for your time and interest and the incredible photographs which made me cry; Myko Clelland at Findmypast for both initiating and enabling my obsession with random dead people; and my colleagues, friends, and family for putting up with it.
12 thoughts on “About the author”
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Firstly loved all the articles and background you’ve dug up and put together around the Wannop family.
I’m married to, if I have it right, the great grand daughter of John Wannop Jnr. With children of our own, Jack would be their great great great grandfather.
Excited and grateful to have these stories documented and to be able to share them with my kids.
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Hi Leon, so lovely to hear from you, thank you for commenting! This is awesome. One thing I hadn’t had a chance to do yet is try and trace some of Jack’s descendants (although I have had some chat with a lady related through the youngest Wannop daughter, Hilda, and recently had a message from a Tony Wannop, who I understand to be a great grandson) so it’s amazing when you guys pop up! I am so so desperate to find a good photo of Jack, beyond the action pics used in the 1889 book ‘Wrestling’. I know they were taken and when, and they must be in an attic somewhere, and can only hope perhaps through one of you guys we can one day find one 🙂 This week I am finishing off an MA dissertation on Jack and will shortly then be starting on my book (which is somewhat of a group biography but he will be the lead ‘character’) – can’t wait to share more with you!! – S.
I was so interested in your blog when I read about the Wannop Boys. I wonder if somehow I’m related to this family as my maiden name was Wannop. Both my grandfather and father were Thomas and my great-grandfather was Alfred. Its not a surname you hear often, if ever and I really enjoyed the stories about them. Thanks for sharing!!
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Hi Ellen, that is so interesting! There is a really amazingly detailed blog here about the Wannops of Cumbria, have you seen it? https://wannop.info/WAN/wannops-in-a-cumberland-and-northumberland-context/ it was very much a name from that region, and almost entirely farming families from what I’ve read. I suspect Jack would have moved down to London around the time there were crop failures in this area, even if it wasn’t his main motivation – lots of northern men did in the 1880s.
Thankfully for my research it was a very unusual name elsewhere and unheard of in London when Jack Wannop was here so makes him and his family much easier to find in records and news clippings amongst all the Jim Smiths and George Browns in town. If only my own family were so easy to find in the newspapers – my grandad’s side are Court. You just get endless court cases and blocks of flats called Such-and-Such Court, haha.
As far as I know, Jack’s son Thomas Wannop didn’t have any kids and he died so young, but his brother John had three who survived (plus two who died as babies, including an Alfred) and brother Joseph had four. It’s been really difficult to trace the girls’ – I know that Mary died as a newlywed and didn’t have children, and Rose reached her 90s but I think also no children.
One thing I’ve really struggled with is finding out about Jack’s parents and brothers and/or sisters and I’m lacking detail there from any sources like census records. I know he had a brother, Christopher, who went to America in 1884 and while early 1880s wrestling stories refer to both a brother Joseph Wannop and also a William Wannop all wrestling in London, I suspect there was some confusion and this may well have actually been Jack and Christopher rather than four wrestling Wannop brothers.
Have you tried to do a family tree on Ancestry or Find My Past at all?
Thanks so much for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed the blog/s! I’ll be starting work on my book soon, finally, which is a biography of Jack interspersed with shorter biographies of some of my other ‘characters’ 🙂
Fascinating stories. I have an ancestor Joseph Priestley (1855-1900) who was a south london boxer (probably not for a long period) but I’ve been unable to find anything about him except a passing reference in an Old Bailey case in November 1870 which tells us: he had fought against ‘Stack of Bermondsey New Road’ and ‘Pepper of Kent Street.’ (One weighed 12 stone, the other 10 stone and Joseph weighed 9 stone 10 pounds). He commented that he had never fought Wallace or Jerry Hurley. Does this all mean anything to anyone? Are we able to discover more about his boxing?
Hi Peggy, thanks so much for reading and getting in touch! Have you tried looking in the British Newspaper Archives? I don’t immediately recognise his name but I will have a browse and see what I can find this weekend. He would most likely have gone by Joe I’d imagine but many of these guys go under pseudonyms and strange nicknames so it can take some digging. Do you know which part of south London he might have lived in? A quick first glance shows me that around 1888 there was a Joe Priestly named as a ‘champion weight carrier’ whose music hall tricks involved lifting heavy things while balancing a bottle on his head! 🙂 He’s quite often at boxing events around Lambeth and Camberwell, could be the same guy… – S.
Hi Sarah. I have stumbled across your blog whilst searching the internet and I wanted to reach out as I think you might be ideal. My husband turns 40 this April and I want to get him something unique and special. Jack Randall, the boxer, is his ancestor. And having done a bit of reading online it seems he’s quite famous. Initially I was contemplating getting a framed picture of Jack, which I might still do, but seeing as he fought all over london, it’s got me wondering if it would be possible to do a personalised tour across the venues/locations where he once fought. It’s just an idea and one that might not work. We live in SW London ourselves. Appreciate this is very random but given your interest in the area, perhaps you could create a tour for him/us? And if the tour idea doesn’t work, then perhaps a collation of information pertaining to his ancestor? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts. Thank you.
Hi Katie, sorry for the slow reply! So lovely to hear from you. Jack Randall isn’t someone I’ve researched at all before but the name does ring a bell if we’re talking about the same guy – that would be the one born 1866 in Ireland (a lightweight known as the Irish Lad) and boxing in the 1880s and 90s. But there’s also a Jack Randall from the Georgian era who was born in 1794 and looks to have been well known, has a wiki page etc. Do you know which is the ancestor? There’s certainly lots to be found on the Victorian one in the British Newspaper Archive – I’m not sure if you’ve managed to access that and have a look at all but I’d be happy to collate info for you 🙂 – Sarah
Looking again at your message haha sorry – I imagine you’re probably talking about the Georgian Jack Randall who was much better known?! There’s lots to be found on him in the BNA but basically most things pre 1880s are out of my general expertise area if I’m honest. There is a historian I was studying my MA alongside who focuses on the Georgian era, specifically Jewish fighters, but he may well be knowledgable about Jack already or able to put together a little project perhaps, I’m not sure! His work on Mendoza is great: https://twitter.com/RobbyRoberto15 – Sarah.
Hi Sarah. Thanks so much for your reply. Yes, it’s the Georgian Jack Randall that I’m referring to. And I believe he was also called The Irish Lad. I know there is definitely a connection to Ireland and funnily enough the picture on the wiki page has a resemblance to my husband (it will be really awkward if I’ve got the wrong Jack Randall!). Thanks for your suggestion to contact Roberto, which I will do.
Sarah is there another way I can contact Roberto pls? I don’t have a twitter account and for some reason it’s not letting me sign up for one.