Charles Dickens Jr Writes on the Victorian Sport of Boxing

The age of Victorian boxers

Victorian Boxers

The following piece from ‘Dickens Jr  London Dictionary’  published 1879,  gives a fascinating insight to a popular sport in Victorian London, that of boxing. Boxing was a sport and entertainment enjoyed by many. The setting up of rules by the Marquess of Queensbury, set a standard that is still in place today and saw the demise of the bare fisted knuckle fights of earlier times.


“Boxing. Professional pugilism has died out, as much choked by the malpractices of its followers as strangled by public opinion; and the public-houses kept by such men as Ben Caunt, Nat Langham, or Jem Ward, are no longer among the attractions London life has to offer to the Corinthian Toms or Jerry Hawthorns of the day, whose manner of enjoying themselves would indeed somewhat astonish their prototypes.

The “noble art of self-defence” is not, however, altogether neglected, but finds its place among the athletic sports, and the clubs by which it is encouraged may be congratulated on keeping alive one of the oldest institutions, in the way of manly exercise, on record. Perhaps the two most important of these clubs are the Clapton Boxing Club with over 100 members, and the London Boxing Club; the former of which was originally started a couple of years ago among the oarsmen of the River Lea, the latter being an offshoot of the West London Rowing Club.

Boxing, it may be noted, has always been popular with rowing men as a capital exercise for keeping up some sort of condition during the winter months. The Clapton Boxing Club requires an entrance-fee of 5s.and an annual subscription of 5s. the election is by ballot at a general meeting, one black ball in five to exclude. The season is from October to March, and the practice-nights are Mondays and Thursdays, when a professional instructor attends. Valuable prizes are from time to time offered for competition among gentlemen amateurs. The head-quarters of the club are at the Swan Hotel, Upper Clapton, where the hon. Sec. may be addressed. With a, perhaps unconscious, touch of humour, the club has adopted scarlet as its distinctive colour—delicately suggestive of the “claret” which is occasionally ‘ tapped” at its meetings.

The members of the West London Boxing Club meet at the “Bedford Head,” Maiden-lane, Strand. Some few years ago the Marquis of Queensberry presented three handsome challenge cups for the encouragement of amateur boxers, and the light, middle, and heavy weights compete for these at Lillie-bridge once a year. The entrance fee is 10s. for each candidate, and the winners receive silver medals. There is the further inducement that if the prize be won three years in succession the holder will receive a handsome silver cup. The judging is in the hands of the committee of the Amateur Athletic Club, the secretary of which may be applied to for further information, and there is an important clause in the rules that the committee reserve the right of requiring a reference or of refusing an entry. The London Athletic Club and the German Gymnastic Society also have boxing clubs during the winter months.”

From Charles Dickens Junior book  ‘Dickens Dictionary of London – an unconventional book


Intriguing Connections:

    1. The Marquess of Queensbury was the elder brother of Lady Florence Dixie, author and feminist, she loved sport and surely would have attended boxing clubs, if she was allowed entry……….?
    • See our section on sports
    • Follow the lives of People and Personalities theme to catch up with interesting in sights to people such as Charles Dickens
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