Clark Street Boxing Match, 1909

Heavy penalties were dished out in Hamilton Sheriff Court to several individuals at the end of April 1909, after they set up and participated in an illegal outdoor boxing event Blantyre.

Standing in court was Daniel McGoldrick of Airdrie, John Boyle of Burnbank, Thomas Maxwell of Hamilton, Joseph Smith of High Blantyre and Thomas Connelly of Burnbank. The charge was that on Saturday, 27th March 1909, these 5 miners had illegally erected a tent on a vacant piece of ground in Clark Street, Low Blantyre and set up their own boxing tournament, resulting in large attendances which had descended into riotous and disorder to the concern of authorities.

All were present in court except Blantyre man Joseph Smith who lived at School Lane, High Blantyre. He didn’t turn up in court and as such a warrant for his arrest went out as the proceedings unfolded. The others gave a plea of “not guilty” and were represented by Mr. J.B Ritchie, a solicitor.

Standing in court on the last Thursday of April that year, Sergeant Buchanan of Blantyre’s new police station said that he had seen an advert in a local paper advertising an exciting 15 round boxing tournament between local towns in “Connoly’s Pavilion” and had wondered where that was in Blantyre. The advert went on to describe the main event would be a fight between McGoldrick and Boyle and out of curiosity, he found himself visiting Clark Street where he soon observed the temporary tent and amassing crowds.

Connolly was acting as manager and referee with Smith and Maxwell as seconds and there was easily 100 spectators by the time the sergeant had arrived. However, the boxing march was abruptly terminated in only the fourth round when Boyle, defeated was knocked to the ground. Controversy ensued as Boyle tired to get up and was knocked back down whilst rising by some heavy blows from McGoldrick to his head, body and face. A considerable section of the audience swore, shouted and became angry at the lack of refereeing skill and cheating which was taking place in front of their eyes. Many of the spectators were intoxicated, making for a real “boiling pot of tempers”.

Fighting broke out in the crowd as the boxing match ended, serious fights which lasted for a good 15 minutes. That in itself drawing more people from Glasgow Road to observe the commotion. It was at this time that the Police Sergeant sent for his colleagues to restore order.

In court, witnesses were called. Up stepped John Richardson, a merchant dealer from Glasgow Road who had stepped away from his business to watch the boxing march. He confirmed the crowd had been fighting though had taken no part. He described how Boyle was being punched, whilst still lying on the ring floor. David McNab, a Blantyre miner and W. McWilliam, a butcher on Glasgow Road gave similar evidence.

For the defence, it was stated that the boxing march was not illegal and had been properly conducted, with advertisement in advance put into the papers. The rules were the Queensberry rules, which some spectators may not have been familiar with.

Up next were the men accused. Boyle explained that he and McGoldrick were actually the best of friends and that with the crowd cheering, McGoldrick had simply not heard the round “time” being called and had continued to fight. Thomas Connolly maintained the fight was a perfectly fair contest and that his colleague Smith had not turned up to court, believing no wrong doing had been done at all by organisers or contenders. Furthermore, the purse on the day a lofty £2, 8 s (£300 in today’s money) had been split equally between the fighters.

The court upheld that the boxing match was fairly advertised and that the Queensberry rules had been noted in that advert. However, it was recognised that the men’s activities had led to a serious breach of the peace. The men contested that was by others in the crowd, not them. However, the judge maintained that their actions had led to the breach and decided to make an example of them. Fines of £5 each or 21 days imprisonment were offered. No time was permitted to pay up the fine. Only Boyle had the means to pay, which he did. The others all went to prison for 3 weeks.

What of Joseph Smith of High Blantyre? His warrant caught up on him later that day and he was given the same sentence, ending up in prison for 21 days.

The location of this event was at end of Clark Street, which today would be in the back car park of Devlin Grove, just off Glasgow Road. Looking back on this story, I can’t help but feel prison for 3 weeks was harsh and that perhaps the police should have made more of an effort in apprehending those actually doing the fighting in the crowd.

Picture: NOT Blantyre. For illustration only.

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