Monday, 4 April 2016

The Bristol Boys: The Bare Knuckle Champions and The Hatchet Inn

The Hatchet Inn on Frogmore Street in Bristol is all that remains of a row of seventeenth-century timbered houses dating back to 1606 – making it one of the city’s oldest pubs. It was substantially altered in the 1960s, and these days it stands on a traffic island. But at one time it boasted extensive grounds – and amongst the facilities on offer was a bare-knuckle boxing ring.

Plaque at The Hatchet Inn, Bristol

The pub’s connection with Bristol’s boxing heroes is commemorated in a plaque illustrating five of Bristol’s champions – one of whom, Hen Pearce, features in Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery.

Hen Pearce (Detail)

Bristol born Hen Pearce, The Game Chicken (17771809), a former butcher’s boy, became champion of England in 1805. He was a hero inside and outside the ring. In 1807 he climbed onto the roof of a building in Thomas Street, Bristol to rescue a servant girl from a fire. Always a popular figure, this courageous act inspired many eulogies in prose and verse. 

Tom Cribb (Detail)

Born in Hanham, near Bristol, Tom Cribb (1781–1848) also held the title champion of England. He is best known for his fight against Black American boxer Tom Molineux in 1810 – a fight which drew 20,000 spectators. Molineux had to fight in front of a racist mob and was cheated of victory when Cribb’s seconds accused him of holding lead weights in his hands, a delaying tactic which gave Cribb time to recover from a knock-down blow

Jem Belcher (Detail)

Jem Belcher (1781-1811), nicknamed the Napoleon of the Ring, was born in Bristol into a boxing family. His maternal grandfather was Jack Slack, and his brother-in-law was Bob Watson. Jem’s younger brother Tom was also a pugilist, as was his elder brother. It was also said that one of Jem’s sisters was a pugilist. Another England champion, Belcher was so popular people copied his dress style: he invented the Belcher scarf – royal blue dotted with large white spots with a smaller blue spot in the centre – which was worn by fashionable men and women.

Other boxers depicted are John Gulley (1783-1863) (top right), who succeeded to the title of English champion after Hen Pearce’s retirement due to ill health in 1805, although when he fought Hen in October that year he was actually defeated. Gulley was born in Wick, near Bristol, where his father ran The Crown inn. The family moved to Bath and his father became a butcher. Gulley went on to become a wealthy man who owned land and mines, and was elected Member of Parliament for Pontefract.

Finally, Ben Brain (1753–1794) (bottom left), was a collier. In 1790 he fought fellow Bristolian Bill Hooper in a fight that lasted for one hundred and eight rounds over three and a half hours – and at the end it was declared a draw!  It wasn’t even regarded as a very good fight.

Bow Street Runners and bare-knuckle fighters, radicals and pickpockets, resurrection men and blue stockings…Find out more about Dan Foster’s world at

Preview Bloodie Bones at 

Long listed for the M M Bennets Award for Historical Fiction 2016.

Find out more about the Hatchet Inn at