Meet Mr Bettinson - Hall of Fame inductee, 2011

When the inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) for 2011 were announced in December 2010, few would have looked beyond the inclusion of popular figures Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez Snr, Kostya Tszyu, Sylvester Stallone or even Sir Harry Carpenter.
However, the class of 2011 warrants closer inspection because included among this year's inductees is Arthur Frederick Peggy Bettinson (1862-1926), a man who was a key figure in the development of boxing during the later part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
Peggy (as he was commonly known) was co-founder, with John Fleming, of the National Sporting Club in Covent Garden, which played an important role during the transitionfrom bare-knuckle boxing under London Prize Ring rules to gloved boxing under Queensbury rules.
Peggy was born on 10 March 1862 at 8 Edward Street in Marylebone, London to a working class family his father, John George Bettinson, was a general labourer, builder and joiner. The younger Bettinson served his professional apprenticeship as an upholsterer. From this humble background, Peggy emerged to become one of the most important characters in British boxing.
Arthur Bettinson was an athletic man who participated in several sports; he was an exceptional swimmer, he played top-level rugby and played cricket. As a swimmer, he competed in sprint racing as well as long distance races. He was a regular competitor in the Annual 100 yard Amateur Championships held at the Lambeth Baths finishing 3rd in 1879 and runner up in 1883 losing to W. Blew Jones (Otter Sporting Club). In 1881, he finished fifth in the event; a race that his brother won.He also regularly competed in the Long Distance Swimming Championships a race along the River Thames, between Putney and Charing Cross. His best showing was in July 1881, when he finished second to W. R. Richardson from Dublin, completing the five and three-quarter mile distance in a respectable one hour and 22 minutes and 10 seconds.
However, his main passion was boxing. He participated in the inaugural Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) finals that took place in London in 1881, entering the tournament as a middleweight on behalf of the German Gymnastic Society. There were only four weight classes during the early years bantamweight (up to 9 stone), lightweight (up to 10 stone), middleweight (up to 11 stone 4 lbs) and heavyweight (over 11 stone 4 lbs). Bettinson easily won his first bout against Mr F. Skeate of West London Boxing Club, but lost in the semi-final to the eventual winner, William Brown of Birmingham Amateur Boxing Club. Not to be denied, Bettinson entered the tournament again the following year, this time competing at lightweight (he had entered the previous year's tournament at both middleweight and lightweight, but withdrew from the lightweight competition in order to compete at middleweight). Peggy won the lightweight title by beating W. Shillcock (Birmingham ABC) in the final. His path to the final included wins over Mr T Griffiths (Cestus ABC) in the first series and Mr H J Howlett (London) in the semi-final.
Not only did he compete as an amateur boxer, he was also keen to show off the finer points of boxing by taking part in several exhibition bouts between 1882 and 1891. As impressive as his amateur boxing record is, his place in the IBHOF is not the result of his fistic prowess, but of his leadership in the advancement of boxing from lawless and chaotic bare-knuckle fighting to the respectable gloved boxing governed by rules and regulations that we know today. His platform for this important transition was the National Sporting Club which he co-founded with John Fleming, the former matchmaker and manager of the Pelican Club.
The Pelican Club existed between 1887 and 1892 and was the fore-runner to the National Sporting Club. It was run by Ernest Wells, otherwise known as 'Swears' and provided, first and foremost, a gambling establishment for the aristocracy and gentry. Its members were devoted to wagering on bare-knuckle contests, which were illegal in England. In 1889, one such bout was arranged by the Pelican Club and took place in Bruges in Belgium between the Australian Frank Slavin and the British fighter, Jem Smith. Smith was backed heavily by the British contingent that followed the two fighters and their entourage to the continent. However, due to the way bets were wagered, many had put money on Smith not to lose . During the course of the fight, it was obvious that Slavin was the superior fighter. Once the crowd sensed that Smith was on the brink of losing, which would have meant losing their bets, they stormed the ring. During the ensuing mayhem, Slavin ran for his life and the fight was declared a draw thus ensuring that the backers of the local fighter returned home with their stakes.
The scandal affected the Pelican club negatively. John Fleming, the manager of Smith and the promoter of the fight was made a scapegoat and suspended from the club pending further investigation. Despite reinstating Fleming as manager of the club soon after, the writing was on the wall for the disgraced establishment. To add to their woes, an injunction was imposed on the premises of the club forbidding it from holding boxing contests at the Gerrard Street venue following complaints by locals.
Sensing the end, John Fleming and Peggy Bettinson, entertained the idea of setting up a new club. Learning from the mistakes of the Pelican Club, they planned to promote bouts at the new club based on a set of rules that encouraged fair play and good sportsmanship. In order to give the club credibility, the man that represented both of these elements, Hugh Cecil Lowther, the Fifth Earl of Lonsdale, was asked to be the president of the new club which he accepted.
On 5 March 1891, the National Sporting Club opened its doors to its Covent Garden establishment for the first time and a new era in British boxing began. Before 1891, when the National Sporting Club was founded, professional prize-fighting was illegal in England. After 1929, when the club closed its doors, professional boxing was part of the fabric of British culture governed by the British Boxing Board of Control, which provided the sport with rules and respectability that made it an acceptable and well-supported pastime. The club clientele was made up mostly of middle-class men who wanted to spend their hard-earned money in a respectable establishment that offered entertainment and gambling.
Fleming and Bettinson ran the club with an iron fist there was silence during the bouts; each bout adhered to the rules named after the Marquis of Queensbury, which stipulated three-minute rounds separated by a minute of rest and the wearing of four ounce padded gloves; the number of rounds was limited to a maximum of 20 and each was to be refereed by one of its respected referees (John Bernard Angle, George Vize and John H Douglas). Fleming, Bettinson, Angle and Douglas ruled with absolute power and all bouts that took place at the NSC adhered to their strict rules. Because the NSC was one of the few places in London where bouts were allowed, the board established control over boxing in London.
A large number of fights in England's capital were promoted by Bettinson and held at the Covent Garden premises. Bettinson was promoted to manager of the Club, following the sudden death of co-founder John Fleming in November 1897 (he was found dead in a toilet cubicle at the London Club with a book about fairies by his side), which led to him becoming a key player in a series of events that took place at the turn of the twentieth century that had a significant impact on the future of boxing in England.
The first of these events occurred in December 1897. As an act of respect to Fleming, all bouts at the club were postponed until 6 December of that year. Among the first bouts to take place following the reopening of the club, and the subsequent reinstatement of contests, was a match between Chicagoan Jimmy Barry and the local fighter Walter Croot from Leytonstone. Croot was knocked out in the 20th round of the bout and died at Charing Cross hospital the next day as a result of injuries sustained in the contest. Arthur Bettinson's first significant task as manager of the National Sporting Club was to appear in court to defend himself and the club against charges of the unlawful killing of the young fighter. After giving evidence on the safety and fairness of the bout based on the rules implemented at the club, Bettinson and his co-defendants, Bernard Angle (the referee of the bout), Richard Smith (timekeeper) and Barry were cleared of any blame in the death of Walter Croot. The judges returned the verdict of accidental death.
However, almost a year later, in November 1898, tragedy struck the National Sporting Club again when Tom Turner of Holbon died following his 13th round defeat at the hands of Nat Smith from Paddington. Bettinson, along with house seconds George 'Barney' Sheppard and Arthur Gutteridge, referees Eugene Corri and Bernard Angle and Smith turned themselves into the authorities. However, this time, after hearing the evidence, the men were not acquitted but were sent for trial at the Old Bailey charged with culpable manslaughter. Following the trial, in which Peggy gave evidence, the Grand Jury cleared all the defendants and threw out the bill.
For the second time in as many years, boxing at the NSC had been saved.
Incredibly, Bettinson found himself in court again in January 1900 defending the credibility of his club and boxing following the fatality of another fighter, Scotsman Mike Riley. Riley had retired at the end of the 9th round in his bout with Matt Precious from Birmingham and collapsed in the ring. He died the following day. As before, Bettinson wasted no time in presenting himself to the authorities along with the referee Bernard Angle, timekeeper Richard Smith, Precious's seconds - William Gee and Harry Jarvis and Riley's seconds John Boyle, Walter Eyles and John McShane. The men were charged with manslaughter and bailed for 50 each. The men were committed to trial in front of the Grand Jury at the Old Bailey. However, for the third time Bettinson, along with his co-defendants, were cleared of all charges relating to the death of Riley and were released.
In April 1901, the National Sporting Club and the sport of boxing reached a critical turning point when the club officials were hauled before the courts for the fourth time following yet another fatality. Murray Livingstone from London, who went by the name of Billy Smith, was knocked out in the 8th round of his bout with fellow Londoner Jack Roberts. Livingstone died just two days later from the injuries sustained at the end of the bout. Bettinson once again walked the short distance to the courts and handed himself in this had become all too familiar to the manager of the sporting club. As in previous years, he was accompanied by fellow club members and representatives of the fighters (referees John Herbert Douglas and Eugene Corri, along with Arthur Gutteridge, Arthur Lock, William Chester, Bill Baxter, Ben Jordan and Harry Greenfield). The men were charged with feloniously killing and slaying Murray Livingstone. This time, bail was set at 100 for each defendant. During the trial, the prosecution changed tactics from the previous court cases by laying blame of the death on the sport of boxing rather than due to the action of the individuals. This was a concerted attempt to outlaw boxing within England. Bettinson and, in particular, Douglas, faced tough questions from the prosecution who were aiming to discredit the rules by which bouts were fought at the NSC. Bettinson was therefore not only defending the NSC, but the very sport he was passionate about.
Following the original trial in May 1901, the jury were unable to reach a verdict and so the men were sent for a retrial in July 1901. The safety of boxing and the rules following a knockdown came under close scrutiny. The men were accused of organising and participating in a prizefight to the finish based on the assumption that if a fighter were losing the bout on points, he has it in his power to win the bout by knocking out his opponent. Under these rules, it was considered a fight to the finish which was illegal. However, the jury took only two minutes to return the verdict the defendants were not guilty of causing the death of Murray Livingstone. Finally, boxing, although not strictly legal, was allowed to continue unabated under the rules as defined by the NSC.
The importance of this judicial victory is significant. If the men had been found guilty, boxing under the Queensbury rules would have been outlawed in England in the same way that bare-knuckle fighting was outlawed. However, the victory opened the doors for other clubs to put on boxing shows without the risk of persecution by the courts. As a result, boxing began to flourish in clubs up and down the country. As the sport became more popular, the strong grip, the NSC and Bettinson held over the sport began to wane. In particular, with the increase in the popularity and the availability of venues, more and more promoters were able to compete with Bettinson and the Covent Garden Club to host bouts.
So, in 1909, the National Sporting Club introduced a championship belt. The belt was sponsored by the President of the club, Lord Lonsdale, who gave his name to it. The idea of the belt was to allow fighters to challenge for the prestigious reward instead of challenging purely for financial gain. The NSC was in danger of losing fighters to financially more rewarding promotions, such as those run by Australian Promoter Hugh D McKintosh, who had promoted the Heavyweight Championship fight between Jack Johnson and Tommy Burns in December 1908. Initially, seven belts were created, one for each of the weight classes recognised by the club heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, lightweight, featherweight, bantamweight and flyweight (the light-heavyweight belt was added in 1914). If a fighter won three championship contests, he would be allowed to keep the trophy and would receive a pension of 50 per year for the rest of his life upon reaching 50 years of age.
The Lonsdale Belt has become one of the most widely recognised championship belts in the world. Originally made by London Jewellers Mappin Webb at their Birmingham workshop, the belts were made of 9 carat gold with an enamel centre panel showing two fighters. The belt has changed little in appearance over the years although the centre panel now shows a hand-painted portrait of Lord Lonsdale. It is a coveted belt in the UK as much for its historical prestige as its symbolism of a national title.
One subject that was close to Bettinson's heart was the harm that commercialism was having on boxing. As manager of the NSC and matchmaker, Peggy's role was to negotiate payment awarded to fighters for boxing at the Club. He often found that boxer's came with their own 'terms' for fighting which, on many occasions, made the pugilist unaffordable at the club. The limitation in the size of the purses that could be awarded at the NSC was mainly due to the size of the venue that restricted attendance to a small number of paying customers making it difficult to raise the necessary funds. To counter this, the NSC acquired Holland Park Skating Rink a larger venue that allowed more paying customers to attend the fights. This also allowed Peggy some financial freedom to compete with contemporary promoters in order to secure the services of higher earning boxers as well as return a healthy profit for the Club.
However, Peggy believed that the commercialism of boxing was ruining the sport and, although he would pay the boxer's value, he would not bow toover-inflated purses demanded by boxers of moderate ability just because they were fortunate enough to hold a title. As a result, the Holland Park scheme was doomed to failure. One famous example of Bettinson's stubborn approach to negotiating deals was when Jack Johnson who was chasing Heavyweight Champion Tommy Burns for a title fight agreed to fight Sam Langford at the NSC if we were to become champion. However, once Johnson beat Burns in December 1908 to become World Heavyweight Champion, he refused to fight at the NSC claiming that the money on offer was too little. Bettinson refused to offer Johnson anything near the amount he was demanding. The fight between Langford and Johnson never took place.
Bettinson very rarely ventured out of the capital but in December 1910, he travelled to Cardiff to referee the bout between Jim Driscoll and Freddie Welsh. The bout was an ill-tempered affair and both men were warned by Peggy for fouling. Eventually, in the tenth round, Driscoll, despite being ahead on points, was disqualified for butting. Perhaps conscious of the Slavin versus Smith bout that discredited the Pelican Club many years earlier, Bettinson was in no doubt that his action was fair and above board. Nevertheless, the bout left a nasty taste in the mouth and Peggy was keen to draw a veil over the sorry affair. Peggy was a very stubborn and self-opinionated individual and was described as having 'dictatorial ways . However, he had a more pleasant side to him as well being very benevolent, particularly during times of national crisis.
During the First World War, Peggy and the members of the National Sporting Club helped to raise a lot of money for the war effort, including the incredible amount of 250,000 to create and support the Sporting Ambulance Fund which provided ambulances to the front line. The National Sporting Club also held the annual Bettinson Benefit night in January of each year which put on boxing bouts for the purpose of raising funds for a number of benefactors. Bettinson ensured that the club became the home of recreation and charity .
Despite the ongoing war and increased risk of arial bombardment from enemy airships, Bettinson continued to promote shows at the club. Heencouraged servicemen to attend bouts and believed that the inclusion of boxing as a vital part of military training was instrumental in the exponential growth in the sport during and immediately after the war. However, despite the increasing number of active boxers, Bettinson was rather vocal on the relative lack of quality of contemporary boxers, compared to the pre-war years. Peggy was a boxing purist who believed that a fighter should possess the tools to fight hard and smart using their fists, footwork and boxing skills. His ideal image of a fighter was Jem Mace, the bare-knuckle champion who he regarded as the most scientific boxer to have fought. To him, all contemporary boxers learned their skills indirectly from the great British bare-knuckle fighter. Mace had travelled to Australia where he taught Larry Foley, a local boxer and trainer, the skills that he had employed as a fighter. Foley passed these skills on to Peter Jackson and Bob Fitzsimmons who both ended up in San Francisco where they worked closely with James J. Corbett. Corbett was regarded as a very scientific boxer, who used his skills to outwit and defeat the great John L. Sullivan to become the first ever heavyweight world champion under Queensbury rules. As a result of his famous victory, Corbett's skills were revered and imitated across the world. Bettinson felt that the best of modern boxing was a very British phenomenon that had originated from the skills of Jem Mace.
However, in Peggy's opinion, non-British elements had crept into the sport. He believed that boxing had become too defensive in nature and disliked the clinching and 'smothering' that many fighters, particularly from the USA, adopted. His criticism also extended to the propensity of boxers to neglect their boxing skills in training in favour of developing stamina and strength, thus rendering fights a battle of endurance rather than of boxing ability. Although he did not condone the use of bare knuckles in prize fights, he was not averse to boxers sparring with bare fists during training in order to learn the basics required for fighting (such as making a proper fist and not slapping, hitting accurately, not clinching, and so on).
Peggy Bettinson was married twice, firstly to Florence Olivia Cecilia Mallet on 10 August 1890 and then to a lady called Harriet Kate Flint on 14 April 1919 who he married less than two weeks after the death of his first wife. He fathered two sons, Lionel and Gerald.
During the last few weeks of his life, Bettinson had been on a sea journey accompanied by journalist and author Norman Clark. During the trip Peggy became very ill having suffered an angina attack. He spent about a month in hospital before heading to Florence and then to Verona, in Italy. Unfortunately, he suffered another heart attack and so he returned to England with his son, Gerald, by his side.
Bettinson died on Christmas Eve 1926 at his home in Hampstead. He was 64 years old. The National Sporting Club was already in decline when Peggy died, mainly due to the proliferation of other clubs promoting championship bouts around the country. The NSC could no longer guarantee its dominant position in promoting bouts and, therefore, was no longer in the position to play an authoritative role in the running of the sport in Britain. In 1918, in order to separate the promotional side of the Club and its role as the sport's governing body, the NSC announced a new organisation to serve as the sole regulator of professional boxing in Britain; and so the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) was formed adopting Lord Lonsdale as its president.
Initially, the new Board, which was run from the Covent Garden offices of the NSC, was plagued by problems caused by the close association of the NSC and the Board. This led to a number of promoters distrusting the BBBC who believed it was only serving the interests of the NSC. However in 1929, the BBBC was restructured and all promoters, managers, referees and boxers were encouraged to take out licenses. Bettinson's legacy of establishing an organisation to have boxing done under the best possible auspices for the edification and entertainment of the boxing public was now complete.
Arthur Peggy Bettinson has earned his rightful place in the IBHOF. He played an important role in the acceptance of boxing as a legal pastime leading Guy Deghy, author of Noble and Manly to write of Bettinson, No one man has ever had such a strong claim to a profession's gratitude as 'Peggy' has to that of the boxing community.

12/31/2011

 
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