Jerry Noon, Victorian Pugilist
Part Two: Life and Career

AUTHOR: KAREN ELLIS-REES

PUBLISHED: 2 APRIL 2024

Jerry Noon and The Young Greek. Famous Fights, Past and Present 1901.

Round One

Jerry was born in St Andrew’s Parish in Holborn. His parents, Margaret and Cornelius Cullinane, had emigrated from Ireland. He had at least two siblings, and we know that one was called Cornelius and another Lawrence.

His date of birth is uncertain: records suggest anything from 1824 to 1830. The 1851 census suggests that he would have been forty-one on his death in 1871 but his burial record states he was forty-three. On the other hand his final hospital records say that he was forty-six when he died in August, giving a birth date between August 1824 and August 1825, and since Jerry is likely to have provided information for his medical history himself, we have reason to regard it as a more reliable source for the year of his birth than either the census or the burial record.

In the 1841 census a teenager by the name of Jeremiah lived in Magpie Alley in Whitefriars — south of Fleet Street in the City of London — with his parents and two brothers. The family are listed under the surname Calvin. The father, Cornelius, worked as a tun-man at Calvert’s Brewery, which had originally been the Hour Glass Brewery, at 89 Upper Thames Street, and obituaries suggest that Jerry may have worked there alongside his father. Another employment appears to have been as a machine boy for the printers Messrs Spottiswoode.

Blow by blow

Outside his day job Jerry began to make a name for himself in the world of the pugilism. His earliest reported public match was against Mike Larkins in February 1849. Larkins, a Covent Garden porter, was held to a draw by the young tyro, even though he was more experienced. Jerry must have been a challenging opponent as Larkins declined the usual rematch.

Jerry was by now associated with the Burn family’s sparring saloon, which was attached to the Rising Sun public house in Air Street in Soho. The landlords, Ben and John Burn, were respectively the uncle and brother of a well-known prize fighter, Jem Burn. Their pub was known as the headquarters of the London ‘fancy’, that is to say the fans or enthusiasts of boxing who bet enormous sums on the outcome of matches. Jerry worked as an assistant in the sparring gym alongside another boxer, whose name was McCormick.

Mr Jackson’s boxing rooms in Bond Street. Robert and George Cruikshank / Pierce Egan Tom and Jerry: Life in London 1881.

The Young Greek

On 26 June 1849 Jerry’s first ‘big’ match took place on Woking Common in Surrey for £25 a side. His opponent was J. Coakley aka ‘The Young Greek’ — at the time ‘Greek’ was a pejorative slang term for an Irish immigrant. Jerry was supported by the famous Jem Massey, a retired prize-fighter who was now the landlord of the King’s Head in Old Compton Street, and Coakley by Jem Burn.

The men were evenly matched, the Young Greek weighing in at 9st 6lb against Noon’s 9st 4lb. In the fourth round Jerry injured his right hand, but the match continued for a lacklustre one hour and fifty-five minutes, ending when the Young Greek refused to fight and Jerry was declared the victor. The match may have been long but the Morning Advertiser was not impressed, and declared, the day after, that ‘as an exhibition of science, it was extremely poor, nor was this deficiency at all compensated by any display of determination In a few words. It was a most unsatisfactory affair.’

Boxing match in a fives court. Pierce Egan Real Life in London volume 1 1821.

The Scotch Laddie

Jerry took part in another prize fight on Woking Common on Monday 24 December 1849. His opponent was a colleague from the sparring rooms, the red-headed William Gray of Glasgow, who was known professionally known as ‘The Scotch Laddie’. The day of the fight was extremely cold: a bitter frost made the ground as hard as a pavement. Inhospitable conditions notwithstanding the men fought for one hour and forty minutes over sixty-five rounds. Jerry was acknowledged as the better wrestler and the eventual victor.

His next match was for £100 aside against John Hazeltine, who was the more experienced fighter, and favourite to win. On Tuesday 16 April 1850 a special train from Waterloo took them down to Frimley in Surrey along with several hundred supporters. After a bruising eighty-six rounds, and three hours and twelve minutes, Hazeltine’s seconds threw in the towel to save their man more damage than he had already sustained, while Jerry reportedly suffered nothing worse than a puffy left hand.

A few months later, in August, a match was attempted between Jerry and a fighter called Jones on Barnet race course. After three rounds the fight was stopped by the police.

Boxing match in a drawing room. Pierce Egan Real Life in London volume 1 1821.

Jerry and Jemmy

Jerry was next to fight his one-time close friend Jemmy Massey. For some reason they had fallen out. People were surprised that Massey, who had left the ring to become a pub landlord some two years before, had agreed to come out of retirement to settle his scores with Jerry.

This £100-a-side grudge match was scheduled for 19 November 1850. At nine in the morning a specially commissioned train left Waterloo, and when it arrived at Dean Station, seven miles from Salisbury, the party repaired to the local pub for refreshments to fortify themselves for the encounter. Shortly before the fight was due to start members of the Hampshire constabulary arrived to break it up, but it was pointed out, with much hilarity, that they had no jurisdiction as the village of West Dean straddled the border between Hampshire and Wiltshire

Accordingly, the ring was set up  ‘over the border’ in Wiltshire. Jerry, who was the taller, and Massey, who was the more muscular, fought for almost three hours, but in the end both refused to continue and a draw was declared. By ten in the evening they were back in London, with Jerry sporting a damaged left shoulder supported by a sling.

Outdoor boxing match. Frank Lewis Dowling Fistiana; or, The Oracle of the Ring 1849.

Perry and Broome

By the time the 1851 census was taken Jerry’s father had died. The remaining family members, listed under the name Cullinane, live on the west side of Old Bailey in Prujean Square. Jerry’s occupation was bricklaying. His brother Cornelius was a coal porter and Laurence a porter.

He was a well-known figure within the boxing fraternity, and in addition to fighting, and training other fighters, he acted as a match official when asked. As a rule there were two umpires representing the two sides and a neutral referee, and in October 1851 Jerry umpired at the match between William Perry ‘The Tipton Slasher’ and Harry Broome, who were competing for the heavyweight championship of England. Broome was awarded the match on a technicality: the Slasher had hit him when he was on his knees.

Out of shape

Outside the ring Jerry married Ann Caroline Weller, the daughter of a coal porter. The wedding took place at St Andrew Holborn on Wednesday 21 April 1852. Ann, who was only sixteen or thereabouts, was ten years younger than her husband. They both gave their addresses as Shoe Lane.

Later that summer a return match was organised between Jerry and John Hazeltine. Jerry’s backers paid for his pre-match training at Jem Burns’s pub, the Greyhound, which was advertised as providing excellent food. On 17 August the £50-a-side fight took place at Long Reach, a remote and marshy area of Kent north of Dartford and close to the Thames, which spectators were able to get to by boat.

To the annoyance of his backers, and perhaps because he had enjoyed too many of Jem’s excellent dinners at the Greyhound, Jerry was not in good shape, and the lacklustre match stretched to three hours and ten minutes. After a grinding seventy-eight rounds the ill-conditioned Jerry came out as a fortunate winner.

The church of St Andrew Holborn. 1814. British Museum.

Back in shape

On 5 April 1853 Jerry was back at Long Reach to fight George Lane, one of five boxing brothers from Birmingham. This time he was in good shape, his training having been supervised by the great Bendigo, whose real name was William Abednego Thompson, down at Rottingdean in Sussex.

On the morning of the fight it rained heavily but the appalling weather failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the more than one thousand spectators. The match proved one-sided, with Lane bleeding from Round Three on. After only forty-four minutes and twenty-one rounds Jerry was declared the winner. According to the match report published five days later in Bell’s he ‘was all life and activity, his position was extremely artistic and he looked every inch a gladiator, while Lane seemed heavy, awkward and completely at a nonplus.’

His next fight, on Wednesday 7 January 1854, and at Long Reach again, was against John Augustus Edward Plantagenet Green, whose African-American heritage made him a target for shocking racism in contemporary newspaper reports. There was ice on the Thames and the weather was so bad that the spectators found themselves wading through slush that came up to their knees, and, even though the ring had been cleared for the occasion, the boxers had to fight ankle-deep in snow. The match lasted an hour and twenty-two minutes, and the contestants, who were bare-chested, and trembled in the cold, were probably both relieved when after thirty-four rounds Jerry was declared the winner.

William Abednego Thompson, known as Bendigo. Henry Downes Miles Pugilistica. The History of British Boxing volume 3 1906.

Paulson and Paddock

About this time Jerry and Ann’s first child, Ann Caroline Cullinane, was born at Dolphin Court in St Brides. Jerry then took on the role of trainer for Harry Paulson to prepare him for a grudge match against Tom Paddock. Paulson, now thirty-five, had already twice fought and twice been beaten by Paddock, who was three years younger. After their last match the men had been arrested and jailed for ten months with hard labour for taking part in this illegal activity.

Now, in February 1854, they met at Mildenhall near Newmarket. From early in the match Paulson was badly injured — a bloody eye meant that he could hardly see to box — and things only got worse for him as the match approached Round One Hundred and Two after two hours and thirty-two minutes. Jerry threw in the towel for Paulson, sparing him further punishment, but forfeiting the match, a decision for which he was heavily criticised.

Throwing in the towel

Later in the same year, on Tuesday 19 December, Jerry was competing again in the prize ring. His opponent was William ‘Bill’ Barry, and the match, which took place at Shell Haven in Essex, on the north bank of the Thames, lasted for ninety minutes and went to sixteen rounds. He was the older and more experienced boxer, and favourite to win, but when the two men stripped to fight it was noted that, set against Barry’s magnificent condition, he looked thin rather than lithe. He had taken extreme measures to get to his match weight of 9 stone 1lb.

To Jerry’s surprise he was matched by Barry, and he was lucky not to be penalised for ‘accidently’ scratching his opponent’s throat with his uncut nails, which was illegal under Prize Ring rules. As time went on Jerry’s injured right hand became useless, and in the end he returned to his corner, hiding beneath a blanket and refusing to come forward to fight, which would have seen him forfeit the match had Barry not held back as well. Was Barry’s refusal to fight a mark of respect for Jerry, or had they agreed to a draw?

A return match took place on December 23 at Long Reach and a draw was declared again. It was Jerry’s final prize fight, but it allowed him to keep his catchphrase, and he remained ‘The Unbought and Undefeated’. However, his story does not end there, and a third and final article will be published on the London Overlooked website next week.

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