Jerry Noon, Victorian Pugilist
Part Three: From the Boxing Ring to Lambeth Cemetery

AUTHOR: KAREN ELLIS-REES

PUBLISHED: 10 APRIL 2024

Boxers sparring. Henry Thomas Alken Symptoms of Being Amused volume 1 1822.

Jerry retired from prize fighting when he was about thirty. However, he continued to be associated with the boxing world socially and professionally as a trainer or second. He also appears to have given up bricklaying, instead making a living by running refreshment tents at fairs and racecourses on behalf of his close friend Alec Keene, the former pugilist turned pub landlord.

In March 1855 Jerry and Ann’s second child, a son, was born at her parent’s home in Howley Place in Waterloo. Since the child was not expected to live, a private baptism was quickly arranged. But all fears of an early death proved unfounded, and Jeremiah Thomas Calvin, who was usually known as Thomas, survived into adulthood.

In the period from his retirement to his death there were no doubt other happy times for Jerry. One such highlight was giving sparring exhibitions with Alec Keene in the Imperial Circus in Berlin. Another was seeing Tom Sayers defend his English championship against Bill Benjamin. The fact remains, though, that these years were disproportionately full of hardship and ill-fortune.

On the ropes

In December 1855 a keenly anticipated match between Mike Madden of London and Jack Jones of Portsmouth took place at Long Reach in front of what were said to be three thousand spectators. In Round Twenty-Two Jones slipped and hit his head on a wooden stake, and then in Round Twenty-Three, after receiving a blow to the head, he collapsed. Unable to rise unaided, he was taken from the ring to a nearby tavern by his seconds, one of whom was Jerry. A few hours later Jones died, leaving a wife and young family unprovided for.

Mike Madden and the seconds — Jerry Noon, Jem Massey, Tom Sayers, and William King aka Sweepy — were all charged with manslaughter. They faced the very real possibility of being sent to prison with hard labour, but fate was on their side, and after a wait of several months they were acquitted at the Maidstone Spring Assizes.

Afterwards Jerry found himself down on his luck. He was unable to work but still had to pay for lawyers, and no doubt he suffered from the emotional impact of his involvement in a match in which a comrade had died: as a second he had been responsible for Jack’s safety. In April his friends organised a sparring benefit at the Linwood Gallery in Leicester Square. Fans of the ring were urged to be generous in their support of a man who always stood by others when they were in need.

The Death Blow. Thomas Rowlandson / William Combe The English Dance of Death volume 1 1815

A tragedy

1860 was a particularly bad year for Jerry. In April a sparring benefit was arranged for him at St George’s Hall in the Old Kent Road. The crowds were enormous owing to the false rumour that the American boxer John C. Heenan would participate. In fact Heenan had bigger fish to fry: he was days away from fighting Sayers.

The crowd surged into the venue, many making for a small orchestra gallery from which they hoped to get an unobstructed view of the fight. Unfortunately their combined weight caused this fragile structure to collapse on to people below. One of the worst injured was a young man by the name of William Mavity, who suffered a broken back and died a few months later. At the inquest the coroner suggested that if the Mavity family were to take legal action against anyone it should be against Noon.

Sucker punch

Jerry’s private life was also going badly, for his wife, twenty-four-year-old Ann, had left him and their two young children to live with another man. In August he appeared in Lambeth Police Court after threatening to kill Ann but he was discharged when the magistrate learned that she had left him. A month later he took Martha Coulson alias White to court for encouraging his wife to desert him.

His parents-in-law, Thomas and Ann Weller, took the children to live with them at 1 Howley Place. Jerry contributed a pound a week for their upkeep, an arrangement that allowed him to continue to take part in the life of the ring and the turf while running his refreshment tent. He also took up with a young woman called Eliza, who was only about sixteen at the time, and moved to Hercules Buildings on the other side of Waterloo Station from the Wellers. When he heard rumours that his wife had moved back to her parents, and that as a result the children were allowed to run wild in the streets, he decided to remove them — and the one pound a week — from the care of the Wellers and send them to school in rural Epsom.

Richard Humphreys, the Boxer. John Hoppner 1788. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In court

Meeting Jerry in a pub, his once supportive mother-in-law refused to hand over her grandchildren. She abused Jerry, hit him with her parasol and ripped his coat. When she was arrested for this assault she made it obvious that she was not intimidated by the court, nor indeed by the ex-pugilist, whom she denounced as a wicked man who was living in sin. By way of illustration she pointed to the well-dressed Eliza, who had accompanied Jerry to court. To cap it all she denied receiving anything for the children’s keep.

The magistrate sided with Jerry. His reasons were that Ann Calvin ‘had not led a virtuous life’ and that legally the children belonged to their father. No mention was made of Jerry’s behaviour or lack of virtue.

Ann Weller was bailed for ten pounds to keep the peace for three months, but it appears that she was committed to prison as she was unable to pay. It is unclear whether the children went to school or lived with Jerry and Eliza and George, their newly born half-brother. Later records show them with their mother or grandparents.


In court again

In 1863 Jerry acted as a second for Tom King in his fight against John C. Heenan. This much anticipated match was due to take place near Wadhurst in Sussex. However, before a single punch could be thrown, a local magistrate arrived to stop the proceedings. He was much abused by the crowd.

Yet again Jerry, the other seconds and the fighters appeared in court. The charge was that they did ‘unlawfully and riotously assemble to disturb the public peace’ and that they did ‘assault and beat the said Thomas King and John Carmel Heenan.’ Jerry, who was charged as John Calvin Noon, was released on a bail of a hundred pounds to appear for sentencing. No reference has been found to the sentence.

The final round

To the end of his life Jerry remained loyal to old friends, one of whom was Bill Barry, his final opponent in the prize ring. Bill had long been crippled with rheumatism, and now, as a result of boxing, he began to exhibit the signs of ‘softening of the brain’. He was admitted to St Marylebone Infirmary, where he was regularly visited by Jerry until his death in January 1871.

Jerry had his own battles with ill-health. During the winter of 1870-71 he had suffered a severe attack of bronchitis, and then on 7 July 1871 he was taken seriously ill and admitted to St George’s Hospital, which was then situated near Hyde Park Corner. But nothing could be done to save him, and the Unbought and Undefeated died on Tuesday 1 August 1871 at seven-thirty in the morning.

Surviving medical records from St George’s Hospital describe Jerry at the time of his admission as 171cm in height — he was a little taller than what was then the average — thick-set and well-built with black hair. A postmortem report gives details of his medical history. He had suffered from acute rheumatism twenty years before, and, since his recent bout of bronchitis, he had suffered from a cough, shortness of breath and a damaged heart. The report said that he had led an intemperate life and showed the beginnings of cirrhosis of the liver, which is not surprising, as alcohol consumption was central to the macho world of turf, taverns and the ring.

St George’s Hospital, Hyde Park Corner. H. West 1837. Wellcome Collection.

The funeral

On Monday 7 August 1871, at two in the afternoon, the funeral cortege gathered outside 8 Stangate Street in Lambeth, where Jerry had lived with Eliza and six-year-old George. Both sides of Westminster Road were lined with the friends, neighbours and sporting men who had come to give the Unbought and Undefeated a final send-off. The hearse was followed by a funeral carriage carrying his family: Eliza, George and the two children from his marriage to Ann.

There followed a panoply of sporting legends, among them George Brown, Alec Keene, Harry Brunton, Jemmy Welsh and Jem Dillon, who had been his closest friends from the Ring. Also paying their last respects were Joey Jones, George Phelps, Nobby Hall, Mickey Gannon, Mike Cocklin, John Tyler, Professor Flynn, Jim Gollagher, James Truscott, T. McKelvey, Mike Madden, Fred Beckwith, and the many others who followed the hearse as it slowly wound its way south to Lambeth Cemetery in rural Tooting. There Jerry was buried in plot E2/191 CON.

Grave of Jerry Noon in Lambeth Cemetery. © William Ellis-Rees 2024

Remembering Jerry

He had not died a rich man: his second family lived in lodgings in a poor part of London and he left no will. He had retired from fighting fifteen years previously, and, unlike some of his contemporaries, no backers had seen fit to instal him as the landlord in a money-making London public house. Although there was enough money for a private grave, there was not enough for a headstone to mark his final resting place.

Public subscriptions were collected to pay for a memorial, which was a mark of Jerry’s personal popularity as unlike Cribb, Spring, Jackson and Sayers, whose grave monuments had all been paid for by subscription, Jerry never won an England championship match. In addition to his exploits in the ring he was known for his humour — ‘the licensed jester of the ring’ — and for his sociable nature — he took part in benefits, supper clubs and musical evenings. His generosity towards those in need was legendary, and he never forgot an old friend, as the Sportsman pointed out:

To his credit, be it said, that he never forgot his poorer brethren; was a hearty ‘beggar’ for others in need, and if he took a familiarity beyond his station it was often in a good cause. For his class he was respected, and despite all his vagaries, leaves few enemies behind.

Portrait of Lord Byron. G. H. Harlow.

By February 1873 Jerry’s grave was marked by the sleeping lion and a shield. The now illegible inscription once read:

In Memory of Jerry Noon who died Aug 1, 1871 aged 43
Gallant Noon! Thus enshrined
Thy life, thy fall, they fame shall be
And early valour, glowing, find a model in thy memory.
This tomb was erected as a mark of respect and esteem by his friends.

This verse was borrowed and adapted from Elegiac Stanzas on the Death of Sir Peter Parker Bart, written by Parker’s cousin Lord Byron. It was a fitting choice, as Byron was a great fan of boxing, and even took lessons from ‘Gentleman’ John Jackson.

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