Tom Cribb, Piccadilly, London - History

During the early 19th century, when bare-knuckle boxing was a national obsession, Cribb was one of the most famous men in the country. His likeness appeared in popular prints and pottery, while his name was referred to in poems, songs and works of literature. With England anxious about potential defeat at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte, Cribb was seen as a patriotic exemplar of the virtues of strength, courage and fortitude. The words of the poem A Boxing We Will Go even imagined what would happen if Napoleon dared to take on England’s premier boxer, concluding that Cribb would “beat him like a drum / And make his carcase [sic.] sound.”

The Gloucestershire-born Cribb only ever lost one contest, against George Nichols in 1805, winning recognition as Champion of England with victory against Bob Gregson in 1808. He also twice defeated the famed Jem Belcher, however, it was his pair of victories against Tom Molineaux - a former slave from America - that won him sporting immortality. These contests, in 1810 and 1811, were arguably the first significant international contests in sporting history.

After vanquishing Molineaux, Cribb settled into semi-retirement at the Union Arms. He flirted with the idea of a comeback, before formally retiring in 1821 and dying in 1848. His grave in St Mary Magdalene Church, Woolwich consists of a splendid stone monument of a lion - a worthy memorial to one of England’s bravest, sporting heroes.

Cribb and Richmond – a fighting friendship

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At the beginning of their careers, the pair collaborated closely; Richmond worked in Cribb’s corner for the latter’s debut in 1805 against George Maddox, with his skill in treating an eye injury Cribb sustained proving instrumental in securing a hard-earned victory.

Thereafter, though, the men became rivals, meeting in the ring in October 1805 - a bitter contest which Cribb won after 90 minutes.

By 1810, Cribb was champion and Richmond was convinced his talented protégé Tom Molineaux could dethrone him. Molineaux came close, losing a controversial bout to Cribb in December 1810, before being soundly beaten in a rematch.

Richmond shrugged off this disappointment and his relationship with Cribb mellowed. By the 1820s, both men were retired and frequently socialised together - Richmond even ended up in court in 1825 after defending Cribb’s dog from an attack by a passer-by.

On 27 December 1829, the two men spent a convivial evening at Cribb’s pub, then known as the Union Arms. After returning home, Richmond died suddenly. A heartbroken Cribb penned a eulogy for his old friend but, sadly, was prevented from delivering it at the funeral after a severe bout of gout.

The words Cribb wrote have survived, though, and act as a moving epitaph to the friendship between the pair. “He was my friend,” Cribb declared proudly. “Always a trump to me.”

(Luke G. Williams, author, Richmond Unchained, 2015, Amberley Publishing)


Tom Cribb, London - Bill Richmond Portrait