Friday 19 November 2010

The Famous Stoke Newington Ass-Woman, and other Lady Pugilists

Wandering a little out of our era (by about a century) I find this announcement in the Daily Post from July 7th 1728 (reprinted in the Fortnightly Review, 1899) pertaining to 'my manor' ... one for anyone interested in the history of lady pugilists ... if only all advertisements were this eloquent:

AT Mr. Stokes Amphitheatre, in Islington Road, this present Monday, being the 7 of October, will be a complete Boxing Match by the two following Championesses: Whereas I, Ann Field, of Stoke Newington, ass driver, well known for my abilities in boxing in my own defence wherever it happened in any way, having been affronted by Mrs. Stokes, styled the European Championess, do fairly invite her to a trial of her best skill in Boxing for 10 pounds, fair rise and fall; and question not but to give her such proofs of my judgement that shall oblige her to acknowledge me Championess of the Stage, to the entire satisfaction of my friends.
    I Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, have not fought in this way since I fought the famous boxing-woman of Billingsgate 29 minutes, and gained a complete victory (which is six years ago); but as the famous Stoke Newington ass-woman dares me to fight her for the 10 pounds, I do assure her I will not fail meeting her for said sum, and doubt not that the blows which I shall present her will be more difficult for her to digest than any she ever gave her asses.
     Note. A man, known by the name of Rugged and Tuff, challenges the best man of Stoke Newington to fight him for one guinea to what sum they please to venture.
    N.B. Attendance will be given at one, and the encounter is to begin at four precsiely. There will be the diversion of Cudgel-playing as usual.
I suspect such bouts were relatively rare and promoted for their novelty value. You do find occasional  reports of women fighting/boxing in early Victorian London, too. Here's a couple of examples:

DISGRACEFUL SCENE- On Wednesday night two amazons named Pyne and Russell (well known in St. Giles's and to the police), had a quarrel at a public-house, and it was agreed that they should settle their differences in a pugilistic conflict in the street. They accordingly stripped themselves to the waist, tied up their hair, and having appointed backers or seconds in the persons of two other of the "softer" sex, repaired to Tottenham-court-road, where, pursuant to the usages of the prize ring, they prepared for the "fray," amidst a crowd of profligate and idle spectators, who formed a ring, and the combatants commenced striking at one another right and left and dealing knock-down  blows, whilst the screams and bellowings of the crowd were like a gang of savages. At length police constables 5 and 41 E arrived on the spot, and interfered, when they were attacked; but they seized on the principals and seconds. The latter quietly surrendered themselves as did also Russell; but Pyne, after great resistance, fell on the ground, fought, bit, kicked, and tore like a mad woman, and it required eight officers to take her to the station-house; and, strange to say, on her arrival there the officers were more exhausted than herself. She and the other prisoners were locked up, and yesterday morning the whole of them were taken before the magistrate at Clerkenwell police-court. Pyne was committed to the House of Correction for a month, Russell for seven days, and the seconds were discharged with a salutary admonition. Pyne tripped lightly from the bar, saying she would have it out another day.
Times, 1844

Sir, - "G.W." in to-day's Times, expresses his surprise that no man was found who would assist in the capture of the brute who knocked a woman down. Your correspondent will probably cease to wonder when he reads the following:- About a month ago I was at breakfast with my family at Kensal-green, when I perceived a number of persons passing through the field adjoining my house. I endeavoured to ascertain the cause. With much difficulty I did so. The stream of men and women had come from Paddington to a prize-fight between two - no, not men - women! One of my family, being incredulous, contrived to look across the fields, and there saw the combatants stripped to the waist and fighting. Men took them there, men backed them, men were the bottle-holders and time-keepers. They fought for about half-an-hour, some say for 5s., some say for a sovereign, and some say they will do it again. I saw the winner led back in triumph by men. After the above, I think your correspondent will cease to wonder at the indifference of a Paddington mob. You, Sir, have already drawn the moral from such things. Perhaps you will permit me to add my matured conviction that some vices and some crimes are too disgraceful for mere punishment of a clean, well-ordered, and well-fed prison. Let us have the whipping-post again, and at the flogging let the crime of "unmanly brutes" be written over their heads.
    Aug. 31                                                C.E.W.
letter to The Times, 1852

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