The Boxers of Tiger Bay

Like many industrialised towns of South Wales, boxing was a popular sport and pastime, and the 19th and 20th century allowed renowned figures such as ‘Peerless’ Jim Driscoll and Joe Erskine to emerge from the docks area of Cardiff just as they did from other parts of Cardiff and the South Wales valleys.

One of those champions was Pat Thomas, a winner of multiple titles in two different weights during the 1970s and 1980s. Later, he worked as a trainer, and established Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club in 1984.

In 2018, Thomas suggested that the Club be re-established and it’s now run by Wasim Said, a mixed martial artist from Butetown.

Quite apart from creating sporting greats, activities like boxing does much to engage young people, nurtures discipline, improves health and well-being, strengthens community, and guides young people away from less positive activities, particularly in a society where drugs and knife crime is a very real threat.

People like Pat Thomas and Wasim Said have a great heritage behind them. A hundred years before Thomas first established Tiger Bay Boxing Club, others had done the same. And just as boxing in Butetown is made possible today by a Community of Faith – the Club is based at the South Wales Islamic Centre – so this was the case in the distant past, a past we’re about to unfold…!

Tiger Bay Boxing Wales Online
Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club with Wasim Said, centre.  Photograph: Wales Online https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/butetown-boxing-crime-gangs-cardiff-16079530

A club on Canal Parade

On the evening of Friday 24th April 1885, Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, the Vicar of St Mary’s, along with his curate, the Rev H.B. Wilkinson and others gathered in the rooms of a new Club for Young Men on Canal Parade.

The premises had recently been made available by the relocation of Timber Merchants, Alexanders and Co.  Fr Jones stated that “it had for some time been their intention to start an institution of the kind, but they had not been able to find suitable premises before,” wrote the Weekly Mail (25th April 1885)

When he discovered that the company was relocating “he at once hit upon that as the right sort of place, and it having been agreed on all hands that it would serve their purpose they negotiated with Messrs. Alexanders and Co.”  The rooms were subsequently offered at a reduced rent.

There were four rooms. One on the ground floor was devoted to boxing and single- stick (a martial art that uses a wooden stick as a weapon) and the other accommodated by the caretaker. The rooms upstairs were used for chess and bagatelle.

‘Pure and noble’

“The Vicar stated that the club was in connection with St. Mary’s Church,” reported The Weekly Mail, “and was a very necessary institution for the amusement of their young people and to give them a meeting-place for social intercourse.”

 “For his own part, he did not attach much importance to the religion of those who drew long faces and went about the place groaning and grunting. (Laughter.) He liked to see young people cheerful, merry, and joyous, as they ought to be.”

“One of the evil results of the example of such people as those he had alluded to was that young people got to look upon all amusements as equally bad or equally good. If that club succeeded in nothing else, it would show their young people that there was a recreation which was religious, justifiable, and pure; honest and noble. (Applause.)”

The Club was opened by Fr Jones with a prayer asking God to bless it “that it might be a useful institution in the parish.”

Paying their way

The club was to be supported, in the main, by subscriptions (2d a week) with all the games free apart from bagatelle (for which a half-penny would be charged) although the Curate hoped that people would also become honorary members, with a minimum fee of 5 shillings.

They had only been in the rooms for three days, he said, and already 25 members had been enrolled, and he hoped the number would soon be doubled in a very short time.

Although the rooms had been obtained at a reduced rent there was some concern that this would be a drain on resources. Fr Jones “hoped that some of their friends would come forward and relieve them of it, so that they could apply their funds to the improvement of the club.”

The club, said the Rev H.B. Wilkinson, “would be open two nights a week during the summer, and, they hoped, every night, and perhaps every day, during the winter.”

The club would also benefit St Mary’s Cricket Club (which had been in existence since at least 1878) the members of which would hold their meetings there, as well as by the Bible Classes, and it was suggested that a Savings’ Bank should also be started.

Yesterday and today

Life, of course, a century ago was very different from what it is today. And yet many similar problems occur even if in a slightly different guise.

At St Mary’s Church, we have watched with admiration the work of Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club, and are pleased to support it, have been able to provide some financial donations, and continue to follow its progress with admiration and a sense of local pride for what is being achieved amongst the young people of Butetown and beyond.

For more information about Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club, please visit their website: https://tigerbayabc.com/

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