Cassius Clay at Nottingham Ice Stadium

In The Bendigo Story, our tour guides take visitors from his grave to Sneinton Market, where they pause to talk about Nottingham after his death in 1880. They mention that most professional boxing in Nottingham took place at the nearby Victoria Leisure Centre or the Ice Stadium. Did you know that Cassius Clay was there in 1963?

He didn’t fight there but we’re proud to say he came to a night of boxing in Bendigo’s town. We found this story by Ethan Lewis and are grateful for the image too.

On the 27th of May 1963 my father, aged 15 at the time, met Cassius Clay at the Victoria Hotel in Nottingham (now the Hilton Hotel). He also obtained his autograph (pictured below).

Ethan Lewis

Cassius Clay was also photographed with two well-known Nottingham Police Officers. PCs Geoff Baker and Denis ‘Tug’ Wilson were both about 7 feet tall in their boots and helmets.

Cassius Clay standing 6’3 with Pcs Baker and Wilson

Clay was in the city to watch the British Middleweight Title fight between George Aldridge and Mick Leahy. This was prior to Clay’s fight with Henry Cooper at Wembley.

The Aldridge v Leahy fight was for the British Middle Weight Title and took place on 28th May at the Nottingham Ice Stadium. It lasted just 1 minute 45 seconds. The referee Ike Powell stopped the fight after Aldridge was knocked down twice, Leahy winning on a Technical Knockout.

Leahy’s career spanned nine years between 1956 and 1965. The orthodox middle weight lived in Coventry but hailed from Cork, Ireland. It wasn’t the first time Leahy had fought at Nottingham’s Ice Stadium. He faced Nottingham’s Wally Swift there in December 1964. The promoter was Reg King and again the British Middleweight titel was up for grabs. It went the full 15 rounds with Swift winning on points.

George Aldridge was a middle weight from Market Harborough in Leicestershire. His career of 52 professional bouts was between 1956 and 1963.

“Ask no questions, I’ll just talk”

Back to Cassius Clay and the Victoria Hotel press-conference. Clay said to the press ‘Ask no questions, I’ll just talk’.

In true style, Clay predicted that he would beat Cooper in the fifth round. He was right.

Clay also described that Sonny Liston was an ‘ugly bear’ who would ‘fall in eight’.

Clay and Cooper met on the 18th June 1963 at Wembley Stadium, the referee was Tommy Little.  Despite knocking Clay down in the 4th round, the fight was stopped in the next round due to cuts suffered by Cooper. Cooper fought him again (as Mohammed Ali) in 1966 and that fight was also stopped for the same reason.

Clay was nearly right about his fight with Sonny Liston, which took place the following February in Miami. Liston retired in the sixth round, claiming a shoulder injury.

Cassius Clay (as Mohammed Ali) returned to Nottingham in 1992. This time it was for a book signing event, at Dillon’s bookshop in the town centre.

Thanks as always to BoxRec for the records of the boxers and their fights.

The Bendigo Story – Guided Walk

                                                                                                       

Visitors to Nottingham can now learn about the incredible life of William ‘Bendigo’ Thomson in a new guided walking tour in the city centre.

‘The Bendigo Story’ is led by trustees of the Bendigo Memorial Fund. The tour starts in Nottingham’s Old Market Square and finishes at St Mary’s Church in the Lace Market.

Jevon and Alan at the grave with their ‘tour-guide’ umbrellas

Total walking distance is about two miles, at a relaxed pace and with regular stops to talk and explain the incredible story of Bendigo and 19th century Nottingham.

Here’s a review from Trip Advisor.

Lovely Saturday morning on the Bendigo Heritage Walk. Alan is very informative and entertaining. Lots of tales of Bendigo’s life, and some other interesting facts and hidden gems of Nottingham.

Julie (April 2021)

Two tours are scheduled every weekend up until 16th May when the schedule will be reviewed. There is a choice between Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. Tpurs are currently limited to five guests.

Tickets can be obtained at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-bendigo-story-tickets-127381011033

Private tours can be arranged by contacting the Bendigo Memorial Fund at bendigofund@gmail.com

“Our guided walk has taken a lot of planning but we feel it has been worth it. We can tailor the tour to different groups with specific interests. We are sure it will be of interest to locals and to people visiting Nottingham for a city break or sporting event”.

Tour guide Alan Dawson

“We’re so excited about this! We can’t wait to introduce people to a story that has been Nottingham’s hidden, little gem. We’re going to unravel a tale that would be fit for filmmakers in Hollywood – and it’s on the city’s doorstep!”

Tour guide Jevon Patrick

Ryan Walker-Drain, the chair of Bendigo Memorial Fund said:

Thanks go to Alan and Jevon (the tour guides) for setting this up, The Bendigo Story will be a great way for visitors to learn about our first boxing superstar. It will also raise funds for our statue appeal.

A Year to Forget

2020 was a year to forget wasn’t it?

As we all tried to cope with the COVID19 pandemic, all non-essential activity was put on hold. This included our events and fundraising ideas. Let’s hope that 2021 is a year to remember.

Now that things seem to be improving, we are pleased to announce that in the near future, we will be launching The Bendigo Story. A guided heritage walk in Bendigo’s old ‘stomping ground’ of Nottingham’s city centre.

We are excited about this as it will allow us to meet visitors to Nottingham, and show them around. The timing of it will also coincide with the long awaited re-opening of Nottingham Castle as a major tourist attraction.

The 68 years of Bendigo’s life were during the most turbulent period in Nottingham’s history. On his 20th birthday, Nottingham Castle was destroyed by fire (1831) and it remained a ruin until two years before his death. Nottingham Castle became a museum in 1978, having been purchased by the Nottingham Corporation in 1875.

Was Bendigo one of the first visitors? We don’t know, but the sight of the burnt out ducal palace on Castle Rock would have been a permanent reminder to Bendigo of the political unrest in Nottingham.

The Bendigo Story is a guided walk that celebrates the life and times of William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson, Nottingham’s legendary Prize-Fighter and All England Champion. It will take you to a number of locations where you will learn not just about his life, but also what Nottingham was like during his time.

Image from nottinghamcastle.org.uk

Without giving everything away, the walk will last about two hours and we have decided it will finish up at St Mary’s Church in the Lace Market. At the end of the walk, each guest will receive a complimentary copy of our heritage booklet ‘10 Bells For Bendigo’.

Watch this space for more details.

Many thanks for your continued support, in particular those of you that follow our social media pages. We are all learning as we go along.

We will end with a recent image sent to us via our Twitter account @bendigonotts.

Emile Degand pays his respects to Bendigo

It is an image from a book that shows a Belgian flyweight boxer visiting Bendigo’s grave. His name was Emile Degand and he was in Nottingham for a bout with George ‘Tish’ Marsden. It gives the year as 1953. We have checked this and for some reason the date is wrong (by almost 20 years).

George Marsden fought 372 times between 1927 and 1946. He beat Emile Degand on 5th March 1934. We also noticed that Marsden’s birth (1911) and death (1980) were exactly 100 years on from Bendigo. Some coincidence eh?

Thanks for reading and maybe we will see you on the guided walk soon.

A Moment in Time – 1858

Let’s imagine that we are in Nottingham and the year is 1858. Queen Victoria has been on the throne for over twenty years and the tragedy of the Irish Potato Famine was thirteen years ago. The Australian Gold Rush is in full swing and people are seeking their fortune in a place called Bendigo. The Houses of Parliament in London have ordered a large bell to be installed. It will be named Big Ben after Ben Caunt, another famous Nottingham prize-fighter.

There is some optimism for the people of Nottingham. Bendigo is now a household name and a sporting hero. Nottingham is a town on the up. The Luddites and the Chartist riots are a thing of the past. The town is now building better housing for its people. The railway had arrived 20 years ago and this has allowed deep coal mining to begin. There is plenty of work in the railways, collieries, and the lace and garment factories. Photography has arrived and is changing the way news is shared.

Bendigo has now been retired for a few years. He is sat in The Forest Tavern on Mansfield Road, the pub where he used to train before his fights. He is a regular at the pub and has developed a liking for beer. This has caused him a few problems. His brother Thomas is involved at the pub and Bendigo has trusted him to look after his money. His brother gives him an allowance each week. Bendigo retired as the undefeated Champion of All England. His cups and belts are on permanent display in the pub.

Poster from The Forest Tavern promoting the display of Bendigo’s cups and belts

There is funeral taking place and people involved are congregating in the Forest Tavern. The funeral is of a man named Lewis Goldberg. He was the Jewish rabbi and his burial is taking place in the small Jewish burial ground at the back of the pub. His family later emigrated to Ballarat in Australia, not far from Bendigo.

This imaginary scenario is quite possible. We have found evidence to confirm that John Ellis, the proprietor of The Forest Tavern did display Bendigo’s cups and belts there. Thomas Thompson is also the only member of Bendigo’s family, known to have had children. Not only that, the direct descendants of Lewis Goldberg are still living in the area. We have met them and been able to visit the cemetery.

What happened to John Ellis and his family?

What happened to the family of Thomas Thompson?

What happened to Bendigo’s cups and belts?

We would love to know.

Whilst The Forest Tavern no longer operates as a public house, the owners of the building have committed to preserving the original front of the building. We are also hoping to erect a plaque so that the building is identified.

The Forest Tavern Mansfield Road Nottingham

Here is the more detailed history of the Forest Tavern and the Jewish Burial Ground.

Mansfield Road heads north from Nottingham and dates from at least 1674. It was established as a turnpike by Act of Parliament in 1787 but the roadside remained undeveloped until the early 1800s. North Sherwood Street (at the rear of The Forest Tavern) was a field road. The Enclosure Act of 1845 brought the common farmland (at the rear of The Forest Tavern) into developable hands. The scarcity of available land at this time meant building three stories high and up to the edge of the street. The rear part of the property fronts onto North Sherwood Street. This part of the building was originally a separate workshop unit, with carriage doors at ground floor level.

Immediately next to the rear workshop is a small Jewish burial ground that was created in 1823 on what was formerly waste ground. The burial ground is approximately 12 sq/m and contains seventeen graves surrounded by a stone wall. Although the cemetery closed in 1869 it remains unaltered and is included on the Historic England Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade II.

The Jewish community in Nottingham had started to re-establish itself, bearing in mind they had been expelled from England by Edward l in the 13th Century. An inscription above the entrance reads: This burial ground was given to the community by the Corporation of Nottingham 5586. The ground was closed 5629.

There are between 20 and thirty graves dating between 1824 and 1866. The burial in 1824 was of a man named Soloman Barnett. He died at the Nottingham Workhouse after an epileptic fit. Bendigo would also spent time in the workhouse two years later.

Rabbi Lewis Goldberg was 61 years of age when he died in tragic but unusual circumstances. He had not long moved into a house on Drury Hill, the famous and very steep lane in Nottingham. There is a Jewish tradition of placing a symbolic ‘mezuzah’ above the doors of the home. Lewis Goldberg was stood at the top of the stairs and nailing the mezuzah into the door frame when he lost his footing and fell down the stairs. Even more tragically, the claw of his hammer landed on him and pierced his skull, causing his death.

Drury Hill in 1906 Credit Nottingham Hidden History Team

Thanks to the Snapper family, we also know the history of Lewis Goldberg. He was their great-great-great-grandfather and the family are still in Nottingham.

Lewis Goldberg was born in Prussia in 1797. He moved to the UK with his wife Hannah Brasch. They had a total of eight children including Elizabeth (great-great-grandmother) and were known to be living in Nottingham by 1851. Elizabeth Goldberg married a Lewis Karmel in Nottingham and they had twelve children. Some of Elizabeth’s sisters moved to Liverpool after marriage.

Following Lewis Goldberg’s death, Hannah and her children were impoverished, and in the early 1870s, members of both the Karmel family and the Goldberg family emigrated to Ballarat in Australia (a centre of the Australian gold rush at the time). Only Lewis and Elizabeth Karmel remained in Nottingham. Their daughter Minnie went on to marry David Snapper, and through two further generations this family name has survived.

Goldfields of Australia showing Bendigo and Ballarat

This moment in time helps to connect our fascinating and shared history.

Heritage Trail Booklet Published

We recently commissioned Porchester Press to publish a Heritage Trail Booklet for us.

The booklet is a fantastic way to advance the culture, heritage and social history of his legacy. We now have a short guide about the story of William Thompson, that will be accessible to visitors to Nottingham and its tourism.

Most of the locations in the booklet are in the commercial area of the city centre. People visiting Nottingham for the first time will be able to get to know something about it’s history whilst enjoying the shops, restaurants and attractions.

The Nottingham of Bendigo’s time could not have been more different. The slums were rife with disease. Life expectancy was 22, less than half the national average. One government official even labelled Nottingham as the ‘Worst town in England’. The people of Bendigo’s childhood home were said to ‘be the poorest of all Queen Victoria’s children’.

The booklet is titled ‘Ten Bells For Bendigo’. This is taken from the tradition of the Ten-Bell Salute, given to honour a boxer or wrestler who has died.

It contains 28 pages of interesting facts, quotes and photographs.

It can be ordered from Porchester Press for £4.50 plus £1.00 postage

William Thompson v William Parsons

During our research into Bendigo, we have found a fascinating piece of history that links our hero to a wealthy Nottingham solicitor named William Parsons.

William Parsons and William Thompson may have lived very different lives, but they lived to a similar age. Both were born and died a year apart, and both moved to Beeston in later life.

Parsons kept a diary and he makes an entry on 11th and 12th February 1839 about attending Bendigo’s fight with Deaf ‘n’ Burke at Appleby near Ashby de la Zouch in Lecestershire. He also writes about betting on Bendigo and winning £70 on the fight.

The entry in the diary reads

Shrove Tuesday.

Fight between Bill Thompson called Bendigo of Nottingham and deaf Burke, won in ten rounds by Bendigo in about 25 minutes. Tho Tate sent £50 to Londo yesterday to make good a bet and he will win about £70 or £80 upon the fight.

Attended meeting of the Corn Law question but did not stay till it was over.

Pancakes for dinner.

This reference to Bendigo highlights the significance of his reputation in the country at the time. The sport of prize-fighting was popular with both the rich and the poor.

Parsons’ diaries are preserved in the Manuscripts and Special Collections of the University of Nottingham. There are eight diaries written by William Parsons. There is also a letter book and a memoranda and address book that belonged to William Parsons and his son Frederick. The collection provides details about the life of a solicitor and gentleman in Nottinghamshire in Victorian times and depicts legal cases, politics, leisure and family life.

William Parsons joined his father and younger brother Samuel as a solicitor the family firm of Parsons and Sons based in St James Street, Nottingham. Parsons’ diaries record his day to day activities although he sometimes grew tired of keeping a regular account part way through the year.

He wrote about his social engagements, often followed by a resolution to live a more sober and serious life, and his professional activities, and makes general comments on life in Victorian Nottingham from the perspective of a well-off and politically engaged young gentleman.

By 1844, William had his own office in Park Row and by 1853, he was operating from Wheelergate and living in College Street. William tried unsuccessfully to become a junior councillor for the Corporation of Nottingham in 1834 in a bid to push through land enclosure that would have benefited his family. He was finally elected in November 1835 as one of the councillors for Park Ward.

In 1864 William Parsons was Mayor of Nottingham and a portrait of him is held at the Nottingham Castle collection.

By 1869, William had moved to Clifton Villas, Beeston, Nottinghamshire where he remained until his death in November 1881.

William Parsons, Mayor of Nottingham (1863–1864)
James Luntley (1827–1887)
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery