Bendigo – From Pugilist to Preacher runs Mon – Fri (9-5) until December 1st.
When the Centre Manager Ian Young contacted us about taking our exhibition to the Centre, we had no hesitation in accepting.
Trustee Alan Dawson and Community Manager Ian Young ‘come up to scratch’ after completing the gallery.
Nottingham’s Famous Sons Named William
Both William Booth and William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson lived in the same period, and both were affected by the poverty and suffering of ordinary people.
William Booth attended the Broad Street Wesley Chapel (Methodist) where in 1844 he had a conversion experience, noting that: “It was in the open street [of Nottingham] that this great change passed over me”.
William Thompson (on his retirement) developed a problem with alcohol and he knew that his lifestyle needed to change. That change came in 1872, when he converted, having attended a congregation held by the former coal miner turned preacher named Richard Weaver. This was at The Mechanics Institute on Milton Street in Nottingham.
New to the gallery is a high quality copy of Bendigo, painted in 1850 by Thomas Earl.
The original oil on canvas is owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Legendary Prize-Fighter ‘Bendigo’ is known to have a strong association with the Forest Tavern in Nottingham. He was close to the landlord John Ellis, who supported him in his career and beyond. The building now has a plaque installed in his memory, thanks to funding by Nottingham Civic Society.
The unveiling was conducted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, Cllr Nicola Heaton, who spoke about Nottingham’s sporting heritage and the importance of Bendigo to it.
In the 1830s, the Forest Tavern would not have been surrounded by housing, as it is now. It would have had a rural feel to it. The location had until then been known as a place of public execution and was also a turnpike. There were even a dozen windmills along what is now Forest Road, taking advantage of the hilltop location. The Forest Tavern was one of the first properties built along that stretch of Mansfield Road, before the Enclosure Act allowed Nottingham to expand. The Rock Cemetery was created in 1845 and St Andrews Church in 1871.
Alan Dawson of the Bendigo Heritage Project said:
‘We know that the first proprietor of the Forest Tavern was a Londoner named John Ellis. It seems he was a close friend of Bendigo. In addition to allowing the tavern as a base for him to train, it was also used to exhibit his cups and belts. John Ellis was also on the committee that organised and funded the lion memorial over Bendigo’s grave. It’s an important part of the Bendigo story.’
Jevon Patrick of the Bendigo Heritage Project said:
We are really grateful to the Nottingham Civic Society for supporting us and in recognising Bendigo’s contribution to our city. The building is no longer a pub but it has been tastefully maintained in keeping with the Arboretum Conservation Area. The plaque will be a constant reminder to people using the busy Mansfield Road. We have specifically chosen a blue plaque to represent the colour that Bendigo used at his fights, ‘Bird’s Eye Blue’.
Funding for the plaque has been provided by the Nottingham Civic Society.
Hilary Silvester Chair of Nottingham Civic Society said:
Nottingham Civic Society is delighted to be joining with the Bendigo Heritage Project, to celebrate and commemorate Nottingham’s 19th Century sporting hero, William Thompson, nicknamed Bendigo. For a number of years, it seems, he was largely forgotten, so it is good that he once more has an enthusiastic band of followers. We congratulate them on their achievements on Bendigo’s behalf, and wish them well in their future work to publicise the city’s Victorian pugilist.’
Ian Wells of the Nottingham Civic Society also spoke about why they wanted to support us in keeping the Bendigo story accessible to future generations.
The event also welcomed Nottingham’s rising star, welterweight boxer Ekow Essuman. Ekow was joined by his Nottingham trainer Barrington Brown. It was great to see passers-by stopping to acknowledge Ekowe, whose last fight was at Wembley Stadium in April whne he retained his British, Commonwealth and European titles against Darren Tetley.
We were also joined by Colin Wilde and Gaz Peacham, from Castle Rock Brewery. Castle Rock owned the building of the Forest Tavern until its closure a few years ago.
In our guided tour, we visit Bendigo’s grave and then Sneinton Market, where we pause to talk about Nottingham after his death. 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).
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.
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.
Private tours can be arranged by contacting the Bendigo Memorial Fund at email@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
Rebecca Thompson – born in 1805. Nothing more is known about her.
Thomas Thompson – born in 1807. We know that Thomas had two sons Benjamin and William.
John Thompson – born in 1809. John became a respected optician in Nottingham. We do not believe he married or had any children.
William and Richard Thompson – born in 1811 as triplets, with the third child (James) not surviving the birth. Richard died a week later. Maybe this created the bond between William and his mother, a bond that was never broken.
Mary Thompson – born in 1815. Mary died as a child in 1818.
Why is it important to identify the grave of Bendigo’s mother?
Mary Thompson had a huge influence on his life. We must remember that not only was Bendigo the only triplet to survive, his father died when Bendigo was 15 years old. Both Bendigo and his mother ended up poverty stricken and spent time in the workhouse.
As Bendigo developed his reputation as a prize-fighter, he remained close to his mother.
She is known to have encouraged him to take on Tom Paddock for his final fight in 1850. As a 39 year-old, Bendigo was in two minds as to whether to accept the fight or not. His 82 year-old mother encouraged him by saying:
“I tell you this Bendy, if you don’t take up the fight you’re a coward. And I tell you more, if you don’t fight him, I’ll take up the challenge myself.”
Bendigo won the fight. He then retired undefeated as champion, with two prize belts and four silver cups to his name, perhaps the last of the great prize-fighters.
Whilst there is no headstone on Mary Thompson’s grave, the records show that Bendigo’s older brother Thomas is also buried there.
He is buried in the plot next to Mary. Thomas was buried there on 27th December 1863, aged 57 years. He was described as an engineer. He is interred in plot 9137 with an Elizabeth Thompson and Eliza Proctor.
What do we know about those buried with Thomas Thompson?
We know that Thomas Thomson had two sons by his first wife. He had moved to Sheffield in Yorkshire. Thomas’ second son (also named William) was charged but acquitted of his wife’s manslaughter in 1876.
Thomas appears to have returned to Nottingham. His second wife was previously known by the name Elizabeth Yates. We know that Bendigo was friends with a man called George Yates. He and George used to go fishing together. This helps to show that the family as a whole remained close. We know nothing more about Eliza Proctor.
Bendigo’s other brother, John Thompson was buried in the Rock Cemetery in 1873 aged 64 years. He is buried on his own in plot 1292.
General Cemetery – How To Find The Grave Of Mary Thompson
Here are a sequence of photographs which will take you to Mary Thompson’s grave.
Why did the family use several burial grounds?
You have to remember that in those days the church was far more influential in society, than today. Also burials were the norm. Cremations didn’t come in until the 1880s.
Nottingham’ main church was St Mary The Virgin Church on High Pavement in what is now known as Nottingham’s historic Lace Market.
With the development of the lace and textile trade, the population of Nottingham had increased dramatically. The area around St. Mary’s Church changed too.
This expansion brought with it many problems, not least of which was where to bury the dead. The parish church yard rapidly began to run out of space and it was decided new burial grounds were needed. Between 1742 and 1813 three new cemeteries were created on land around Barker Gate, near the church.
By the time of Bendigo, even these burial grounds were becoming full. Ordinary people would rarely pre-arrange a family plot. Burials were arranged the most convenient cemetery available.
Bendigo himself is buried at a former cemetery on Bath Street. This was created in 1935, after a Quaker by the name of Samuel Fox donated the land, after an outbreak of cholera in 1835.
The Nottingham General Cemetery Company was opened by Royal Assent for their Act of Parliament on 19 May 1836. The site covers 18 acres which is on a slope. The lower entrance is on Waverley Street (opposite the Arboretum) and then rises up to the cemetery gatehouse and alms-houses at the top entrance of Sion Hill, now Canning Circus. When the cemetery was opened, a single grave cost 7s 6d (equivalent to £34 in 2019). It stopped allocating new plots in 1923. The freehold passed to Nottingham City Council in 1956. The mortuary chapels were demolished in 1958.
The General Cemetery contains the war graves of 336 Commonwealth service personnel and one Belgian war grave from World War I. Most of those buried there had died at military hospitals in the city. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission continue to maintain the graves. One of the notable people buried here in 1888, is Samuel Morley VC. Morley was awarded the Victoria Cross, not once, but twice.
St Mary’s Church was also responsible for the Nottingham workhouse from 1726. This was the same workhouse where Bendigo and his mother were sent in around 1827. The church continued to manage the workhouse until 1834, when responsibility was transferred from parishes to secular Boards of Guardians. The workhouse was demolished in 1895 to clear part of the site needed for the construction of the Nottingham Victoria railway station.
More Churches For Nottingham
As Nottingham expanded, St Mary’s created further parishes, including the Holy Trinity Church near to Bendigo’s birthplace. It is worth noting these, to show the influence that the Anglican Church had in society.
1822 St Paul’s Church, George Street, Nottingham.
1841 Holy Trinity Church, Trinity Square.
1844 St John the Baptist’s Church, Leenside (destroyed by bombing in May 1941).
1856 St Mark’s Church, Nottingham.
1856 St Matthew’s Church, Talbot Street.
1863 St Ann’s Church, Nottingham.
1863 St Luke’s Church, Nottingham
1863 St Saviour’s, Arkwright Street
1864 All Saints’, Raleigh Street, Nottingham.
1871 St Andrew’s Forest Road, Nottingham.
1881 Emmanuel Church, Woodborough Road.
1888 St Catharine’s, St Ann’s Well Road, next to St Mary’s Rest Garden on Bath Street.
1903 St Bartholomew’s Church, Blue Bell Hill Road.
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.
The Forest Tavern
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.
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 the City of 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 preserved the original front of the building.
We have also installed a plaque so that the building is identified to passers by.
The Jewish Burial Ground in 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. 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.
In 1824 a man named Soloman Barnett was buried here. He died at the Nottingham Workhouse after an epileptic fit. Bendigo also spent time in the workhouse two years later.
Rabbi Lewis Goldberg died in tragic but unusual circumstances at his home 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.
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
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 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.
This moment in time helps to connect our fascinating and shared history.
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.
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
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.