GOOD gyms are the lifeblood of any thriving boxing town or city, and in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, the town of Croydon more than held its own in that respect. The area boasted various top-notch boxers – Mark Hart [pictured], Albert Finch, Pat Stribling, Ron Pudney, Emlyn Jones and the Toohig brothers among them – and they all trained regularly at a gym at the rear of the Gun pub on Church Street.
The gym was started by former Croydon pro Tom Fisher, who boxed between 1926 and 1935, appearing at such venues as the Blackfriars Ring, Greenwich Baths and Croydon Stadium, before becoming a matchmaker, second and manager. Fisher had a gym on Gloucester Street, but it was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in the autumn of 1944.
Upset but determined to carry on, Tom searched Croydon for new premises. After sounding out the licensee of the Gun – a Mrs Mary Miles – he was offered the hall and gardens as a gym on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings. It was an instant success and soon had over 50 active members.
More than just a place for fighters to work out, it was a social hub for fans and, inevitably, various ex-fighters, who were made very welcome. Onlookers would congregate on seats placed around every wall of the hall or in the pub garden where boxers trained in milder weather.
The gym was at its busiest and most atmospheric on Sunday mornings. The promotional duo of Bill Goodwin and Alf Hart were often there, along with the well-known matchmakers Jack King and Eddie Derfield, who would visit on talent-scouting missions (no YouTube in those days!).
In his autobiography, Boxing Was My Sport, Tom Fisher recalled one particular occasion at the Gun with fondness: “The most famous personality to visit the Gun was Don Cockell from nearby Battersea. Having knocked out both of Croydon’s stars, Albert [Finch] and Mark [Hart], in British championship contests, this alone earned him great respect in Croydon. However, Don’s fame in defeating the American, Harry Matthews, both in London and his home town of Seattle, USA, and in consequence fighting the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky Marciano, was worldwide. Don got a great reception from us all when he visited the Gun – a rare event to meet a man who had stood up so well against the legendary Rocky, who later retired undefeated world champion.”
The training fee at the Gun was a mere shilling (5p) per session. But as some of the local fighters progressed into championship class they were expected, or instructed by their managers, to train at the more select London gyms – places like Jack Solomons’ famous Great Windmill Street establishment. With rising rent and the loss of the bigger names, the Gun gym temporarily closed in the late summer of 1948, but afterwards it was reopened by the classy Croydon ex-pro and first-rate trainer Johnny Toohig.
The Gun emerged in the right place at the right time. As well as an abundance of fistic talent in Croydon and the surrounding areas, it could count on the local Goodwin-Hart promotional team – who staged regular shows at venues such as Beckenham Baths, Croydon Baths, Croydon Civic Hall, Selhurst Park football ground and the Davis Theatre – to provide regular work for its patrons.
Today, there is nothing left to remind us of this once-important fistic landmark. The Gun pub closed in October 2012, long after the gym had vanished, and today a restaurant stands in its place.