FOR a generation of young Jewish males in London’s East End – the sons of impoverished immigrants from Russia or Poland – boxing was a possible way to break free from the slums. Ted Kid Lewis, who won world welterweight honours, was the most successful Jewish-English boxer and arguably Britain’s greatest fighter ever. But where did Lewis and other East End Jews of his time learn their trade?
The Judean Social and Athletic Club was where it all started for Lewis and many other Jewish fighters. Part boxing hall, part gym, part social club, it was founded in 1902 by brothers Dave and Barney Stitcher to encourage Jewish youngsters to participate in sport. It was best known, though, for its Sunday afternoon fight shows.
The club was at 54 Princes Square, off Cable Street, in a loft high above a stable and reached via a ladder. Hundreds of spectators would crowd the place to near-suffocation, many of them there to place bets.
Boxing News first visited the club in 1909, and our reporter liked what he saw, writing: “It has not been my pleasure to witness such rattling good sport on a Sunday for many years. The Judeans have a mission to perform, and whilst they have as yet no world-beaters, the time is not far off when a JS and AC member will give to the boxing world a representative champion.”
However, our writer found the raucous atmosphere less to his liking: “The noise – oh ye Gods! You could not hear yourself shout, and when you get a dense crowd all shouting, it is – well, it’s awful! We would impress upon the good boys of the Judean Club to maintain silence, if not all the time, at least during the boxing. Howling and bawling to your pal in the ring does not help him. The poor fellow in the ring, even if he is carrying your money, has got but two hands.”
It was a rough and ready place, with no doctor present and no Board of Control to impose safety rules. In fact, that very afternoon, as BN’s correspondent stood enduring the noise, he saw one young fighter crash through the ropes and out of the ring, shattering a tumbler on the referee’s table. A large shard of glass pierced the lad’s shoulder, leaving him with a huge gash that required hospital treatment.
Our reporter blamed the slackness of the ropes and said the ring – which presumably had only two ropes – ought to have three. The club secretary, Sam Kite, assured him this would be in place in time for their next show.
With the club’s small capacity and cheap entrance fees, the fighters’ purses were ludicrously low. When Kid Lewis made his debut there, he received just sixpence (2.5p) and a cup of tea! But it seems some boxers found a way to augment their paltry purses.
In 1910, the later famous Moss Deyong started his refereeing career at the Judean. “We can’t get the boxers to fight straight!” the Stitcher brothers told him. Sure enough, in his first afternoon refereeing there, Deyong found four fighters “who endeavoured to terminate proceedings according to their own private arrangements”, one of whom repeatedly tried to quit with a feigned arm injury, which Moss refused to accept. According to his autobiography, Deyong soon straightened things out. As well as Lewis, other top boxers who graduated from the Judean included Young Joseph, Sid Burns, Young Cohen, Jack Greenstock and the Brooks brothers: Joe, Nat and Harry. In 1914, the club closed as 80 per cent of its members were serving in the Great War. It never reopened – the building was wiped out by a Zeppelin bomb.