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The Ron Barton mystery solved

Ron Barton
How could former ABA and professional champion, a 1950s sporting celebrity, Ron Barton just disappear? Kevin Batchelor found out

THE recent reference to the mystery surrounding former British light-heavyweight champion, Ron Barton, by Alex Daley in Boxing News (May 30), prompted me to dig deeper, and establish exactly how his life unfolded, after his successful ring career.

How could a former ABA and professional champion, a 1950s sporting celebrity, just disappear? For Ron, life after boxing was spent in domestic contentment, with wife Rose and his family. He continued to work at Smithfield meat market. Yet in his boxing heyday, he admitted in The People (December 22, 1957) that fame had gone to his head.

He ran two cars and bought 10 in two years. His wardrobe contained a dozen Savile Row suites, silks shirts and gold cufflinks. He was a regular feature in the society columns of the glossy magazines and the Kray twins were huge fans, often buying 200 tickets for his fights.

He may have been forgotten by many, but not by Richard Kindersley, one of Britain’s pre-eminent typeface designers. “I remember him” Kindersley writes on his blog, “he was on What’s My Line? And [former TV star] Barbara Kelly drooled over the width of his shoulders.”

Ron Barton had 160 amateur contests, winning representative matches for the RAF, London and England. He won the ABA middleweight title on April 24, 1953, then turned pro the following year.

His chance at the British light-heavyweight title came after reigning champion Randolph Turpin retired following a crushing loss to Canadian dock worker Gordon Wallace. He won the Lonsdale Belt at Harringay Arena, but Barton’s life at the top lasted for only a few months. Although he stopped Finch in eight rounds, he suffered double vision and back pains.

“At one point Finch caught me so hard that he had me dangling through the ropes gazing blearily at an upside-down audience,” Barton would recall.

Barton had promised to take his recent bride, Rose, on honeymoon after the fight, as he’d been in training camp ever since the wedding but he was tempted by a £9,000 offer to fight the aforementioned Wallace instead. Barton had not recovered from his injuries, performed poorly and was floored four times. “I wish now I’d gone away with Rose instead,” he said.

On February 4, 1958, Barton was seriously injured when two cars collided in Denham. He was thrown through the car’s front window and ended up on the bonnet. (There were no seat belts in those days). He broke bones in his body and had his cheek bone wired up during a six-week stay in Mount Vernon hospital. Two weeks before his final contest, a knockout loss to previous conqueror Stan Cullis, Barton was involved in another accident when his car hit a bus in Kensal Rise

Barton featured on the front cover of Boxing News several times and once on the cover of The Ring Magazine in June 1955. Internet rumours that he died decades ago have been rife, though there were no national or sporting obituaries. Even the ‘Unresolved Mysteries’ community on Reddit couldn’t trace Ron, though one correspondent got close. Could he really still be alive, aged 86?

I initially sought divine guidance, with an enquiry to the Reverend John Lintern, the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Pelton, County Durham, where, according to the Find a Grave website, Ron was interred in 2008. He replied, “I did the funeral of Ronald Barton in 2008. He is the right age but was born locally and had no links with the East End of London or boxing. Good luck with your quest! Yours in Christ.”

This prompted a more secular approach. I provided my brother, Trevor Batchelor, a genealogy researcher, with Ron’s date of birth (February 25, 1933), place of birth (West Ham), and wedding date (December 17, 1955, to Stepney dressmaker, Rose Gorman). He established from electoral records that Ron and Rose lived at an address in the south east London suburb of Lee up to 2007.

So, with fingers crossed, I drove to the address on June 21. No one was home, but as I spoke to neighbours and wrote a letter to leave at the address, Rose pulled up in her car.

Welcoming, and looking much younger than her 85 years, she invited me in for a cup of tea and confirmed that Ron had indeed passed away – but only a year ago – on June 4, 2018, aged 85.

They had been married for 63 years when Ron passed away. He had been the longest living former British light-heavyweight champion. They have two children, Gillian and Clifford and two grown up grandsons, Sean and Nick. They started their life together in Ilford, Essex, in a large house Ron bought for a mere £1,800. They moved to Wembley, then to Lee Green.

Ron and Rose’s lives changed forever in the summer of 1983, when Ron suffered a brain haemorrhage, seemingly unconnected to his boxing career, which left him with short term memory problems. Rose effectively became his carer. He was off work for 15 months but returned to the meat market until he retired at 63. His only contact with the boxing world was through his friendship with the Ould twins, Johnny and Dave, who lived nearby.

Ron was modest and shy. “Although very quiet he still made us laugh with comments he came out with. He was still a very strong person which is why I think he lived so long,” said daughter Gillian. Reports of Ron Barton’s passing were several decades premature, so there is a slight irony in a belated obituary. Two thirds of Ron’s long life were spent away from boxing and the celebrity spotlight he enjoyed in the 1950s: yet Ron Barton was happiest when with his devoted wife Rose and family.

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