EVERYONE in the East End knew him, but he was far from an advertisement for his former profession. To fight-mad schoolboys, too young to have known him as a boxer, it was hard to reconcile the figure they saw now with that of the one-time king of Britain and Europe, a man who had fought Freddie Welsh, Georges Carpentier and Harry Lewis.
Partially paralysed and relying on a pair of sticks for support, his body bowed, his gait a painful shuffle, the contrast between the then and now was stark. Although boxing may not have caused Young Joseph’s condition, his name had become a byword for the sport’s inherent risks.
Joseph Aschel – his real name – was born to Jewish-immigrant parents in 1885. He lived on Cutler Street in Aldgate, not far from Wonderland on Whitechapel Road, the home of East End boxing. Joseph got his first chance at the venue in a trial bout in 1900, and from 1903 was a Wonderland regular, winning most of his fights and impressing those knowledgeable crowds with his fistic skill. Over the next few years his fame grew exponentially. He appeared several times at British boxing’s HQ, the National Sporting Club (NSC), but stayed loyal to Wonderland despite the low purses.
In 1908, Joseph beat Corporal Baker at the NSC for the British welterweight crown, and in March 1910 he met ex-lightweight champ Jack Goldswain of Bermondsey in a match for the first welterweight Lonsdale Belt. Joseph dominated a poor fight marred by spoiling from an out-of-condition Goldswain, who was disqualified in the 12th for holding. In accordance with the terms of his contract, the NSC withheld Goldswain’s purse and training expenses, and Goldswain sued them. In a strange twist, Joseph, who belonged to a new boxers’ union, testified against the NSC. He told Westminster County Court that, in his opinion, Goldswain had done all he could to win and should not be financially penalised. Goldswain lost the case and a subsequent appeal.
Three months after winning the belt, Joseph faced Philadelphia’s Harry Lewis at Wonderland for the world title, but the big-hitting American stopped him in seven. That November, Joseph outpointed France’s Battling Lacroix in Paris for the European crown. But in January 1911, he lost a bout billed as being for his British belt, to Arthur Evernden on a disqualification. As the fight wasn’t held at the NSC, however, Joseph insisted he was still champion, while Evernden laid unofficial claim to the title.
That October, Joseph defended his European crown against a young Georges Carpentier. The French teenager proved a revelation, winning as BN put it “pretty nearly as he liked”. But Joseph earned the crowd’s respect for his never-say-die display. Although hindered by a training injury to his right fist, it was obvious the Aldgate man could not have won on his best night. With hindsight, lasting 10 rounds with the legendary Frenchman, as he did before his corner pulled him out, was an achievement in itself.
There was just one more championship match for Joseph, when he lost his British title to Johnny Summers in April 1912. He fought on for a couple more years but was forced to quit the ring through ill health. The exact nature of his condition, and whether it stemmed from boxing, is unclear. Press reports from 1915, when Joseph was just 30, describe him as “disabled” and “stricken down with a serious illness”.
After leaving boxing, he owned a clothing shop in the East End, but as his health worsened he was forced to give it up. BN noted in 1937, when Joseph was 52, that he had “almost entirely lost the use of his limbs” and found speech difficult. It was a tragic and unthinkable postscript for a widely respected sporting hero – a man who had inspired the great Ted Kid Lewis. Joseph died on October 23, 1952, aged 67.