History | Issue | Premium | Jul 29 2019

When Sam Langford came to the UK

Mile Templeton looks back at when the ‘Boston Tar Baby,’ Sam Langford fought in Britain
Sam Langford

I WATCHED Dave Allen with interest in his losing bout with David Price recently. Allen is the latest in a line of decent heavyweights who have come from the Conisbrough area. Just a few miles up the road towards Doncaster lies Balby, the birthplace of Bruce Woodcock, and three miles in the other direction lies Mexborough, the birthplace of Iron Hague. Woodcock and Hague both became British heavyweight champion 40 years apart. Hague is best remembered for the brave fight he put up against Sam Langford in 1909.

Langford boxed in Britain on four occasions. Along with Harry Wills, he is often cited as one of the best heavyweights never to win the world title. His nickname was the “Boston Tar Baby” and, although he stood only a little over 5ft 7ins, he had a devastating punch and was greatly feared, and avoided, by the leading heavyweights of the day. He first came to Britain in 1907 when he beat Tiger Smith and Geoff Thorne inside the distance. He liked the way he was treated in London and was keen to return. When he did so, two years later, it was to fulfil a contractual obligation to fight Jack Johnson at the National Sporting Club for the world title. As Johnson refused to carry out his end of the bargain, Hague was brought in as a substitute. The Yorkshireman fought very bravely but was sent down for the count after being caught cleanly on the chin by a hard right cross in the fourth round. At the end of the contest, Langford, his left eye partially closed, congratulated Hague on his performance.

Sam’s last appearance on these shores took place in 1911 when he fought the Australian champion, Bill Lang, at the Olympia Grand Hall. Once again, Langford proved to be a big hit with the British fans, and he was approachable and accommodating throughout the preparations for the bout. He trained at the Norfolk Arms in Wembley and he made the occasional trip down to Kensington where the public could pay the equivalent of 5p to watch him train at the Olympia Annexe. Lang’s training quarters were at the Old Bull and Bush in Hampstead. Interestingly, both of these pubs, and the fight venue, are all still in existence. If anyone pops into the Norfolk Arms for a quick pint these days then they can reflect on Sam’s presence there over 100 years ago.

Sam Langford


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