Anniversary of death of bare-knuckle champion

Ben Caunt head and shoulders
Ben Caunt head and shoulders

ONE of Hucknall’s heroes died 150 years on Saturday September 10 — and it’s not Lord Byron.

His name is on most people’s lips in this country and even throughout the world, yet few know of his Hucknall connection.

He was Ben Caunt, champion prizefighter from the 1800s, who is buried in Hucknall Parish Churchyard.

“Everyone has heard that Byron is buried inside the church,” said Sheila Robinson, of Hucknall Tourism and Regeneration Group. “But they’re surprised when we show them Ben’s memorial stone and grave round the back.

“Then they’re gobsmacked when we tell them Ben has a memorial in London that’s taller than Nelson’s Column and louder than a jumbo jet (namely Big Ben, the tower and hour-bell in the Palace of Westminster which were reputedly named after him).

“Ben was born in Newstead and worked in Hucknall as a youngster,” said Sheila. “He was a strapping lad and he eventually became a blacksmith. Bareknuckle fighting was popular and Ben tried his hand at it.

“In 1836 he had a chance to fight the English champion, Nottingham’s Bendigo William Thompson, but lost after 22 rounds.

“Two years later he had another go at Bendigo and this time beat him after a punishing 76 rounds. There were no Marquis of Queensberry rules in those days.”

Returning to Hucknall as national champion, Ben was met on the town boundary by the old Hucknall Brass Band. Wearing a yellow muffler and plum-coloured waistcoat, he marched into town with the championship belt around his waist.

“The townsfolk went wild with delight,” added Sheila. “Ben died in London at the age of 46. His body was brought back to Hucknall and his funeral attracted huge crowds. For a time there were more visitors to his grave than to Byron’s tomb.”