New version of book on Hucknall sporting legend, Ben Caunt

A book that celebrates one of the biggest sporting champions in Hucknall's history has been updated and revised in time to make an ideal Christmas present.

Wednesday, 9th November 2016, 3:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 5:16 pm
PACKING A PUNCH -- Dave Fellss book, which can be bought from Haywoods on Watnall Road in Hucknall or online from Amazon.

Ben Caunt was bareknuckle boxing champion of England in the mid-19th century, and the story of his feats and life have been captured in the book, which has been written by former Hucknall man Dave Fells.

The original version was released in 2003 after Fells had spent long hours of painstaking research that entailed many trips to the Newspaper Library in London. But since then, the digital revolution has opened up new online avenues, enabling Fells to unearth fresh nuggets of information and new illustrations. The upshot is a labour of love for author and historian Fells, now 65, who has also written an equally fascinating book on Notts County’s FA Cup-winning season in 1894.

Although he now lives in Shepshed, Fells spent much of his early life in Hucknall and was married at the Parish Church in 1973. That’s also where Caunt’s mum and dad, Robert Caunt and Martha Butler, wed, way back in 1802 and it is where Caunt himself is buried. But it was through his own mother, Kathleen, that Fells became intrigued by the pugilist -- because she was a descendant of one of Caunt’s brothers, Frederick.

Fells himself also used to be a member of a boxing club in Bestwood Village, although the skills he learned were a far cry from those employed in Caunt’s day when it was not unusual for fights to drag on for up to 100 rounds!

Bareknuckle prize fights were illegal and bloody affairs. Injury was the norm, and death sometimes occurred. But because the courage of the fighters was so respected, they became the sporting heroes of the day, receiving not only rich adulation but also financial reward that they could never have hoped to gain otherwise.

When the giant Caunt (6’2” tall and weighing 18 stone) was first crowned national champion in 1841, he was given a hero’s welcome as he returned to Hucknall, with most of the population turning out to greet him. And so well-off did he become, even though he had only nine bouts, that from being a mere labourer, he took over as landlord of the Coach And Horses pub on St Martin’s Lane, London, now known as the Salisbury. He even toured America.

Sadly, it all ended in tears and tragedy. Two of Caunt’s children were killed in a fire at the pub, he collapsed with exhaustion in his final fight, at the age of 42, and four years later, he died of pneumonia. But no-one, not least Fells, can take away the achievements of one of Hucknall’s most famous sons.