Southpaw was handy with a chandelier...

editorial image

FOR the 13 year-old farmhand who would become one of the town’s most successful boxers and popular publicans, it all began at a hiring fair in Stockton.

As well as looking for work, Isaiah – known as Ike to his friends – was attracted to the sideshows, especially the boxing booths.

“Who will have a go at Jones from Newcastle?” blared a voice from one of the booths.

“Half-a-crown to any man who can stand up to him for three rounds.”

As the youngest of three brothers and son of a bare-fist fighter Ike had learned how to look after himself and offered himself for the challenge.

He was accepted and, taking up a southpaw stance, proceeded to down the Newcastle man “like a bag of coal” in the second round in front of a delighted crowd.

Buoyed by his success, Ike waited for the second house and accepted the challenge of another Geordie, the celebrated “Rags” Johnson, who was also counted out after being put on the canvas by Ike’s deadly left.

Ike never looked back after that, and had several big wins, including beating the “Pitmen’s Champion”, Luke Ward, at Hartlepool Rink, and Jack Harrison, then holder of the Lonsdale middleweight belt, in a non-title fight in Middlesbrough.

But perhaps his most memorable bout was an informal bout with a policeman who fancied himself as a pugilist.

Ike had used his winnings to buy an off-licence in Cannon Street, Middlesbrough, and fitted the back room out as a gym, where the officer challenged him to a bout.

A wild swing from the tall policeman connected with the gas chandelier above his head, bringing it down on him at the same moment Ike connected with his jaw.

The policeman was well and truly out and when he came to said, with a puzzled frown, “you hit me on the jaw, yet I felt it on the head”.

Ike, who had put back the chandelier, chose not to reveal what had really happened.

The First World War curtailed Ike’s boxing career. He volunteered at the outbreak and went to France with the artillery.

When he returned in 1919 he was 33 and out of shape and lost his comeback fight - and final bout – in the fourth round.

By now he was married with a young family and retired from the ring, becoming “mine host” at Hartlepool’s Corporation Hotel until retiring in 1946.

Looking back 14 years later as a sprightly 74-year-old in his Powlett Street home in the town he told the Mail reporter: “Boxing is in my blood.

“I have always loved and lived for it.”

Contact Andrew Levett by emailing or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.