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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Jem Mace

Jem Mace, 1831 - 1910

Jem Mace - Picture courtesy of NMAS
Jem Mace

The World Heavyweight champion - a bare knuckle fighter whose bouts sometimes lasted several hours - Jem Mace was a Norfolk man who was landlord of the White Swan public house in Swan Lane, Norwich for a short time from 1858.

Born in Beeston, the son of a blacksmith, Mace showed an early enthusiasm for fighting - often with other boys in the village. Apprenticed to a cabinet maker in nearby Wells-next-the-Sea he preferred to play the violin in public houses rather than make cabinets but by the age of 16 had embarked on an nomadic life - fighting at fairs and race meetings. He was introduced to organised boxing by Nat Latham, a celebrated middleweight and promoter, and began fighting in his booth. In October 1855 he beat a Norwich fighter named Slack in only nineteen minutes in a bout at Mildenhall and moved to London.

He found the harsh world of London prize-fighting intimidating and his newly won reputation suffered as he conceded fights in dubious circumstances. However, he rebuilt his career - often fighting men much heavier than him in bouts lasting many rounds. In June 1861 he beat Sam Hurst over eight rounds to win the championship of England, only to lose it two years later to Tom King by what was described as 'an unlucky blow'. Mace was a formidable fighter; he had a strong left hand, was quick on his feet and if necessary would use his head on his opponents. His fights were physically demanding and he once said that he sometimes lost between 10 and 15 lbs (4.5-7kg) in weight during an open air bout.

Mace combined his pugilistic activities with being a pub landlord, in Norwich and elsewhere, whilst also appearing in travelling circuses - including Pablo Fanque's. His private life was complicated. He married Mary Barton in 1851 who bore him several children, but he also had a mistress with whom he had offspring, and married again in later life. In between he entered into a bigamous marriage which produced yet more children.

The highlight of his career arrived in 1870 during his time in the United States when he won the American championship, beating Tom Allen at Kenner in Louisiana near New Orleans and the following year winning the championship of the world in what was described as 'a mill' 'without a blow being struck'. Mace later fought in Australia and New Zealand and was still fighting professionally at the age of 52.  Returning to the pub trade he fought in veterans' boxing matches at the age of 66 when landlord in Birmingham. Toward the end of his life he lived in Lancashire, where he died at Jarrow in November 1910. Jem Mace was buried at Anfield cemetery in Liverpool where his son Alfred presided over the interment.

Nick Williams

August 2010

 

Image courtesy of Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service (NMAS).