Friday, May 20, 2016

Johnny Walker

John Walker, a baker at the new bakery on the corner of Creed Street was well known as a prize fighter, as was his eldest son, also John. This piece from the Bucks Herald Sat 9 Jul 1842 give us some idea how disreputable these fights were.

The thieves, pickpockets, and swell-mob fraternity mustered in stronger numbers than usual at the prize fight on Tuesday, between two fellows called Johnny Walker and Ned Adams. The affair had been appointed to come off close to Virginia Water, but there, and at two or three other places, the magistrates interfered and compelled the ruffians to ‘move on’. At length, after considerable time ha been spent in marching and counter-marching, the pummelling, which lasted nearly an hour and a half, commenced near the village of Bracknell. Walker, who was the winner, appeared but little hurt; but the nose of the other was split after the first few rounds and his cheek was “cut open” to a great extent. The fight it is sidewise got up by a “sporting viscount” (who had heavily backed the winner). The most barefaced robberies were committed in the vicinity of the ring during, and especially immediately after, the fight. Regularly organised gangs of from 15 to 20 each under a fellow who acted as their leader, robbed everyone who had the least appearance of respectability, without let or hindrance, of money, watches, and indeed of every thing of value they possessed, and which they were fools enough to take to such a gathering as a “prize fight.”

He was about 40 when he came to Wolverton and presumably his best fighting days were behind him. One assumes that he had made enough money from this brutal pugilism to establish himself in business. He was born in the parish of St George the Martyr in Southwark, exactly the same place that George Weight, Wolverton’s first vicar, had worked as a curate. Was this coincidence, or did George Weight’s move to Wolverton a few years earlier generate some interest in the Walker household?

He must have been a tough old character because his bruising youth did not appear to have shortened his lifespan. In fact he live beyond the average for the era, dying at Wolverton in 1892 at the age of 84, still baking to his last days. His widow was his second wife and was 30 years younger, The sons and daughters had long ago moved on and nobody wished to inherit the business. In 1901 the shop was run by the widowed Hannah Smith as a grocer but it seems that she kept the bakery going as she employed 25 year old Arthur Lovell as a “bread maker”. 10 years later she was operating the place as a corner shop selling sweets.

Once in the fight game it may be difficult to leave it alone. The Northampton Mercury reported on September 10th 1859 on the death of a 25 year old Albert Whyman during a fight at Wollaston. The fight started as a quarrel outside the Nags Head at closing time and because of the noise the landlord cleared them away and the crowd, larger now, trooped off to a nearby field. As the fight started men took sides and presumably money changed hands. John Walker is described as the “backer” of the unfortunate Wyman.

It appears that Whyman was getting the better of the fight until his opponent swung one punch to his head, which felled him and from which he failed to recover. The opponent, one George Whyte, was committed to trial for manslaughter. John Walker was given a warning by the magistrates and released.

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