Boxing clever at Morecambe’s Winter Gardens

A book details the forgotten chapter of one of north west England’s most significant but lesser known boxing venues - Morecambe’s Winter Gardens.

Thursday, 16th May 2019, 3:48 pm
Boxing by the Sea by Larry Braysher.
Boxing by the Sea by Larry Braysher.

Author Larry Braysher traces the venue’s rich boxing heritage between 1928 and 1964.

Big name boxers Primo Carnera and Jock McAvoy are among the stars who appeared at the gardens.

Italy’s Carnera was a professional boxer and also a professional wrestler. He was nicknamed the ‘Ambling Alp’ and reigned as the World Heavyweight Champion from June 29, 1933 to June 14, 1934.

The programme for the final show at the Winter Gardens. Picture courtesy of Larry Braysher.

He visited Morecambe as part of a British tour. The Italian, who stood at 6ft 5ins and three quarter inches and weighed almost 18 stones really was a giant among men.

Joe Brucciani, from an Italian family living in Morecambe, possibly a member of the Brucciani ice cream making family, was appointed as a translator.

After a reception at the Battery hotel in Morecambe where Carnera consumed a sumptuous meal, smoked a cigar and signed a mountain of autographs before moving on to the Winter Gardens.

He was introduced as ‘the eighth wonder of the world and the next heavyweight champion.’

Primo Carnera the future Heavyweight champion of the world who endeared himself to the people of Morecambe. Picture courtesy of Larry Braysher.

The four boxers taking part were Ted Brookes, of Bradford; Billy Wells, of Sunderland; Jim Bradlery, of Tunstall, and Dave Forbes, of Glasgow, who were all over six feet tall yet were dwarfed alongside the giant Italian.

Carnera handled them with ease and it was an event not to be forgotten.

‘Rochdale Thunderbolt’ Jock McAvoy was, in Larry Braysher’s opinion, not only ‘the best boxer ever to lace on a pair of gloves at the Winter Gardens but was likely the best middleweight boxer this country has ever produced.’

Indeed McAvoy has his own chapter in the book in which Larry says , “In its heyday the Winter Gardens had been host to all sorts of entertainments with variety performances, cinema shows, dances and bars being enjoyed by visitors and numerous stars from George Formby to The Rolling Stones trod its famous boards.

Jock McAvoy the most accomplished boxer ever to appear at the Winter Gardens. Picture courtesy of Larry Braysher.

“But a certain sport was to prove a popular and exciting spectacle for several decades, and that was professional boxing.

“The boxing link is barely recorded anywhere locally so with that in mind I decided to explore its boxing past and details the story of the bouts, boxers and other associated interesting characters which establish boxing’s place in the history of Morecambe and in particular in the history of this fine old building.”

Larry looks at the pre-war years at the Winter Gardens which saw boxing go from strength-to-strength.

During 1929 promoters came up with an England versus Italy show, with one side of the bill with English boxers and the other side Italians.

Frankie Taylor who topped the bill on the Winter Gardens final show. Picture courtesy of Larry Braysher.

There was also a ‘War of the Roses’ with boxers from Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Larry explains: “It would be fair to say that some of the most prestigious names in boxing to appear at the Winter Gardens did so as referees.” He wrote a full chapter in the book on the famous boxers in their day who officiated at the Winter Gardens.

The post war period and the slow decline of boxing at the Winter Gardens is noted and by 1949 there were only 23 shows as opposed to 34 shows in 1947.

In 1952 there was a cruel blow awaiting the boxing followers at the Winter Gardens which would cast a shadow over the lives of those it touched.

On August 28, Micky Johnson, a 22-year-old having his fifth professional bout, died in hospital after being stopped in the last of an eight round contest.

This death was the only boxing fatality ever at the Winter Gardens.

This was to be the final show for some considerable time.

It would be four years before anyone would attempt its reintroduction. Larry Braysher also looks at local favourites in the boxing world including Morecambe’s Jack Murphy, Lancaster’s Tommy Smith and Gordon Riding of Lancaster.

The final time that boxing graced the Winter Gardens was 1964 when Frankie’ The Tiger’ Taylor topped the bill.

Frankie Taylor was a trained journalist and having formerly being a junior reporter on the Lancaster Guardian and Lancashire Post, went on to enjoy a career which saw him become the respected boxing correspondent of a national newspaper.

*‘Boxing by the Sea’ is available from Larry Braysher at ‘Cherry Trees’, 10 Cragg Drive, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, LA1 6BL. Telephone: 015395 35459 at a cost of £10.90 plus £2.50 post and packing.