Tom Cribb

(1781—1848) pugilist

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(1781–1848) A British boxer who became prize champion of England in 1809, and retired in 1822. His fights with Tom Molineux, a black American freed from slavery in Virginia who had arrived in England in 1809, established the popularity and appeal of international boxing matches. They fought twice, in 1810 in Sussex and the following year in Leicestershire. Cribb won both fights, though the first one with the help of an invasion of the ring by spectators supporting and betting on Cribb, and dubious inputs from his seconds. A century on, one writer characterized the encounters as a confrontation between the ‘superior science’ of the Englishman and the strength of the ‘hurricane fighter’ with a ‘perfectly Herculean frame’ from the New World (Ralph Nevill, Sporting Days and Sporting Way, 1910). Both fights attracted large crowds, estimated at more than 5,000 and 20,000 respectively, and from all social backgrounds: in Nevill's words, the ‘assemblage of sporting characters, from the peer on the coach-box to the more gentlemanly-looking pickpocket, was very complete’. The fights also generated high levels of gambling, and profits for entrepreneurs. Cribb's patron and trainer, Captain Barclay, won the then huge sum of £10,000 on the second fight.

The popularity of Cribb and Barclay was on a national scale. As Barclay and Cribb travelled north to Scotland to train for the fight, they did so as the two most celebrated sportsmen in the nation. As Peter Radford states:They were not merely sporting curiosities—they were heroes…Wellington was struggling to establish his superiority in Spain, and Britain had been at war almost without a break for 18 years. Cribb and Barclay were welcomed as much needed proof that British manhood was still the best in the world, and they were greeted with a mixture of curiosity, enthusiasm and awe. (The Celebrated Captain Barclay: Sport, Gambling and Adventure in Regency Times, 2001).In London, sporting enthusiasts celebrated the Englishman's victory as a symbol of national qualities against a backdrop of threats to the status and stability of the nation: the struggle with Napoleon was still at its height; social disturbances were intensifying with the emergence of the machine-breaking Luddist protesters; and the economy was volatile (the following year, the British Prime Minister, Spencer Percival, was assassinated by a bankrupt businessman from Liverpool). Cribb held on to his title, though never defending it again after the second Molineux fight, living off a coal business and his reputation. Molineux died destitute, at the age of 34.

From A Dictionary of Sports Studies in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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