1868: Prize Fighting Women of Shrewsbury

A prize fight between two women in Shrewsbury caused much disgust to newspapers across the whole country in March 1868 – despite being a popular spectator sport.

Well-seasoned scrappers Mary Callaghan and Alice Davies were pitted against each after boasts from their fans in local pub, so called respectful admirers,  over who was the best and it was decided they should “fight it out” for the prize of 5 shillings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Arrangements were made overnight and early in the morning a ring was set up in a field overlooking Shrewsbury on the other side of the river, outside the loop.

Both ‘champions’ arrived on time, accompanied by a bottle holder whose job it was to sponge their faces, give them water and provide a knee for them to sit on between each round. Often women prize fighters would strip down, losing unnecessary clothing, sometimes down to the waist. With the crowd gathering round, bets placed and rules made clear the fight got underway.

“it’s impossible to say exactly which rules they were following – they probably just made up their own”

The Illustrated Police News front page, Saturday 21 March 1868.

It was a good fair fight, much to the satisfaction of the  onlookers, until the third round when the brawl took a nasty twist.

At the time the rules for prize fighting and bare knuckle boxing had been laid out for some time in a code called The London Prize Ring Rules which were drawn up in 1743. The Queensberry Rules had just been published the year before this fight however, but because of the rushed nature of organising these bouts, local interpretations and lack of formality, it’s impossible to say exactly which rules they were following – they probably just made up their own. It’s also important to note that the fights were illegal during this time.

But to give you an idea of what rules they may have followed The London Prize Ring Rules outlawed head butting, gouging, scratching, kicking, hitting a man (or woman in this case) while down, holding the ropes,  using resin, stones or hard objects in the hands, and biting.  Each round lasted until someone was knocked down, usually with a 30 second break in between.

“the ugly contest continued with the two women slugging it out for another four rounds”

Part way during the third round Mary “smarting from a well aimed blow” sunk her teeth into Alice’s arm. A row erupted with Alice’s supporters claiming this was a gross breach of the rules!

Dublin Evening Post 10th March 1868

The whole commotion had caught the attention of the landowner who threatened to call the police. This failed to stop the fight, it just moved to another field where the ugly contest continued with the two  women slugging it out for another four rounds.

The police then arrived scattering the large crowd, but they were able to arrest Mary, Alice and three of the spectators.

“it turns out she was a prostitute […] accused of robbing a drunken client”

All were summoned to appear before the magistrates in Shrewsbury. The spectators were fined varying amounts from 15 shillings to a guinea with the alternative being 14 and 21 days behind bars.

Mary was sent to prison for 21 days but Alice was unable to appear as she was already in prison awaiting trail for another crime. It turns out she was a prostitute from Mardol, the heart of Shrewsbury’s red-light district, and was accused of robbing a drunken client at a brothel down Mason’s Passage.


The news articles for this blog were sourced from http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s