In the later 19th century Charnwood Street boasted a prize-fighter – an illegal bare-knuckle boxer – in the person of Joseph Collins, a shoe hand born in Leicester in 1847, and better known in boxing circles as Tug Wilson. He was living at 81 Charnwood Street in1878 when he was found guilty of aiding and abetting a prize fight at Aylestone Park, held in the storeroom of an unoccupied bakehouse between John Orton, a bricklayer’s labourer, and William Burrows, a shoe hand (Leicester Chronicle, 12 October 1878). Other prosecutions followed, including a charge in May 1881 of ‘being about to commit a breach of the peace by taking part in a prize fight’ in Birmingham against the ‘noted pugilist’ Alfred Greenfield. After pleading guilty he was bound over in the sum of £100 to keep the peace for 12 months, with two sureties for the same amount (Leicester Chronicle, 28 May 1881).
In the following year he was invited to the USA to fight the world heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan at Madison Square Garden in New York, with a promise of $1000 dollars and half the gate receipts if he was still standing at the end of four scheduled ‘exhibition’ rounds. He survived all four by allegedly ‘running, wrestling and intentionally falling to get away from the champion’, and was ’roundly booed by the crowd’.
How he spent his hard-won prize money is not known – but by 1891 he was living at 32 Preston Street and working as a fish hawker. In November that year he was summoned for assaulting a stonemason, John Barratt, of 147 Humberstone Road, who was also said to be ‘well-known in local sporting circles’. During an argument in the Nelson Inn in Humberstone Gate, Joseph Collins was said to have struck Barratt:
a most violent blow in the eye, which was blackened. He had suffered considerably from it and had been in bed for a week. The barmaid bathed his eye, and while she was engaged defendant tried to get at him again, but was prevented by the landlord.
Collins claimed provocation after being called a coward, but Barrett’s lawyer said: ‘If the assault was proved, he would ask the Bench to consider what force a blow from Collins would have – it would be like a kick from a horse’. Interestingly, the Chairman of the Bench declared that provocation ‘did not justify defendant in striking complainant; still, to call a man a coward was to court the punishment which had been given. The case would be met with a fine of 5s’ (Leicester Chronicle, 28 November 1891). In December 1893 he appears in an account of a gymnastic display and ‘assault-at-arms’ in the village hall in Syston, staying well within the law with ‘a splendid display of the manly art’ with Mr N. Mawby, the amateur champion of the Midland counties and runner-up in the heavyweight amateur championship of England earlier that year. He retired from the ring in 1902, and is recorded in the 1911 Census as a fishmonger, living at 62 St Saviour’s Road East with his wife Sarah.
See http://boxrec.com/media/index.php/Tug_Wilson for a picture of Joseph Collins/Tug Wilson.