Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Boxiana Vol. 1 preview: Bare-knuckle Grandfather

Ben Williams' grandfather, Charlie Sparrowhawk, strikes a fighting pose

Over the past few weeks, this blog has been featuring a series of exclusive previews of content from Boxiana: Volume 1, which will hopefully whet your appetite and persuade you to buy the full volume, which will be available as a paperback book (RRP £9.99) or ebook (RRP TBC).

Today I'm presenting an extract from the final chapter of Boxiana Volume 1, written by Ben Williams, in which Ben interviews his mother, Christine Sparrowhawk, about her father, the bare-knuckle fighter Charlie Sparrowhawk. 
Through Christine's detailed and fascinating memories, a bygone era of local fairs, boxing booths, and underground bare-knuckle bouts is brought to vivid life. It's a fascinating interview, which also provides some wonderful insights into Romany culture. It's the sort of 'oral history' which is, to my mind, vital in terms of preserving the memory of boxing's rich and varied past.

Boxiana: Volume 1 preview

Round 12

Ben Williams has always been fascinated by his family’s stories of his bare-knuckle boxing grandfather. So he decided to sit down with his mother, Christine Sparrowhawk, and get the lowdown on her father, Charlie Sparrowhawk, and cousin, Len Sparrowhawk, who used to box at the legendary Mitcham Fair in the 1960s …

Ben Williams: Can you tell me a little about Charlie?

Christine Sparrowhawk: My father was a Romany and he would never work for anybody. However hard up he was, he was rich, because he was a man, and he was his own man. He would never take orders from anyone, he never borrowedmoney, and he always felt that he owned the world. And he did,  because he didn’t live conventionally like other people with their 9-5 world. He was free, but also managed to bring up a family; three girls and a boy. He lived on his wits and he could make money out of anything. His philosophy – and it’s kept me going through life – was 'if you make money your master, you will be its slave. But if you let money go, it will grow.' He was so generous, the most generous of people.

BW: There was a lot of stigma attached to being a Romany then, as there is now.

CS: When I was growing up, my dad was very different and my grandparents were very different. My mother’s parents were quite smart and they thought she had married very much beneath her into my father’s family. My father’s family were the Sparrowhawks and they were from Mitcham. Every year there was a fair. The Mitcham Fair was old fashioned in a way. You can’t imagine it now. The fairground was beginning to get a bit modern, but the fair still had old-fashioned sideshows like the bearded lady and that sort of thing. Anyway, part of Mitcham Fair was a boxing ring and it was a big ring and they would stand outside and tote for people to come in and bare-knuckle fight. My father used to do it because it was a good way of earning money but also it helped your status within the social circle where he lived in London.

BW: Can you remember what these fights were like?

CS: I can remember going to watch him fight, I can remember holding my big sister’s hand as we channelled into this huge marquee tent that had a proper boxing ring and big lights. All the motes of sawdust would catch in the light and all the crowd would roar – they were very unruly. It was terrifying and I held on to my sister’s hand throughout. I had the worry of watching our dad come out. He was a very, very good fighter and he’d been professionally trained at a boxing school in Mitcham, but he also used to drink, of course, so he’d have a few tots before. Then out he went into the ring. And there was real blood; I mean they’d go at it hammer and tongs – the sawdust was stained with blood ...


BEN WILLIAMS first got into boxing as a boy when his grandfather - a former professional boxer - would playfully spar with him. He has been a fan of the sport ever since. Today, he is a freelance journalist, writing primarily for luxury sector magazines and working with clients such as Aston Martin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Anthony Sinclair bespoke tailors. He also writes documentaries, short films and treatments, and has helped develop a number of feature films. He has written a number of feature film trailers, including those for Studio Ghibli’s Arrietty, and Luc Besson’s Adele Blanc-Sec. Ben is also the UK correspondent for Mi6 Confidential magazine, which celebrates the phenomenon of James Bond. He maintains the blog doubleonothing.wordpress.com

Boxiana: Volume 1 will be available through Troubador PublishingAmazon in the UKAmazon in the USA and all good traditional and online booksellers.

Further exclusive previews of Volume 1 content, as well as further information about Boxiana's contributors will feature on the Boxiana blog in the coming weeks.

Boxiana: Volume 1 is an anthology of never before published boxing writing and takes an in-depth look at the sport’s past, present and future. Original, startling and thought-provoking, Boxiana examines pugilistic themes, characters and issues ranging from the personal to the universal, combining exclusive interview material with meticulous research. The book’s fresh approach will both intrigue and delight all serious followers of boxing.

Featured in Volume 1: comic book legend Trevor Von Eeden analyses the significance of Jack Johnson; Mario Mungia tries his hand at amateur boxing; Ben Williams uncovers his grandfather’s bareknuckle boxing career; Matthew Ogborn considers the issues boxers face on retirement; James Hernandez catches up with Jon Thaxton; rising light heavyweight Chris Hobbs recounts his life in the military and the ring; Rowland Stone recalls a heady night in 1992; Corey Quincy attempts to solve the Wladimir Klitschko conundrum and Luke G. Williams examines the meteoric rise of Deontay Wilder and the under-rated career of Chris Byrd. 

No other boxing anthology can match Boxiana’s eclectic range of subject matter, or its in-depth examination of issues and characters from boxing’s past, present and future.

Luke G. Williams


  1. Loved my uncle Charlie, looked out for me from birth. Visit his grave often just to say hello and thank you XXXXXXXX T.
    So Loved aunt June too, such a special lady XXXXXXXXX

  2. Hello, I have only just realized that the name JeFF Simpson might not ring a bell for the Sparrowhawk family (My cousins) I am married to Jeff but I am aunt Jenty's daughter Trudy. Uncle Charlie passed on the 31/10 and our son Tommy was born on the 31/10. We are all boxing fans especially Jeff. I loved my beautiful auntie June a kind sweet lady, I didn't see her very much as I grew up but she made such a fuss of me when I did see her at nanny Masies and granddad Toms, that she stayed in my mind and heart always.
    I have many happy stories my mum would tell about her brother Charlie, she absolutely adored him. Both uncle Char and Len Sparrowhawk were into boxing, but sadly although nanny Masie had some photos of them fighting, those photos i think have long disappeared. For reasons I cant say on here your dad and granddad were amazing,from what I know he gave me the start in life that I needed as a really tiny baby. and stood by his sister when she had no one. So forever grateful for his love and compassion towards my lovely mum and me.