Sammy Recalls Tough Times in the Fairground Fight Booths


HOW Sammy Wrey would love to have been boxing at Bideford ABC's latest show, writes Mark Jenkin.


As one of the club's founder members, he was among the crowd enjoying the action at the Pollyfield Centre.



Sammy, who turns 80 this year, recalled a time when he and brother Bobby were two local favourites taking on the top fairground fighters.


During tough times in the 1950s, they would earn extra cash by standing strong in the boxing booths at Barnstaple Fair.


"It was unbelievable what we used to do just to earn a few bob," said Sammy."We were down there doing ten rounds a night and thought nothing of it."


In two booths run by Mickey Kiely and Sam McKeowen, local challengers could earn "ten bob a round" by proving their worth against the big names.


Those able to survive three rounds, then had the 'privilege' of trying a four-rounder against the same opponents.


Hundreds of fans would turn out to watch the challengers against revered boxers like Boswell St Louis and Terry Ratcliffe.


"They were all title fighters," said Sammy. "We had no chance of beating them but if you stood for three rounds that was good enough for the crowd.


"They could knock you out in the first round but that was no good for the booth. They would make you bleed a bit, maybe give you a black eye.


"The promoter would say, 'Do you think you can do a four?' And that would get the crowd going."


Bobby, who died last year, and Sammy came from a boxing family and their older brother Ken fought as a professional.


Sammy served in the Army from 1950 to 1953 and once took part in an exhibition bout against Randolph Turpin in Germany.


Promoters knew the value of getting local favourites on the bill and were keen to make sure the Wrey brothers were involved.


Kiely was known to drive to Plymouth to collect Bobby from Devonport where he was serving in the Navy.


And Kiely's Mercedes would be parked outside Sammy's home in Bideford waiting to collect him when he got home from work at Devon Trading.


"I'd come home from work with scabs on my shoulder from carrying cement," he said.


"My wife would pick all the cement out of my scabs and I'd be bleeding before I got down there.

"It was tough going. We never had any decent shorts to wear. The first time I went in the booth I had a pair of sandals with holes in the bottom.


"I've done as many as 28 rounds in one day, working the two booths together. My wages were only 9 a week and that day I think I took home over three weeks' wages.



Article - North Devon


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