Sammy Recalls Tough Times in the Fairground
Sammy Wrey would love to have been boxing at
Bideford ABC's latest show, writes Mark Jenkin.
one of the club's founder members, he was among
the crowd enjoying the action at the Pollyfield
Sammy, who turns 80 this year, recalled a time
when he and brother Bobby were two local
favourites taking on the top fairground
During tough times in the 1950s, they would earn
extra cash by standing strong in the boxing
booths at Barnstaple Fair.
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."
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
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
"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.
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
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.
come home from work with scabs on my shoulder
from carrying cement," he said.
wife would pick all the cement out of my scabs
and I'd be bleeding before I got down there.
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.