Alfie Beckett and the Blood Tubs

Blood Tubs were the notorious mainly unlicensed boxing venues prevalent in Manchester during the 1920’s and 30’s, and in a few rare cases some of them even functioned right up to the 1940’s. The vast majority of these unconventional fight venues were usually found in ramshackle or partially derelict buildings in the run-down neighbourhoods of the city. They were places where anybody fit, willing and able enough to climb into a ring could earn a bit of extra money by fighting their hearts out on a semi-regular basis!

The owners of these so called boxing venues made no distinction between amateur and professional boxers; as far as they were concerned a fight was a fight and more often than not these fights took place in makeshift rings of oddball and varying dimensions with each boxer wearing a different size and weight of gloves to those of his opponents.

The best wage a fighter could possibly hope to earn at any of these venues for fights 6 rounds or under was a paltry three bob (15 pence) and if they were really lucky they could get fifteen shillings (75 pence) for a ten rounder – but sadly this was only for the headliners. Any Johnnie-come-lately or lesser known fighters had to be satisfied with the nobbins. The nobbins were of course all the loose coins thrown into the ring at the end of a fight by an appreciative audience – it was literally pennies and halfpennies. It may not sound very generous by today’s standards to throw coins of such a low denomination, but you must remember that the men who were throwing them only had low paying jobs and had very little money themselves and no matter how much they appreciated the boxer’s efforts this was the most they could afford. Although many other large City’s boasted of a few similar establishments none could match those of Manchester for their sheer raw animal intensity, to say nothing of the great magnitude of numbers.

According to; and in joint agreement of all the people I have spoken to who were alive at the time, the most infamous of all the Manchester blood tubs was the Holland Street Arena; and I use the word arena very loosely because I believe the building was in such a bad state of repair that it looked in danger of falling down at any time with the slightest of movements, but somehow it endured. It was located in a side street of 2 up and 2 down terraced houses just adjacent to Varley St in Miles Platting, North Manchester, and is said to have been owned by (dare I say it) a rather unscrupulous local shopkeeper come-property-developer whose descendants are still alive and kicking to this present day, but for reasons best known to themselves they wish to remain anonymous!

One of the many regular fighters and local favourite at the Holland St arena was the endearing little Ancoats’ fighter Alfred Beckett.

Young Becket as he was often called could often be seen trudging his way through the grimy back streets of Manchester with a grubby old ex-navy kitbag slung over his shoulder making his way from one boxing venue to another in the hope of getting a fight. The bag may have not looked like much to other people but to him it was precious; it had belonged to his father who saw action in the First World War and now it was Alfie’s own personal tool box. If anybody from the boxing scene had had the chance to peek inside of it they would not have been surprised by its contents, it contained a mandatory pair of well thumbed boxing gloves that every boxer carried around with them at this time; shorts, pumps or plimpsolls as they were sometimes called, vest (just in case it was required) a towel, and a couple of self moulded gum shields made from Gutta-percha purchased at a local chemist shop, and a tin of sticky plasters. It was a matter of have gun will travel, so to speak.

I know for certain that Alfie fought at Holland St on at least 35 occasions and is said to have headlined no fewer than 20 of them. Overall it’s reckoned he fought over 200 times in Manchester’s blood tubs; nonchalantly losing just as many times as he won, but his followers didn’t care, they weren’t fair weather fans and fully supported him no matter what the outcome. Unfortunately and sadly endemic of the other blood tubs too, official records were never properly maintained so all the data we have has come via word of mouth; hence the importance of recording it now for prosperity. And through cross referencing all these statements it is refutable proof that Alfie Beckett was a busy well liked boxer of the day who had a huge local following; he was popular because his followers knew for certain that no matter if he was headlining or merely fighting for the nobbins he always gave great value for money. Not that any of the other fighters didn’t offer value for money too but with Young Beckett win, lose, or draw, you were always guaranteed to see a good fight.

Personally, although I love the romantic notion of  these young men under times of hardship struggling to keep the sport of boxing alive I also think stories like his are tainted with a slight hint of sadness, one which is sadly indicative of the financial climate of the time. I say this inasmuch that Beckett and all the other upright family conscious young men like him who had already worked their fingers to the bone in some dead end job had to fight as hard and as often as they did for such pittances as these blood tubs could offer just to help out with money at home. They didn’t box because they wanted a flashy sports car or an exotic foreign holiday, they boxed to pay the rent and to put food on the table for their families.

Beckett is listed in Denis Fleming’s best selling book Manchester Fighters.