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robert.snell1@ntlworld.com

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BILL STEVENS (The Nailer)

Born around 1736 at Lye in Staffordshire, the son of a female blacksmith, like many other youths he fought and won several local contests between 1756-1759 of which there seem to be no further details. He stood about 5’ 10” and weighed around 190lbs and by the time he entered his first recorded contest against Jacob Taplin he was in London. Reckoned to be a good boxer with a terrific right hand punch, he could soak up punishment and was very highly rated. Indeed when he faced Taplin a coal-heaver, in Marylebone Fields in 1760 in a punishing fight of 13 rounds he was knocked down several times by Taplin at the start, but overcame this with heavy blows of his to finally extinguish the coal-heaver. A few months later he entered the ring against Jack Slack, the champion for 200 guineas at the Haymarket Tennis Court, beating Slack over 27 minutes in which just 4 rounds were fought and taking his title.

Then the start of his rise to fame faltered, because in 1761 again at the Haymarket when defending the title for 400 against George Meggs, a mediocre fighter, he never showed, as he was pushed and hit around the ring by Meggs, losing the title in just 17 minutes, in what was generally believed to be a fixed fight, to which apparently Stevens admitted later. After that with his reputation in tatters he found it hard to get fights so he retired.

He returned eight years later in 1769 to fight a jobbing Irish pugilist, John MaGuire in Bloomsbury Fields for a paltry 20 guineas, which he won in 20 minutes and then lost to Bill Turner a month later over a 10 purse. Stevens didn’t fight again until 1778, now aged 42 when somehow he got a title fight against champion Harry Sellers. This was during what is known as the Black Period of pugilism when there were no decent champions, only poor, devious claimants and this so called title fight only attracted a purse of 25, in which even then Sellers beat Stevens in just 10 minutes.

It is reputed at the age of 64 Stevens fought a certain Tailor Miller at Islington and lost once again. Nothing is heard of him after that, a case I think of what could have been if he hadn’t thrown the fight with Meggs back in his prime.