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Corporal John Shaw

Born at Wollaton, near Nottingham in 1789, John Shaw grew up a sickly lad, but luckily for him, with his father being a farmer, he made sure his son drank plenty of milk. It worked because he eventually grew up to a 6 feet, muscular and strapping 15 stone man. He seemed to have a natural penchant for bare fist fighting as while still a growing lad and employed as an apprentice wheelwright, its reported that he beat a much heavier local man in a prize fight at the Nottingham Goose Fair. He also fought with the other apprentices at work, which led to him losing his job, where he then gained employment as a carpenter at Wollaton Hall.

In 1807 and now eighteen years old John Shaw joined the 2nd Life Guards where his prowess soon shone at boxing and he was encouraged to seek further training and experience against the professional prize fighters at Jackson’s Rooms in Bond Street, London. Its reported that Tom Belcher tried out the youngster in a set to using mufflers and so did Captain Barclay with both being impressed with his strength of hitting, stamina and all round skill. During his time in the Life Guards he also became a skilled swordsman and with a body like Hercules was much in demand as a model for painters and sculptors alike. The story goes that as a soldier he was taunted one day by three thugs who Shaw soon sent packing after downing them once and when they charged him again they got the same treatment.

In 1812 it was arranged that John Shaw was to enter his first professional prize fight against an experienced West Country fighter called Bill Burrows who had been beaten in an hour of fighting by the great Tom Molineux in 1810 at Tothill Fields. Shaw faced Burrows at Coombe Warren, Kingston-on-Thames and thashed the west countryman soundly in just 13 rounds lasting 17 minutes. Three years passed before we hear that articles were then struck for John Shaw to meet Ned Painter, rated in the highest echelon of heavyweights at a time when Tom Cribb the champion remained inactive. The fight for 50 guineas a side was held at Hounslow Heath in April 1815 where Shaw completely dominated the fight, lasting just 28 minutes, during which time he knocked Painter down ten times. Many of the London Fancy now rated Shaw a future Champion of England if only Cribb would come out of his “retirement”.

Fate then took a twist as Shaw was recalled by his regiment and was soon facing Napoleon’s army at Waterloo. In a forage into enemy lines Shaw and others became separated from the main army by French forces. Different stories exist of Shaw’s death, however it is generally thought that after putting up a gallant last stand against up to ten French soldiers, cutting some of them down until his sword snapped, then pulled from his horse, he fought on with just his fists and wielding his helmet at them, finally succumbing badly wounded and eventually dying from his wounds.

One has to wonder had he lived and did eventually fight Tom Cribb, would it have been Cribb who handed his title over to Tom Spring or would Spring have had to fight John Shaw for it in the prize ring?