Campaign in St Albans to commemorate legend of boxer The Emerald Gem

PUBLISHED: 07:01 19 May 2013

Information sign on Nomansland Common depicting prize fighting during the 19th century

Information sign on Nomansland Common depicting prize fighting during the 19th century

Archant

A BARE-knuckle Irish fighter who lost his life after a three-hour-long fight at Nomansland Common in Wheathampstead 180 years ago should be better commemorated, according to a boxing fan.

Simon Byrne, a heavyweight boxing champion, made history when he became one of just six fighters in England to have become involved in fatal fights, both killing an opponent in a bout, and later being killed himself.

Boxing fan John Warren said that despite being a long-term resident of St Albans until recently, he was surprised that the Common, once a notorious place for highway robberies, was also connected with the fighter nicknamed ‘The Emerald Gem’.

He explained: “The fight he was killed in took place on Nomansland Common in 1833. It was the longest ever recorded prize fight, lasting over three hours long.

“I believe that this may be of interest to readers of the Herts Advertiser as although this happened in St Albans it is not widely known, which surprises me.

“On Thursday, May 30, it will be exactly 180 years to the day that the fight took place.”

Simon’s last fight took place on the Common against James Burke, and lasted three hours and six minutes, the longest recorded prize fight.

But he died three days later, aged just 27, as a result of brain damage.

John explained that Simon died from his injuries in a pub on Holywell Hill, where he had been taken to recuperate.

When Simon had killed Scottish champion Alexander McKay in an earlier fight there was apparently rioting there.

The headstone on Alexander’s grave apparently refers to his “brave” fight with Simon.

John said that while there is an information board at Nomansland referring to Simon, there should be a commemorative plaque installed too, either on the Common or on Holywell Hill.

He said that the fighter was buried at the Abbey.

Chiswell Green-based retired Irish professional boxer Steve Collins, known as ‘The Celtic Warrior’, echoed John’s comments, saying that to fight 99 rounds for several hours with bare knuckles, was “an amazing feat”.

Steve, a former World Boxing Organisation middleweight and super-middleweight champion, added: “It was pretty brutal back then. I’ve never heard of the fight, or about Simon, and he sounds really interesting. He is from the same place as me – Dublin.

“Maybe St Albans was once a Mecca for world-class fighting?”

He said that the death of Simon and other fighters in the 19th Century probably helped prompt the start of major changes in boxing to make the sport safer.

Steve said: “Nowadays you have women boxing, and the whole sport is a lot cleaner and highly regulated.

“It was far more brutal back then; it’s very sad that he died from fighting.”

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