Campaign to return painting of boxing champ Iron Hague to Doncaster

A painting of the legendary local boxer James William 'Iron' Hague.
A painting of the legendary local boxer James William 'Iron' Hague.
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A fighting fund to bring a painting of a Doncaster area boxing champ home is hoping to pack a real punch.

Doncaster Museum has been offered the opportunity to purchase a painting of the legendary local boxer James William ‘Iron’ Hague, who was a triple British heavyweight boxing champion in the early 1900s.

The painting, which is in oil on canvas, depicts Hague in typical pugilistic stance, and was probably painted in 1909 to celebrate his victory over Gunner Jim Moir to claim the British heavyweight boxing title.

Hague, who was born in Mexborough, was British heavyweight boxing champion between 1909 and 1911, defending his title three times.

The painting is on long term loan at Cusworth Hall Museum from Iron Hague’s family where it has been admired greatly by members of the public.

Doncaster Museum is currently putting together a grant application for half the £2,500 cost to try and bring the painting to Doncaster on a permanent basis and prevent it from being sold into private hands.

The museum is also appealing to members of the general public to make pledges of financial support to help the fighting fund and so far nearly £600 has been donated.

Councillor Bob Johnson, Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism, said: “This painting of Mexborough-born boxing legend James William ‘Iron’ Hague is proving a popular exhibit at Cusworth Hall Museum.

“With Doncaster celebrating its first world boxing champion earlier this year when Jamie McDonnell was crowned IBF bantamweight champion, it would be wonderful if we could raise the funds to keep this painting which recognises one of our earlier boxing heroes on public display.”

The fighter acquired his nickname of ‘Iron’ during his schooldays.

After being hit over the head when involved in a playground spat he wrapped his school scarf round the wound, held it in place with his school cap and proceeded to his next lesson.

On entering the class he was asked by his teacher to remove the cap.

Seeing the size of the wound, and the fact that young Hague had patched it up himself, the teacher said: “you must be made of Iron lad,” - and the name stuck.

He also refused to cry during canings at school and earned his first boxing purse as 14-year-old in 1899 when he beat the resident champion in a fairground boxing booth.

He also enjoyed early success organising bare knuckle fights on the canal bank in Mexborough and trained for fights on a diet of chips and beer.

And Irish tenor “Count” John MaCormack was such a fan that he received blow by blow reports by telephone in his dressing room at Covent Garden during performances of Rigoletto.

He also served in the First World War and spent the rest of his life in Mexborough.

To pledge, contact Neil McGregor on 01302 734295 or email


James William ‘Iron’ Hague became Yorkshire champion in 1905, defeating Dick Parkes at Doncaster.

He then went on to beat a steady stream of English heavyweights, many by knockouts.

It was on April 19, 1909 that ‘Iron’ Hague met Gunner Moir in the ring of the National Sporting Club to fight for the English heavyweight boxing title.

The fight ended in a knock-out to Hague after just 2mins 47secs.

It was reported that around 2,000 people stood outside the Sheffield Telegraph Newspaper Office in Mexborough waiting for news of the fight, and his homecoming saw thousands lining the streets.

Hague defended his title three times, before he was defeated by Bombadier Billy Wells in 1911. This fight was for the first Lonsdale Belt

He saw active service in the First World War, both on the Somme and at Passchendaele, returning to Mexborough afterwards suffering from the effects of mustard gas.

Apart from a spell as resident handyman at Graingers Holiday Camp in the 1930s he spent the remainder of his life in Mexborough, where he worked as a barman in the local pubs.

Hague died on August 18 1951, aged 66 in his daughter’s arms and is buried in Mexborough Cemetery.