Retro: Mexborough’s boxing stars

Iron Hague leaving Mexborough to fight Sam Langford
Iron Hague leaving Mexborough to fight Sam Langford
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At the beginning of the 20th century boxing attracted many young men who either had visions of fame or saw the sport simply as a means to earn some extra money.

Two such men from Mexborough were ‘Iron’ Hague and Harry Crossley. Hague reached the peak of the heavyweight division in 1909, while Crossley was light heavyweight champion for three years in the late 1920s.

Iron Hague and manager

Iron Hague and manager

James William ‘Iron’ Hague

James William ‘Iron’ Hague was born in Woodruff Row, Mexborough on November 6, 1885. As a youngster his exhibitions of strength and unnatural ability to withstand pain probably went some way to provide him with the ‘Iron’ nickname.

After leaving school at the turn of the century, Hague was employed briefly at Denaby Main colliery, before moving on to Phoenix Glassworks.

During this period he was introduced to boxing through an acquaintance working on a fairground. Iron was found to be well suited to the boxing booths which were used to attract would-be ‘hard men’ and he developed a reputation as a good fighter.

William Biggs, landlord of the Bull’s Head on High Street, Mexborough, soon courted Hague to become his promoter.

Two other landlords of local pubs came on board to train the new boxer and to provide financial backing. By 1904 the team had got Iron his first fight in Doncaster against American Dan Lewis and the opponent was soundly beaten.

Hague won his first accolade in April 1905 as he took the Pitman’s heavyweight title from Dick Parkes. The holder was floored in the 16th round after a fast and furious bout saw Iron, as the younger and fitter man, come out on top.

Only four months later Albert Rodgers was overcome in six rounds as Hague acquired the Yorkshire heavyweight title.

Fighting at the National Sporting Club, London, several times subsequently, and winning all of these convincingly, Iron was given an opportunity to box for the English heavyweight title in 1909.

His opponent was James ‘Gunner’ Moir, an experienced fighter and ex-serviceman, who had held the crown for three years.

Sporting Life described the event as “the most disappointing contest of the decade”. The first punch Hague threw in anger knocked Moir senseless and, after further heavy blows, the fight was stopped two minutes and 47 seconds into the first round.

However, the nature of the victory did not matter to Iron’s fans in South Yorkshire. At stations people packed on to the platforms to catch a glimpse of the champion as he made his way back to Mexborough.

Crowds of 50,000 people were waiting in the town centre and upon Hague’s arrival he was paraded through the streets.

Unfortunately, this would prove to be the high point of Iron Hague’s career. His next fight was against noted Canadian middleweight (later heavyweight) Sam Langford, who conceded nearly three stones to Hague.

The Canadian did not let this disadvantage hinder him and heavy blows were traded by both fighters. Langford got the better of the Mexborough man in the fourth round and knocked him out.

Several defeats followed before the First World War broke out and Hague enlisted with the army and was sent to the front in France.

He was severely injured in a mustard gas attack and returned to Mexborough, where he had a number of jobs. Iron Hague died in 1951.

Harry Crossley

Harry Crossley was born in Mexborough in 1904 and his professional career spanned the years 1924-1935. He was the brother of Herbert Crossley, who was also a heavyweight, but died aged 20 while in America for a fight.

Harry was perhaps spotted during an exhibition event organised by local promoter William Bridgewater in early 1924 as he took the young man into his stable.

One of Crossley’s earliest fights was against Mac Arnold at Goole in late March 1925. The Mexborough man had Arnold down twice in the seventh round of the light heavyweight contest and before the start of the eighth the referee was obliged to stop the contest.

The first man to be knocked out by Harry was Billie Marsden, a Leeds boxer, and this occurred at Sheffield’s Drill Hall, while his first defeat was by Nick Hennesey, a Liverpool fighter, in a contest at Manchester.

Crossley continued to rise through the ranks as the 1920s progressed and he became a noted fighter in boxing circles nationwide.

His first title shot came in July 1928 when he challenged Sheffield’s Donald Shortland for the North of England Heavyweight title.

Around 3,000 people packed into the Corn Exchange, Doncaster to witness the contest, which was officiated by the well-known referee Eugene Corri.

Shortland was five years younger, two stones heavier and five inches taller than Crossley, who did his best to overcome such obstacles.

However, after going the distance the match was awarded to Shortland.

Crossley was back in the ring the following month to beat Frenchman Louis Maurier, then travelled to Germany for several fights before the end of the year with varying degrees of success.

In June 1929 Crossley twice fought for the North of England Heavyweight title, losing the first match-up against Len Johnson but gaining the belt against Frank Fowler at the end of the month.

Well-known Welsh fighter Gipsy Daniels was then beaten in August before Harry was rewarded with a shot at the vacant British light heavyweight title.

His opponent was Frank Moody and the event was held at the Stadium Club, London, in late November 1929.

Good work was done by both men but neither could force the issue over the 15 rounds and at the end the referee awarded the contest to Crossley.

The light heavyweight crown was held until May 1932 when he lost on points to Jack Peterson.

Three years later he retired from the ring when he married, subsequently taking the licence of the Broadway Hotel, Leicester.

Harry Crossley died in the city during 1948, aged 44.