Alfie Beckett and the Blood Tubs

By Lawrence Yearsley: Blood Tubs; as they were called, were the notorious unlicensed (although occasionally licensed,) boxing venues in Manchester during the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s. By tradition they were usually seedy, or run-down neighbourhood buildings where anybody fit, willing, and able enough to indulge (including amateur and professional boxers alike,) could earn a bit of extra money by fighting their hearts out on a semi-regular basis. And more often than not these fights took place in a ring of oddball dimensions with each boxer wearing a different size and weight of gloves to those of his opponents.

The best wage a fighter could possibly hope to earn at any of these venues was a paltry three bob (15 pence,) for fights up to six rounds, and if they were really lucky, fifteen shillings (75 pence) for a ten rounder – but sadly this was only for the headliners. Any Johnnie-come-lately or lesser known fighters had to be satisfied with the nobbins. The nobbins were of course all the loose coins thrown into the ring; or into the fighting area if there was no ring, at the end of a fight by an appreciative audience – it was literally pennies and halfpennies. Not much you might think, but you must remember that the men who were throwing them had very little money themselves.

Although many other large cities boasted of a few similar establishments, none could match those of Manchester for their sheer raw animal intensity, to say nothing of the great magnitude of numbers.

According; and in joint agreement to all the people I have spoken to who were alive at the time, the most infamous of all the Manchester blood tubs was, The Holland Street Arena; and I use the word arena very loosely because I believe the building left a lot to be desired. It was located in a side street just adjacent to Varley St in Miles Platting, Manchester, and is said to have been owned by (dare I say it,) a rather unscrupulous local shopkeeper come-property-developer whose descendants are still alive and kicking today, but for reasons best know to themselves – wish to remain anonymous.

One of the many regular fighters, and local favourite at the Holland St arena was the endearing little Ancoats fighter, Alfred Beckett.

Young Beckett could often be seen trudging his way through the back streets of Manchester with a grubby old ex-navy kitbag slung over his shoulder making his way from one boxing venue to another in the hope of getting a fight. The bag was his own personal tool box, it contained; the mandatory spare pair of boxing gloves, shorts, pumps (plimpsolls,) vest (in case required,) towel, and a couple of self moulded gum shields made from Gutta-percha, and a tin of plasters. Have gun will travel, so to speak.

Alfie fought at Holland St on at least 35 occasions, and is said to have headlined no fewer than 20 of them. Overall, it’s reckoned he fought over 200 times in Manchester’s blood tubs; nonchalantly losing just as many times as he won, but his followers didn’t care, they weren’t fair weather fans and fully supported him no matter what the outcome. Unfortunately official records were never properly maintained so all the data we have has come via word of mouth – hence the importance of recording it now. But undoubtedly Alfie Beckett was well liked and had a huge following; mainly because his followers knew for certain that no matter if he was headlining or merely fighting for the nobbins, he always gave great value for money. Not that any of the other fighters didn’t, but with Alfie Beckett – win, lose, or draw, you were always guaranteed a good fight.

Personally I think his story is tainted with a slight hint of sadness, but one which is indicative of the financial climate of the time, inasmuch that he and all the other young men like him in order to help out with money at home, had to fight as hard and as often as they did for such pittances as these blood tubs could afford.
Beckett is listed in Denis Fleming’s best selling book, Manchester Fighters.

According to Official Boxing Records, a boxer named Alf Beckett (making his pro debut in December 1936,) fought Rochdale featherweight Jack Kershaw in Douglas on the Isle of Man. This Beckett was kayoed in the third round and never fought again. I do not believe (although I could be wrong,) that he is the same man to whom I refer.

Article posted on 16.12.2011

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