The Pride of Poplar

By Mohummad Humza Elahi on January 13, 2014
The Pride of Poplar
The Golden Twenties were a boom time and Teddy Baldock was at the crest of the wave.

On March 8, 1971, as Teddy Baldock lay at Rochford Infirmary, homeless and penniless, he may have heard the rumble of The Hall one last time…

At the tender age of 13, he had his first paid boxing match. Towards the end of his 19th year, he captured the vacant World Bantamweight Title (the British version) against Archie Bell, recording himself as the youngest ever British world champion, an achievement that still stands to this day. He was sustaining injuries of a pro twice his age before 25 and retired having amassed a record of 73 wins, 5 losses and 3 draws from 81 contests in a decade. He was overly generous to those he believed were his friends, couldn’t hold down odd jobs, owned a pub that was destroyed in the Second World War, had a failed marriage and died penniless aged 63, his ashes thrown out where the big blue yonder meets Southend-On-Sea. 

Alfred “Teddy” Baldock was one of the true wunderkinds of boxing. Born in Poplar, East London in 1907, fighting was in the family’s blood. Before the trust fund babies, hipsters and self-described “creative” types occupied the heart of East London today, it was the true home to a tough as nails working class, fed and clothed on the work provided by the docks. Grandson to bare knuckle boxer Jack Baldock, fighting, or any other type of athletic endeavor was always going to feature in the life of young Teddy; indeed, he was quite the sportsman at school but boxing was where his talent was evident. As he grew, working for his father who was a bookie (a painful irony that would make itself clear later in life), his talent grew as well, easily dominating in his age group to capture local amateur titles.

Boxing at a young age is unlike other sports where physical maturity is seen as secondary to raw talent or potential. Tennis and gymnastics are two sports where youth is a distinct advantage and prodigious talents are met with barely a batting eyelid. Fisticuffs, on the other side, require a grown and able body; tender hands are likely to land you in a whole world of hurt when matched against experienced, toughened bones. Although some teenagers do turn pro (Roberto Duran, Saul Alvarez, Wilfred Benitez), no one can deny that in this era of the sport, it is much easier to prolong the “education” of a young fighter, to carefully match and develop them over a number of years before putting them across the ring from wily, seasoned contenders. No such luxury existed in the gamut of wealth and poverty in the period between two World Wars and if some kid was doing enough to convince the promoters and public that they were good enough, then health and safety jobsworths be damned. Baldock was such a kid; not in possession of concussive power but greased lightning for hands instead, one promoter billed him as ‘The Mumtaz Mahal of the Ring.’ not a bad tag, even by today’s insta-fame standards.

The Golden Years

From my hometown of Barking where he made his debut, to Hoxton, Bow and eventually his base arena of Premierland in Whitechapel, Baldock thrilled his local East Londoners and built a following to rival modern-day stardom. The Golden Twenties were a boom time and in those years where hope rode so high, Baldock was at the crest of the wave. Enough so that he even managed a trip to America to entertain the transatlantic crowds in New York in 1926; stacking up eleven wins and a draw between August and December, including four fights in four weeks in November. Along with a couple of others, they also got to see Jack Dempsey train in Philadelphia prior to his fight with Tunney; I’d like to think that somewhere, buried in the background of the footage pieced together, are a group of young lads standing and watching, talking and joking, trying to pick up what they could from an all-time great.

It’s often true that any figure in the crushing blaze of public scrutiny can serve either as an inspiration or as a cautionary tale and unfortunately for Baldock, he provides the latter. The story of the down and out fighter is not a new one. Frighteningly so, the frequency of such occurrences mean charitable organizations have been created in order to try and tackle the problem. One could sympathize with anyone who has, through no fault of their own and cruel misfortune, ended up on cold streets, sleeping in the doorways of venues where their name used to ring out in the crowd or up in lights piercing the night sky.

But such sympathy, it could be argued, shouldn’t be given to those who frittered away what some would consider a fortune at the time. As the toast of the town, given the civil honor of the Freedom of the Borough and a taste of the good life pay testament to, more often than not, it can land a young lad of few discernable working skills outside of boxing into abject poverty. 

Champion

The Royal Albert Hall was the venue for the biggest bout in Baldock’s career; boxing in the Hall is the strangest of experiences. The seats are plush and the gold decor echoes into the lights, the juxtaposition of the refined setting enveloping the relatively unrefined spectacle at its center is near Caligulan, but boxing doesn’t engage in such peculiarities when championships are at stake. 

Archie Bell (50-19-13) was a Brooklynite who had gone four admirable rounds with the great Tony Canzoneri before succumbing in the fifth less than a year before and after Charley Phil Rosenberg had forfeited his Undisputed World Bantamweight Title by appearing overweight against Bushy Graham; throwing the division into turmoil, Bell decided to challenge Baldock for the British version of the championship. 

The fight itself was 15 rounds of back and forth action as the two men went toe-to-toe in a thrilling contest. Baldock’s speed and precision jab built him an early lead, but Bell was always connecting, particularly to the body. As the fight neared the end, Baldock began to take his foot off the pedal, allowing Bell to try and go for broke. Baldock managed to get through the last few rounds with the crowd holding their breath and Baldock was crowned the victor to choruses of “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow,” although the Milwaukee Sentinel thought Baldock was “rude” in defeating Bell convincingly. 

Trouble Ahead

The story should have ended there, Teddy Baldock, champion, riding on the shoulders of an adoring public back to Poplar before winding down his career into a dignified retirement. Baldock held the title for barely six months before being roundly beaten by Willie Smith of South Africa, a defeat that would forever dent him and although he went on to score more victories, he was not the same as before. His left hand was giving him trouble and he couldn’t throw it with the same intent, especially after his 15-round war with Phil Lolosky, a fellow East Londoner. 

Baldock wouldn’t reach the world title highs again, eventually having to tussle with Alf “Kid” Pattenden for the British Bantamweight Title instead, a score that needed settling after the British Boxing Board of Control had been created. The date was set in May 1929 and both men slugged it out with incredible ferocity; a true battle with both collapsing into each other when the final bell rang and Baldock deemed the winner. The fight clearly took a lot out of both fighters and their rematch wasn’t the same (although Baldock won soundly on points).

The real writing was on the wall, however, when he was scheduled to face “Panama” Al Brown in late 1929 in America and the fight didn’t occur until 1931 in London. Baldock had been winning again, although he still wasn’t the same fighter and he declared that confidence by putting up another £250 in a side stake for the bout. This short-sightedness by Baldock would cost him dearly. Brown had dispatched fighters that Baldock had struggled with and of the meager highlight footage that exists, Brown was a class above the local man. Physically superior, Panama Al took Baldock apart and even though Baldock gave everything, he too succumbed to same fate as British fighters before him. Beaten soundly, Brown’s crushing hits to the body were the death knell for young Teddy’s career.

Faded Memory

“He returned home, maybe, when he wanted some money.” Such is the testimony of Baldock’s daughter, clearly pained in having to recollect the times when her father strayed in and out of her life as a girl. 

“I see him through different eyes to the boxer he undoubtedly was, but as a Dad to me, he was a big disappointment. [When speaking about a bicycle that Baldock bought for her he] used stand by a lamppost on the opposite side of the road, to watch me go riding, which I did, every day virtually…being a young girl and he looked very much like a tramp, I felt uncomfortable…as a young girl, he was rather a bit of an embarrassment.”

As is often the case and many great articles on this site have highlighted the fact repeatedly (Clarence George’s recent piece on Sandy Saddler a superb example), the paying public are rarely interested in the affairs of a boxer once he has left the ring for good, save to come back and offer their critiques on a new batch of stars.

“To err is human; to forgive, divine” as Alexander Pope succinctly penned and maybe it’s this lesson, over the waves of time that becomes more prominent as months give way to years in the twilight of the fighters life. And on March 8, 1971, as Teddy Baldock lay at Rochford Infirmary, homeless and penniless, he may have heard the rumble of The Hall one last time; meeting His Maker as he stepped into the London night.

Champion of the World.

Follow Mohummad Humza Elahi on Twitter@mhelahi

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Teddy Baldock's daughter talks about her dad



Panama Al Brown KO 12 Teddy Baldock



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  1. Mohummad Humza Elahi 03:59am, 01/17/2014

    Martin, thank you for your comments. As I mentioned in the comments earlier, stumbling onto your grandfather’s story was completely by accident and I’m glad that the recognition for his exploits in the ring are finally becoming a reality.

  2. Martin Sax 03:44am, 01/17/2014

    Mohummad
    Thanks for a great article on my Grandfather Teddy Baldock, The statue has now been cast in bronze and I am hoping to go firm on a date for the unveiling in March/April 2014. I’m hoping the event will be promoted in al the British Boxing Media and will be open for all fans to attend. The statue is to be sited just outside Langdon Park DLR station, Poplar East London, only a few hundred yards from where my Grandfather lived. There will be a function after the unveiling at the new Spotlight Youth Centre at the same location.
    Myself and Brian Belton have also brought out The Pride of Poplar in softback with a new photo section and I have added an epilogue covering his second trip to New York for his proposed fight with Al Brown.

  3. peter 03:34pm, 01/13/2014

    Thanks for this excellent article.

  4. Eric 03:31pm, 01/13/2014

    Tale of the Tape on Salma Hayek in prime condition is 36C-25-37 at a petite and ready 5’2”.  Very nice.

  5. Clarence George 02:51pm, 01/13/2014

    Still is, Eric, still is.

  6. Eric 02:38pm, 01/13/2014

    Salma Hayek was certainly one hot tamale back in the day.

  7. Clarence George 08:26am, 01/13/2014

    Yes indeedy:

    http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/images/dusktilldawn03.jpg

    And while we’re at it:

    http://prettycleverfilms.com/files/2013/08/Barbara-Nichols1.jpg

  8. Mohummad Humza Elahi 08:06am, 01/13/2014

    @CG I was sold when I saw From Dusk Til Dawn for the first time!

  9. Clarence George 07:40am, 01/13/2014

    One of my current faves, MHE (though pushing 50!), is Salma Hayek.  But give me Barbara Nichols dressed as a cigarette girl any day.

  10. Clarence George 07:33am, 01/13/2014

    Ha!  Elaborate on what, Mike?  My great-uncle’s pornography collection?  Never saw it, unfortunately.  My connection with Arpad Busson?  Well, he had children with both Elle and Uma…you know me, Mike—give me an inch, and I’ll take a mile and a quarter.

  11. Mohummad Humza Elahi 07:29am, 01/13/2014

    @Mike Thank you, good sir.

    @CG ANY time is a good time to bring up Elle Macpherson or Uma Thurman.  Although my current top spot belongs to my wife (awww), joint second are Eva Green and Scarlett Johansson.  Although if the Golden Globes gag about DiCaprio is anything to go by, I should’ve been a wildly successful actor instead!

  12. Clarence George 07:28am, 01/13/2014

    Thanks, Ted.  I’m glad to pay homage to MHE’s terrific piece.  It’s great learning about “new” boxers, as I’m sure you agree.

  13. Mike Casey 07:27am, 01/13/2014

    Behave yourself, Clarence. Then again, if you wish to elaborate….

  14. Clarence George 07:22am, 01/13/2014

    Speaking of racehorses, MHE, reminds me of one of my great uncles, Arpad Plesch (who amassed a most impressive pornography collection), and wife number-God-knows-what, Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine Gräfin von Wurmbrand-Stuppach.  They raced several horses, including Psidium, winner of 1961’s Epsom Derby.

    Arpad Busson is named after Uncle Arpad, which means that I have an automatic in with both Elle Macpherson and Uma Thurman.  Well, perhaps not, but I like to think it does.

    And all this pertains to your excellent article how?  It doesn’t, really, but that’s never stopped me before.

  15. Mike Casey 07:21am, 01/13/2014

    Lovely article.

  16. Mohummad Humza Elahi 06:50am, 01/13/2014

    @CG Hey, reading that back, I some punctuation would’ve helped!  And yes, the reference was to Aga Khan’s racehorse.  And the Sandy Saddler piece really was superb, it’s the quality over quantity that made me want to write for this site.  And I’ll have to look up Arizmendi, so thanks for the heads up!

    @Ted Thank you, I actually stumbled upon him by accident whilst looking at boxing gyms online.  Those are the best type of discoveries.

  17. TED 06:49am, 01/13/2014

    CG Great post

  18. Ted 06:48am, 01/13/2014

    Great research here Mohammad and I always appreciate that difficult kind of effort.

  19. Clarence George 05:47am, 01/13/2014

    Really excellent, MHE. 

    I never heard heard of Teddy Baldock, I’m ashamed to say, and I’m delighted to make his acquaintance.  His getting paid to fight at 13 puts him in the same league with one of my faves, Baby Arizmendi.

    Thank you kindly for referring to my article on Sandy Saddler as “superb.”  That adjective is outrageously underemployed on the rare occasions my name is mentioned.

    By the way, I both assume and hope that the promoter’s tag of “The Mumtaz Mahal of the Ring” was in reference to the racehorse and not the Mughal Empress!

    Which reminds me of your “clearly pained in having to recollect the times when her father strayed in and out of her life as a girl.”  I of course know what you meant, but I’m amply immature enough to have guffawed loudly at my deliberate misinterpretation.

    Keep ‘em coming, by all means.

  20. Mohummad Humza Elahi 04:47am, 01/13/2014

    Just as a follow up, a friend who I went to school with and now works in local government here in East London have recently approved building a statuette of Teddy Baldock in Poplar, more about his life can be found in the book “The Pride of Poplar” co-written by his grandson and available here (also used as a source for this article). http://www.teddybaldock.co.uk/

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