Resurrecting Bill Hammond
'My underground train runs from Brixton to Bounds Green' - Mike Skinner/ The Streets
As dream jobs go, mine is all consuming. I'm head coach at three separate college-based boxing academies. North, East, and West London, five days a week. If I'm not in one campus sports hall or another, I'll be on a tube train, racing against time. The national lockdown, announced in March 2020, panned conveniently into the school summer holidays, affording me a whole six months to switch off and regenerate. I launched into several writing projects, and I revelled in the luxury of boxing videos on the internet. A far cry from the days of checking the Saturday newspapers to see if there'd be any boxing on Grandstand or World of Sport. I survived the Robert Dickie and John Feeney era when if you missed a televised fight, you missed it. Our family telly blew up during the 1981 Mike Dokes V John L Gardner fight, I had to wait some 30 years to view the chilling culmination. On the golden sun-soaked afternoon of Saturday September 5th, 2020, I half-heartedly lumbered into preparations for the all-too-fast approaching academic term. After bagging up a couple of tracksuits for the Oxfam shop, I headed out to the garden shed to look for bag of skipping ropes. Just inside the shed door sat a large, open laundry bag stuffed full of random bits, untouched since my partner and I had moved in. I noticed a skipping rope handle protruding, so I tugged on it. The upheaval dislodged an A4 sized padded envelope that tumbled forward and spilled some of its contents at my feet. A Sellotaped newspaper cutting, golden yellow with age, a faded boxing souvenir programme, and a handful of family photographs. I didn't recognise any of it.
Intrigued, I carefully scooped everything up and carried the reasonably heavy package into the house for further examination. It appeared to be full of boxing memorabilia. I pulled a few bits out and laid them on the kitchen worktop. With increasing bafflement, I picked up at a laminated photograph of two boxers, one far bigger than the other, facing off in an old school pre-fight pose.
The handwritten details at the bottom read:
Bill Hammond Camberwell veteran, 11st 4lbs V Big Jim Campbell, Battersea, 17 st 8lbs 6ft 10 and-a-half inches, 1931.
There's a typewritten note stuck on the top left of the photograph:
BILL HAMMOND (Camberwell) One-time prominent middleweight boxer who has had over 250 contests. 11st 4 lbs. 5ft -10" BIG JIM CAMPBELL. (BATTERSEA) known as the English Carnera, 17st, 6ft - 11". MANOR PLACE BATHS, 1931.
I then zeroed in on the golden yellow newspaper cutting. It was a folded sports page article barely preserved by way of cellophane and Sellotape.
'THE SPORTS EDITOR CALLS FOR AN INVESTIGATION Boxing authorities must now probe these complaints
BILL HAMMOND, for many years a professional fight trainer, turns his back on the game.
He says his conscience has caught up with him. He says he's disgusted by the game. He says he has been mixed up with a lot of rubbish. He says he is sick of seeing decent lads from good homes end up as villains. All this from a man whose heart has always been inside the roped square, whose time has always been taken up with what was once known as the noble art of self-defence. Whose ambition has always been to develop young boxing talent to the full extent of its physical and technical potential. Those of us who take an interest in boxing in whatever capacity must ask ourselves to what extent Bill Hammond's criticisms hold good, what kind of commentary they make upon one of Britain's oldest sports. Bill is not sick of boxing but of professional boxing. He is in fact hoping to continue to train men in the amateur ranks.
Punishment He talks of the diminished mental powers of fighters after they have soaked up punishment over a long period, of scores of lads who end up in prison, of bad matches. "I have looked after champions to novices and I swear I did it from my heart not for my pocket," says Bill. But how many men in the money side of the game can make that same claim? The boxing public would be well advised to take note of events such as Mr. Hammond's withdrawal from the professional fight scene. It is easy for a few men making vast sums of money from boxing to say nothing is wrong with the sport. But when a testimony like this comes to hand it must be given serious consideration. 'The Bad Mob' (The following paragraph encircled in biro) Mr. Hammond alleges that many up-and-coming boxers are over matched, he claims that sportsmen are squeezed out by "the bad mob" that more people suffer mentally as a result of professional boxing than any other sport.
These are serious allegations. They deserve to be treated seriously, that is why I hope the authorities will investigate Bill's claims, and why I hope the public will keep an eye on the situation. For though all may seem well on the surface, boxing as a sport must maintain high standards if it is to be immune from the outbursts of the more hysterical abolitionists in our society. A handwritten note Sellotaped onto the folded article reads (sic):
Received three letters saying Board of Control was going to take action against me, July - august, last one September. Statements given to press July 6th 1963 I then decided to throw in my trainers licence.
B.B.B.C were threatening proceedings but they did not like the truth and they have not done anything.
I carefully placed the fragile newspaper cutting back inside the envelope, and pulled out an enlarged black and white photograph of a shirtless boxer with movie star looks, standing next to his silver-haired trainer. Written in feint biro on the bottom left corner:
Freddie Cross Middleweight Champion of Wales & Bill Hammond (trainer)
I stood rooted to the spot for an enchanted moment, as if I'd accidentally rubbed a genie's lamp. I swear I sensed somebody standing next to me. A shout from Fiona snapped me out of it. 'Any luck finding the skipping ropes?'
When I didn't answer, she came and found me still gazing at the mystery envelope. Who was Bill Hammond, and how did the remnants of his worldly possessions end up in our shed?
I automatically assumed the envelope had been given to me in one gym or another. Although, the more I ransacked my memory, the less I found.
Jack Callaghan, maybe? In 2008, I ran a community boxing project at the Churchill Gardens Social Club in Pimlico. Jack, an elderly ex-boxer, made up part of the furniture in the club's busy lounge bar. Regular as clockwork, he'd wobble into the main hall, pint in hand, to watch a few rounds of sparring. That social club served as a watering hole for old-time boxing scholars, I'd sometimes sit among them and feast my ears. They told riveting stories, often all at the same time. Maybe the envelope was handed to me by one of them. Jack Callaghan? Surely, I'd have remembered. The envelope was addressed to Mr Kenny Hammond, La Moye Prison, St Brelade, Jersey, the sender's details are written on a special delivery sticker: Elizabeth McGuiness, 11 Wellington Terrace, Hastings, England. Guaranteed delivery date: 9/12/96.
Fiona felt sure it'd been with us for the best part of a decade. She vaguely recalled it gathering dust on a cluttered bookshelf in our previous flat 19 Electric Mansions, Electric Avenue, Brixton. Magical and mice infested, we loved that old flat.
We lived on the fourth floor, up with the pigeons, overlooking the daily melodrama that is Brixton market. Cheap meat and fish. Crack fiends, mass brawls, peace love and thievery. We watched it all through rattling sash windows.
Downstairs at number 17, Margaret Lacy, known to all as 'Dimpsey', made for a wonderful neighbour. She'd lived in Electric Mansions for over fifty years and was a bountiful source of local history. A charming and statuesque pensioner, Dimpsey's memories stretched beyond Brixton's Windrush generation, back to the days of scar-faced spivs and wartime ration books. Over tea and biscuits, I heard all sorts, like the time she was choked-out and almost buried alive alongside the A21 motorway by a psychotic boyfriend. Her departure from Electric Mansions to a care home in 2017 signalled the end of a Brixton era. A year later, Fiona and I were flushed away by an irrepressible wave of local redevelopment. Moving out of Electric Mansions was a heart-breaking experience, I spent three weeks packing boxes and laundry bags on auto-pilot, while Fiona house hunted. She decided to concentrate her efforts north of the river - as far away from the heartbreak as possible. It's thanks to her, that I find myself typing this in a leafy corner of Haringey. The clatter and clang of market stalls traded for a quiet garden with a shed.
The mystery envelope nestled inside that laundry bag on the shed floor for two years before I inadvertently discovered it. Bill Hammond's newspaper testimony struck a chord with me. I knew straight away, I had to tell his story.
A boxrec.com name search produced a handful of Bill Hammonds, but none were Camberwell Bill, so I emailed the UK's number one boxing historian, Miles Templeton via his website boxinghistory.org.uk.
Miles Templeton, number one boxing historian
Hi Miles, yours is a phenomenal website! I'm interested in any information you may have regarding Bill Hammond (Camberwell). How does your service work? He emailed the following morning to say he could indeed provide research on Bill Hammond's boxing career, adding that he'd need four weeks to pull it all together. I couldn't transfer his very reasonable fee quickly enough. Four weeks later, I received a digital file containing the details of 18 professional contests, with 25 fight reports scanned from newspapers and boxing magazines. The package included Miles's own four-page overview of the British boxing scene for the period Bill Hammond was active - the roaring 1920's. The overview highlights a rough and ready era when professional boxing was largely unregulated. Boxers were not licensed and bout details often went unrecorded. It was common practice for men to fight several times a day, wearing six-ounce horse-hair gloves. And, as the laminated photograph of Bill Hammond and Big Jim Campbell clearly illustrates, the average fight promoter wasn't too fussed about safety, care and welfare.
Eager to find out more about Bill Hammond, I subscribed to Ancestry.co.uk, but name searching there without a birth or death date is like punching in the dark. On top of that, was I looking for Bill or William? All the answers lay in the envelope. Because of my hectic work schedule and other writing projects, it wasn't until the Christmas holiday that I found time to carefully empty the contents into a pile. A typewritten personal reference letter sat like a cherry on the top.
'Sir, Mr. H.H. Hammond (Bill Hammond) of 56, Tremadoc Road, Clapham, SW4., is one whom I have no hesitation in recommending as an instructor of any kind where the handling of lads from a physical or moral point of view is an essential factor. If necessary, I can be communicated with at the above address (missing).
Joe Goyder, British Empire Games Amateur Boxing Champion, 1930 A.B.A Light Heavy Weight Champion 1929 and 1932' 'Joe Goyder now chief of City of London Police.' Another black-and-white photograph caught my eye and cast me into deep thought. Bill Hammond, standing in his front room, with the highlights of his coaching career forever behind him. 'To Ken, Dad 1963 aged 60' 1963, the year he handed back his professional coaching license.
So, Mr. Hammond was neither Bill or William. We had an address, and confirmation of his son's name.
Back to ancestry.co.uk, Fiona elbowed me out of the driving seat, and commandeered the mouse. Having previously used the site to build her family tree, she knew how to navigate. Within an hour she'd found him. Harold Henry Hammond. We can only wonder what bought about the name change. Thanks to Miles Templeton, I can now present a fragment of Bill Hammond's professional boxing career, with corresponding fight reports. The typewritten note attached to the Big Jim Campbell photo states that by 1931 Bill was a 250-fight veteran. We must assume that the details of his other bouts are gone with the wind. If Miles Templeton can't find them, nobody can. Thanks to Fiona's sleuth-like ancestry research I can, with information gleaned from the contents of the envelope, put together something of a timeline for Harold Henry 'Bill' Hammond. And, a big thank you to Karen Nethercott whose family tree research on the ancestry site proved most helpful.
Harold Henry Hammond was born at St Peter's Hospital, Battersea on 12th November 1903. His parents, Thomas and Annie, raised a family of ten. Thomas worked as a cabinet maker in the upholstery trade, until 1918 when he left home and joined the RAF. 1918 Harold began boxing at the age of 14 with his neighbourhood friend, 7-year-old Dave Mccleave. Mccleave went on to represent Great Britain in the 1932 Summer Olympics. He won gold in the 1934 Empire Games and, as a professional, claimed the British welterweight championship in 1936.
24th February, The Drill Hall, Flodden Road, Camberwell. The 21st County of London Regiment Tournament
Harold has become Bill. Harry Colvin 'caused Bill to retire' in the first-round of a scheduled six.
1924 Bill's father Thomas died aged 51 in St. Martins, London. 1925 9th October, Victoria Hall, Feltham Bill beat Hounslow's Young Green on points. The bout had been scheduled for ten rounds - commonly referred to as a 'tenner'.
1926 18th October, The National Sporting Club, Covent Garden Middleweight Novices Tournament. A. Edwards of Portsmouth beat Bill on points over three rounds.
1928 29th October, The Embassy Hall, Catford Bill won on a first-round disqualification against Jimmy Rudd of St George's. Rudd was thrown out for hitting Bill 'palpably low' after 20 seconds.
1929 18th February, The Coronation Baths, Kingston
Bill beat Marylebone's Fred Young by way of a fourth-round retirement in a 'tenner'.
4th March, The Coronation Baths, Kingston In another 'tenner', Eddie Parker of Epsom stopped Bill in the third round.
1st September, The Vale Hall, Kilburn Bill Berry of Marylebone knocked Bill out in the third round of ten.
10th October, The Skating Rink, High Road, Ilford Bernard Cook of Finsbury Park knocked Bill out in two rounds of a scheduled six. The matchmaker for this show was none other than the legendary Aldgate Sphinx, Ted 'Kid' Lewis.
14th October, The Corn Exchange, Cambridge
Four days after being knocked out by Bernard Cook.
'The Student Boxer' G. Peter floored Bill three times before knocking him out in the sixth round.
11th November, The Ring, Blackfriars Bill was rescued by the ref after being dropped four times in three rounds by Bermondsey boy Harry Ray.
16th November, The Services Club, Sevenoaks Kent. Just five days after being mauled by Harry Ray, Bill scored a first-round knockout win over Sundridge's Arthur Bridgland.
1930 24th January The Connaught Drill Hall, Bournemouth George Walters of Poole flattened Bill with a barrage of body punches in the third round of 12.
4th February Lime Grove Baths, Shepherds Bush The referee saved Bill, a career middleweight, from further punishment after 4 rounds against Windsor heavyweight Roy Webb. Webb knocked Bill down in the second round, and Bill exhausted himself trying to repay the compliment.
17th March The Coronation Baths, Kingston Popular Kingston boy Frank Baldwin knocked Bill out in the fifth round of twelve.
December, Battersea, London. Bill married his sweetheart, Lillian Gertrude Russell.
1931 20th May, The Stadium, Croydon. Bill outpointed Thornton Heath's Dusty Smith over eight rounds.
Date unknown, Manor Place Baths Bill gave away six stones in weight against 'The English Carnera' Big Jim Campbell of Battersea. Result unknown - although I'd hazard a guess. 22nd May, The New Victor Club, Forest Hill Bill stopped Nobby Cranfield of Penge in the second round of six.
Bill and Lillian's son Kenneth Thomas William Hammond was born at Lambeth Hospital.
1932 7th November, Coronation Baths, Kingston Bill scored a second-round stoppage win over Danny Watson of Benfleet. Watson hit the deck three times.
5th December, Coronation Baths, Kingston Johnny Isles of Chertsey KO'd Bill in the second round of eight.
Date unknown, The Casino, Medway, Kent George Spencer outpointed Bill in a six rounder.
1939 At the declaration of the second world war, Bill, aged 36, followed his late father's footsteps into the Lambeth Wing of the Air Training Corps. He also volunteered for the 1328 Kennington Squadron, this is where he cut his coaching teeth. Bill's boxing classes in Kennington proved hugely popular with the young cadets. His drive and enthusiasm quickly caught the attention of the squadron's Wing Commander, Mr. Haverstock.
Bill and Wing Commander Haverstock organised an inter-wing boxing tournament at the Drill Hall, Flodden Road, Camberwell. The tournament, held on a Saturday night, drew an audience of 800. That number included highly decorated first world war veteran, Air Commodore A. D. Warrington-Morris, the Deputy Director of the ATC, and Wing Commander George Henry Keat. Bill's cadets put on a spirited show. The following week, he received a typewritten letter of commendation from Wing Commander Keat:
Dear Hammond, I am writing to you a personal note with the object of saying how much I enjoyed seeing your show on Saturday last. It was a first-class boxing tournament and reflects to the credit of yourself and others who were responsible for organising the show. You have some good material among the boys. Your great work and enterprise is highly appreciated among the squadrons of the Lambeth Wing, and by the Mayor and Air Commodore Warrington-Morris who like myself appreciated and enjoyed the evening. Please pass on my good wishes to Mr. Haverstock. Yours, GH Keat Wing Commander. A South London Press sports report heaped more praise on Bill's efforts:
Since Hammond volunteered his services to the 1328 squadron in the summer, the boxing classes have increased their numbers by four or five times.' In summing up the inter-wing tournament, the report stated: The cadets of the Lambeth Wing provided evidence of that prime requirement for the RAF 'young men with guts'.
1951 Wednesday, 14th February, RAF Kabrit Air Base, Egypt Aircraftman Bill Hammond, weighing in at light-heavyweight, boxed Aircraftman Kent over three rounds. Result unknown, although a line drawn through Kent's name on the souvenir programme suggests that Bill did the business. Interestingly, there's another Hammond on the bout list: Sapper Hammond, a welterweight. I wonder if this was one of Bill's brothers.
1956 Camberwell. Former British welterweight champion Dave McCleave took over The Union Tavern pub on Camberwell New Road, and converted a section of the saloon bar into an amateur boxing club. He gave his lifelong friend Bill Hammond the role of resident trainer. Local youngsters flocked to the club twice a week for training. McCleave alternated between coaching, and serving drinks in the thriving bar area.
The Union Tavern became known as 'Britain's most unusual pub'.
The Morning Advertiser sent their budding sports journalist Clive Taylor along to the grand opening. I found Taylor's article, on a desperately fragile newspaper cutting, among the emptied contents of the mystery envelope.
Those Were The Days: An evening of fistic memories. MC: Dave McCleave
There was so much of the "good old days" atmosphere about Dave McCleave's new gym in Camberwell that it would have come as no surprise had there been a string of hansom cabs at the door to cart customers of the Union Tavern off to their homes. McCleave has heard more than most of us about the shortage of first-class training quarters in the London area so had turned his lounge into a gym. Also, this new venture gives him somewhere to plant all his boxing photographs gathered over the years. Resident trainer Bill Hammond who had 200 professional fights and first boxed with Mccleave when he was 14, bears the proud title of resident trainer of the gym. He has two boasts. He's as proud as a Dutch housewife over the well-equipped dressing rooms that have been built next to the gym rooms. But he's even more proud of his weight. "I was middleweight in my fighting days, and I still am." 'Golden days' But McCleave and Hammond are moderns, mere boys. Over in the corner sits Wellington Lancelot Lench in a trim navy-blue suit and blue trilby hat. He's 65 years old and yet minutes before he ran 50 yards for a bus. His trade name was Duke Lynch and his stomping ground was the old Blackfriars Ring. 15 or 16 times he topped the bill there. These are the good old days and Lynch remembers them mainly for being one of the few men to have knocked out that great British champion Ted 'Kid' Lewis (in the first round).
Clive Taylor asked Lynch, a 77-fight veteran, how the boxers of the 1950's compared with the men of the early 1900's. Lynch's answer is like a matchstick struck and raised to briefly illuminate an archaic passageway. He looked around McCleaves's gym and said: "They (modern boxers) wouldn't have started. You can't name a modern champion to stand with (Kid) Lewis, (Jim) Driscoll, and (Jim) Wilde. We didn't have time for training. We did all our stuff in the ring, we used to fight five or six times a week. In those days, if you didn't fight, you didn't get a job.
And you had to fight to live."
And then quietly he said, "Those were the golden days of boxing. They will never return. They can't"
As I pored over the terribly discoloured newspaper cutting, a penny dropped. I remembered watching a film about the Union Tavern gym, on British Pathe's YouTube channel. The three-minute newsreel entitled, 'Boxing Pub 1957', is an absolute corker. I found it again in no time.
On went the kettle, out came the biscuits. With a buzz of anticipation in the pit of my stomach, I clicked and scouted for Bill Hammond, but he's not there. The only coaches to be seen are Dave McCleave and former amateur featherweight champion Tiny Ryan. The boxer with the movie star looks, Freddie Cross, fought nine times in 1957. All but three of his fights took place away from London. This might explain Bill's absence. Another fighter who stayed busy (although not by Duke Lynch's standards) in 1957 was 'The Dartford Destroyer' Dave Charnley. He fought six times, winning the British lightweight title along the way. Dave Charnley is without question one of the greatest boxers Britain has ever produced. In a phenomenal ten-year career, he bagged the British, Commonwealth and European lightweight titles. The record books show him falling short of world honours, but record books rarely tell the whole story. His points defeat to the formidable world champion Joe' Old Bones' Brown, at Earls Court Arena in 1961 remains highly debatable. The referee's decision that night incited a near riot in the crowd. Charnley ranks alongside 1980's middleweight Herol Graham and the astonishing 1930's child prodigy Nipper Pat Daley, as arguably the best British fighter to have never won a world title. The mystery envelope just kept on giving. Among its emptied contents, I found a black-and white sports press photo of Dave Charnley, with Bill Hammond. It was taken after Charnley's 40 second annihilation of challenger David 'Darkie' Hughes, in Nottingham. The Dartford Destroyer had just gate-crashed the record books with the quickest finish to a title fight in British boxing history.
That post-fight photo served as a traffic sign pointing me back in the direction of YouTube. I typed in 'Charnley V Hughes 1961', and up it came. On went the kettle, out came the biscuits, and back came the buzz of anticipation in the pit of my stomach. I clicked play, and there he was. Bill Hammond.
I recognised him straight away, walking towards the champion's corner behind Charnley and his manager Arthur Boggis. He's also visible in the ring immediately after the slaughter, but there's another video titled, 'Record KO', that gives us a much better angle. The letters 'BH' on his left breast pocket confirm we've got our man. While others celebrate, he looks pensive.
We'll never know the whole truth of Bill's boxing career because boxrec.com is, as Miles Templeton puts it, vastly incomplete for the period he was active. We do know, that as a coach, Bill Hammond made it to the elite level. Charnley authenticated his elite level credentials against Joe Brown at Earls Court Arena. Bill was in Charnley's corner that night, along with Arthur Boggis. They came so close - against one of the greatest lightweights in history.
Bill Hammond behind Joe 'Old Bones' Brown and 'The Dartford Destroyer' Dave Charnley, 1961
1963 25 February Joe Brown returned to Britain for another shoot-out with Dave Charnley. They fought in Manchester and Charnley scored a thrilling sixth round KO. I've scrutinised the grainy black-and-white footage, and can't be sure that Bill worked Charnley's corner that night. By this time, he'd fallen out of love with professional boxing.
South London Press Friday, 12th July Man with a conscience has quit the pro fight game.
Professional boxing has lost another stalwart in Bill Hammond, the veteran Brixton trainer who has decided to join an amateur club, where he feels there is a better atmosphere and much less chance of boys being hurt. He is quite willing to help out any amateur club just for the love of it, and after some 40 years in the fight game he has a good idea what he's talking about. Says 60-year-old Bill, I now agree with the minority that professional boxing does soften a fighter's brain, but there are exceptions. "My conscience has caught up with me." With a lifetime in boxing Bill at one time looked after the present British lightweight champion, Dave Charnley, and in recent years has taken great interest in the many American professionals who have visited this country. "I agree there are fewer deaths from boxing, but on the other hand there are a great number that have been affected mentally by the game; after all it's continual punishment." added Bill. It will be a big break for Bill, but he feels he has had enough of the professional aspect of the sport, and is only too happy to get back among the amateurs where, he says, the sport is a sport. So any amateur club looking for a voluntary trainer with over 40 years experience of boxing and boxers, need look no farther. Conscience was probably the reason behind Bill's distinct lack of exuberance in the aftermath of the Darkie Hughes massacre. Hughes remained face down and motionless for several minutes.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes 'the bad mob' were busy 'squeezing out sportsmen'. When Bill's disclosures hit the newsstands, the British Boxing Board of Control threatened him with legal 'proceedings'. 'They did not like the truth.' Bill decided to 'throw in' his professional trainer's licence. No longer Bill the coach, he continued life as Bill the loving husband and lorry driver. At some point during the 1970's, while living in the Tulse Hill area, he became Bill the fish and chip shop manager.
25th August, Boxing News
'RINGSIDE SEAT' By editor Harry Mullan
Bill Hammond, former trainer from Camberwell wants to thank everyone concerned in his surprise presentation last month. Bill, 75, has been in poor health for the last 13 years and dropped off from the boxing scene. But his former fighters didn't forget him.
"Bobby Paget, Teddy Haynes (one of my boxers) and a crowd of others took me off to a pub in Woolwich telling me it was for a darts match. When my wife and I arrived there the pub was packed with ex-fighters. We were really overcome - everyone knew except us, that I was to be given a beautiful wrist watch, £100, and a huge card autographed by them all. I'll treasure it always, and I'd like to thank them all through the old Bible (Boxing News) as I don't have all their addresses."
Bill's hard-earned night of honour took place at the Edinburgh Castle pub in Samuel Street, Woolwich. They turned out in force, for the man with a conscience. The full house included unlicensed boxing's man of the moment Lennie McLean, who fittingly slipped Bill a few quid.
Bill's health issue was throat cancer. His vocal cords had been removed and replaced with a voice box device. The gravity of his situation will have temporarily vanished in the warm glow of smiling faces from the past. Bill Hammond dedicated his life to boxing. As a fighter, he overcame the type of set-backs that discourage the most determined athletes. As a coach, he dedicated himself to the betterment of countless others. Reading through the various signatures in his surprise gift card will have lifted his spirit no end.
He walked out of the Edinburgh Castle feeling on top of the world again. Harold Henry 'Bill' Hammond passed away in March 1981 aged 77. His beloved Lillian passed away just months later.
How did the remnants of Bill's worldly possessions end up in my garden shed? The mystery envelope contained the Last Will of his son, Kenneth. Our dear late friend from Electric Mansions, Dimpsey, is named on it as administrator. A quick Facebook message to Dimpsey's daughter Beatrice was all it took to solve the nagging mystery. Hey Bea, Douggie here. Tell me, did you ever hear mum mention a man named Bill Hammond, or Ken Hammond? Have you heard these names before? Bill was a boxer from Brixton, back in the day.' She replied within a couple of minutes: Ken Hammond was her last boyfriend, he died in her flat with cancer. He was a minder. Do you remember the story of mum being buried alive by the A21?
It was Kenny.
Beatrice's message jump-started my memory. Dimpsey told me all about Kenny. Now I wish I'd recorded every word.
Kenny and Dimpsey began dating in the late 1970's. There were two sides to Kenny. He could be exceedingly sociable, generous and witty. His flip side however, earned him the whispered reputation of an extremely dangerous man. He worked at Heathrow Airport as chief baggage-master, as well as having irons in less legitimate fires. After his parents died, Kenny treasured his mother's ashes and a collection of mementos from his father's boxing career. He carried Lillian's ashes with him everywhere. Sometime in the early 1980's, he bought number 11 Wellington Terrace, Hastings. He and Dimpsey spent many a weekend there. While driving back to London one Sunday evening, Kenny's flip side surfaced. They'd been out drinking, and he became agitated about perceived flirting. Poor Dimpsey was choked with her seatbelt and thrown unconscious into a ditch beside the A21. She regained consciousness as he scooped earth and bracken down onto her with a large stick. When his makeshift shovel snapped, he disappeared to find another, and she ran for dear life. In the mid 1990's Kenny, having been diagnosed with cancer, was sentenced to a stretch in La Moye prison. His precious collection of boxing mementos was mailed to him there by Elizabeth McGuiness who, I assume, had been tasked with clearing 11 Wellington Terrace. I wonder what happened to Lillian's ashes. Kenny escaped from La Moye, with the envelope. He made straight for Electric Mansions, where Dimpsey harboured him through deteriorating health, until his death in April 1997. With Kenny gone, she placed the envelope underneath her television stand where it remained untouched for twelve years. I moved into the flat above Dimpsey in 2004. I'd always carry her binbags downstairs on my way out. That's how we became friends. She brought the envelope upstairs one evening, knowing I'd appreciate its tatty contents. I wasn't at home. Fiona placed it on a bookshelf, and told me when I returned - but I didn't pay attention. Preoccupied, as usual. The envelope lay forgotten on that bookshelf for ten years. I didn't even notice it when packing for the move to leafy north London. If I hadn't gone in the shed looking for that bag of skipping ropes, it'd still be in there, biodegrading. I never did find that bag of ropes. Bill Hammond's defeat to heavyweight Roy Webb stands out for me. Massively outweighed, hurt and floored, he hauled himself up and launched an attack that briefly troubled Webb. Bill punched himself to a standstill looking for the glorious equaliser.
He boxed to help support his large family after the untimely death of his father, but it was as a coach and mentor that Bill Hammond realised his true calling.
'I have looked after champions to novices, and I swear I did it all from my heart, not for my pocket.' - Bill Hammond, a man with a conscience. 1903-1981
And finally, here's to Margaret 'Dimpsey' Lacey, Brixton's finest. 1933-2019. I'm honoured that she chose to pass the envelope on to me. I'll never forget her. Some days I kick myself for leaving it so long. Everything in its time, I suppose.