Bartley Gorman was an Irish Traveller who was the undefeated champion at
Bare-knuckle boxingin the United Kingdomand Ireland. Between the years of 1972 and 1992 he held the title of Bareknuckle Champion of Great Britain & Ireland, often simply called the King of the Gypsies. He was the most famous bareknuckle boxer of recent times, in Britain if not the World.
Born in 1944, the son of Samuel and Katy Gorman, the family moved from their original home in Wales to Bedworth near Coventry, England, in order for the children to attend school. They made their home in Warner's Yard, a travellers' site next to the Queen's Head pub in Newtown Road. His Father was a religious law-abiding man who did not fight, however fighting was in his gypsy heritage, of which he was very proud. His great-grandfather, Boxing Bartley, was an Irish bareknuckle champion in the 19th century, and his grandfather, Bulldog Bartley, was also another unbeaten bareknuckle boxer. He attended the St Francis of Assisi School in Bedworth, followed by the Nicholas Chamberlaine Secondary School.
The red-haired Bartley was only nine years old when he first witnessed the misery that violence brings. Bartley saw his passive and well respected uncle killed before his very eyes by one punch thrown by a rogue showman on Boxing Day 1953. The family were attending the wedding reception of his aunt at the Three Horseshoes pub, Foleshill, Coventry. The tragic event was caused purely because the fairground operator had his drink spilt.
Bartley felt compelled by the weight of his own violent family history to fight and suffer pain as a bareknuckle boxer. It came naturally to him, starting with playground tussles, turning into after-school scraps. Eventually he gained proper training at Bedworth Labour Club, with a string of schoolboy amateur fights, including some for his secondary school. In some ways he felt the natural successor to his fighting ancestors.
After leaving school Bartley continued fighting bareknuckle. The many tales of brutal fights at fairs and race-courses, in car parks, pubs or quarries fill the majority of his biography, King Of The Gypsies. Anywhere travelling men met, argued and brawled, he was there, and he was unbeaten. Prize fights would be organised in a variety of locations, in order to avoid police intervention, including one at the bottom of a mine shaft in
Derbyshire. Although fellow travellers gambled thousands of pounds on his fights, Bartley prided himself on boxing for honour.
King of the Gypsies
He won the Bareknuckle Champion of Great Britain & Ireland, often called the King of the Gypsies, aged 28 in 1972. A fierce fighter, he stood 6 ft 1 in and weighed in at 15½ stone (217lbs). He held the title until deciding not to defend it in 1992. During these glory years, he fought many fights, and even challenged infamous London brawlers Lenny "The Guv'nor" McLean and Roy "Pretty Boy" Shaw.
Most of Bartley's scraps and scrapes took place in and around Coventry. The best punch he ever took was delivered by Coventry boxer Roger Barlow during a gloved sparring session in a rickety gym in Merthyr, Wales, in 1972. Rarely did Bartley use gloves.
After a drinking session in Coventry, Bartley was challenged to take on Blond Simey, one of two top fighters in the vast Irish clan of travellers, the Dochertys. He arrived at the old building site where the Irish clan were staying, tore off his shirt and fought off two dogs which were set on him. When it became clear his opponent wasn't there, he overturned a car in anger and made off.
He was almost killed by a mob near Doncaster Racecourse on St Leger Day in 1976. He had turned up expecting to fight a challenger to his title and gypsy crown, but arrived to find an armed mob, who he was later told had been paid £25,000 to attack him. It took Bartley more than a year to regain his fitness, and he bore scars for the rest of his life.
The only time Bartley came close to losing his crown was when he dislocated his shoulder during a fight at a Coventry pub in 1980. The pub, thought to be the old Port O'Call off Hearsall Common (now the Old Clarence), was packed with travellers. Many of Britain's toughest fighters were drinking together when Bartley was challenged to fight Mexicana Webb, a moustachioed giant with a bushy Afro hairstyle. Bartley remembers the crowd clearing the tables away for the fight. When the landlord reached for the phone to call the police, someone grabbed his arm and warned him off. Bartley eventually won but only because his opponent failed to notice his shoulder had been dislocated in the bout.
Another famous fight took place on the Aston Firs travellers' site near Hinckley, UK, where his family lived for many years. Others include the fight at the Squires nightclub in Hinckley at his brother Sam's wake in 1991, and at the Coventry Crock Fair in 1994, two years after his retirement.
Tired of violence
Although Bartley proudly revelled in his prowess with his fists, he also had a sensitive, thoughtful side, and he grew tired of the mindless violence. Bartley's mother Katy had bought him a Bible as a child, which the inquisitive youngster read avidly. This thirst for wisdom in these later years caused him to question the violent life he had led.
After semi-retirement in 1992, Bartley settled to build his own house on the outskirts of Uttoxeter and for the remaining 10 years, was able to watch the rise of the next generation of gypsy fighters.
He was feared in fights but highly respected locally. For Uttoxeter he was a bit of a town treasure. He was honoured by the town by putting his name on their Millennium monument, alongside such illustrious Staffordshire greats as Joseph Bamford, who founded JCB.
Bartley would always wear his good luck charm a black bracelet with a copper finish containing the gypsie sign which he refused take off even during fights it was passed down his family and is now recorded at over a hundred years old however this often caused disruption with fellow fighters as jewellery of any sort was not allowed during fights however exception was often cast over Bartleys bracelet.This charm after his death was left to friend Patrick Joseph Devlin.This charm was supposedly worn to lead him to victory in his fights however he only wore it for fights its whereabouts is now unbeknown.
But Bartley was not to see much of the new Millennium. He died from liver cancer at the age of 57 in January 2002. Hundreds of gipsies from across the country came to the town for his funeral.
The independent film director
Shane Meadowshas said numerous times that he is interested in making a film of Gorman's life, to be entitled "King of the Gypsies".
List of bare-knuckle boxers
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