There’s a great 7 1/2 min video here where Ted Lewis describes his working life as a Billingsgate Fish Porter.
Ted Lewis, who boxed professionally at Mile End in 1948, is still around and I interviewed him, and took this photo a couple of weeks ago.
Ted Lewis was born in Ordell Road, Bow in 1929, and became a professional featherweight boxer in 1947.
Ted left school at 11, because he was evacuated to a village in Devon with a church run school which only took infants and juniors, so he worked on a farm, which he enjoyed. He came back to London at 13 and his father said he had to get a proper job with good prospects. He started working in a printers, but he didn’t like being stuck indoors, and one day got his fingers caught and crushed in a book bending machine (for attaching the spine).
Ted then started working in the Billingsgate fishmarket and at 18 got his fish porters license. Ted loved Billingsgate, it was hard work but with a nice crowd of people, and he was more or less self employed. He stayed until a couple of years after the market moved to the Isle of Dogs, but it was not the same and Ted said it was more like working in a factory, so he retired.
Ted’s father and uncle were boxers, but they didn’t encourage Ted to become one. Ted went to a local youth club where one day somebody suggested that he put some gloves on to provide a sparing partner for someone. Ted won three fights that night. He said he was lucky in that he was “born with a punch”. So he started boxing as an amateur, turning professional in 1947.
Teddy Lewis fought 38 professional fights, won 29 and knocked out his opponents in 21 of those. He said he was a very aggressive fighter, even as an amateur which convinced him he should turn professional. His boxing record is here. He’s not impressed with the boxers he sees today.
He said he stopped fighting in 1951 after getting a cut eye which kept reopening.
Working as a fish porter at Billingsgate kept Ted fit, and it had the advantage of an early finish enabling Ted to go to the gym.
At that time fairgrounds had boxing booths where members of the public were enticed to have a go by the promoter shouting, “£2 if can last 3 rounds, £5 if you can knock him out.” Ted fought regularly under the name of Teddy Barlett in a travelling booth run by Tommy Woods. Ted said that you had to be careful with the amateurs and street fighters and not knock them out immediately. The audience had paid 2 shillings each to see a fight, so Ted would keep the fight going for a few rounds. Sometimes no members of the public would come forwards so the professionals would fight each other. In this case the action was staged. Ted gives the example that his opponent might say, “Hit me on the jaw,” so Ted would hit him on the shoulder with the flat of his glove producing a big “whack” sound and his opponent would accordingly throw his head back.
Ted was earning a lot of money and he and his girlfriend Betty, later his wife, would go to all the West End shows, dine out and dress well. He said he never fought outside of the ring because he didn’t need to, and kept away from trouble.