Charles Blackburn (1872-1950)

photograph a muscular bare chested man

Charlie in 1893. Accession no RH2003.0148.32

Lightweight Champion of Lancashire

Charles (Charlie) Blackburn was born in Liverpool on St Patrick's Day 1872. He went on to become a successful boxer and later a highly respected boxing referee, trainer and publican - in addition to being a churchwarden and life-long teetotaller.

In 2003 Charlie's family generously donated a wonderful collection of items representing his unique life to the museum.

The collection contains not only boxing trophies, dumbbells, photographs and boxing programmes but also Charlie's publican apron, the bell he used to ring for last orders and his bowler hat.

Charlie started his boxing career at the young age of 16 when he became interested in a gym near to where his family lived in Great Crosby. After visiting he was asked to spar with some professional boxers, and then to take part in a boxing show. This suggestion horrified his grandmother, as up until this time Charlie had wanted to become a minister.

His first major success was when he took Jem Mace's 9 stone champion belt at Leeds. The following year he was again victorious in Tom Meadow's 'open to all England' competition defeating R Bogey.

In 1892 he won the Lightweight 9 stone 4lb Championship of Lancashire beating Harry Brown, whilst trained by Tommy Jones.

Match after match followed with Charlie winning 25 contests out of 30. He fought all of the principal boxers in the north at the time and was highly regarded,

"Blackburn possesses many of the characteristics of Dixon. He is modest, unassuming, rarely quibbles over decisions, and is determined to prove that he is the best lightweight in the country."
(Football Express 24 November 1917)

Charlie then went on to own his own boxing booth. He travelled to all of the principal towns and fairs in England for over 10 years with a troupe of professional boxers taking on all comers. His troupe included, 'Young Starlight the Black of South Africa', Pedlar McMahon of Swansea, and the lady bantam champion boxer Miss Daisy Wallace of Birmingham. Unlike the majority of others, Charlie often figured as his own top liner and built up a considerable record totalling 109 contests. His booth was the last to stand on Aintree Racecourse and on one occasion he ran a private show for the owners, trainers and jockeys. When interviewed later in life he still maintained that the old boxing booth was the best training ground and brought out nearly all the best fighters.

Charlie trained many boxers including Will Curly, who he took to America for his featherweight fight in Coney Island. He also gave private lessons as Professor C Blackburn. An advert in the local sporting press details his highly professional manner:

"How to learn the noble art of self defence. Taught in a gentlemanly and scientific manner without the fear of being abused. Lessons strictly private."

Business card with image of Charles wearing a suit and hat

Charlie's referee business card. Accession no RH2003.0148.30

After retiring from fighting Charlie is perhaps best remembered as a highly respected local boxing referee,

"His services are in great request, and as the official referee in these parts he has handled some important money matches, on one occasion recently £500 depending on the result."

He was not only a good judge but also 'sea green honest' and highly regarded by his contemporaries,

"Like poets, your real referee is born not made, and when Charles Blackburn was born the mould was broken. Cool in moments of stress and a rare judge of the game, C Blackburn, in my opinion, stands in the forefront of present day referees."

As their family grew larger Charlie and his wife Elizabeth became proprietors of a number of public houses in Liverpool. Premises included the Farmers Arms in Great Newton Street and the Stags Head Hotel at 40 Pembroke Place. They stayed at the Stags Head for almost 60 years. It was here, with Charlie as local president of the National Union of Boxers, that the Liverpool Branch of the Boxers Union met, and where many sporting stars and VIP personalities called over the years to enjoy his hospitality. Charlie passed away on 2 August 1950 as one of the Liverpool's oldest and most respected professional boxers.

A display of Charlie's trophies, photographs and other items was held at the former Museum of Liverpool Life during August 2005.

Man wearing a long white apron standing at the bar in a pub

Charlie behind the bar in his publican apron at the Stag's Head Hotel, Pembroke Place. Accession no RH2003.0148.5