Tom Cribb – Champion of England
The Tom Cribb pub in Panton Street is named after one of the greatest boxers of all time. Cribb, who was born in 1781, was a publican for many years at the premises when it was known as the Union Arms. The pub later changed its name to honour Cribb’s stellar career, and the interior of the building commemorates its boxing heritage with a series of prints of great pugilists, including Cribb. An English heritage plaque on the exterior of the pub also marks Cribb’s career.
During the early 19th century, when bare-knuckle boxing was a national obsession, Cribb was one of the most famous men in the country. His likeness appeared in popular prints and pottery, while his name was referred to in poems, songs and works of literature. With England anxious about potential defeat at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte, Cribb was seen as a patriotic exemplar of the virtues of strength, courage and fortitude. The words of the poem A Boxing We Will Go even imagined what would happen if Napoleon dared to take on England’s premier boxer, concluding that Cribb would “beat him like a drum / And make his carcase [sic.] sound.”
The Gloucestershire-born Cribb only ever lost one contest, against George Nichols in 1805, winning recognition as Champion of England with victory against Bob Gregson in 1808. He also twice defeated the famed Jem Belcher, however, it was his pair of victories against Tom Molineaux - a former slave from America - that won him sporting immortality. These contests, in 1810 and 1811, were arguably the first significant international contests in sporting history.
After vanquishing Molineaux, Cribb settled into semi-retirement at the Union Arms. He flirted with the idea of a comeback, before formally retiring in 1821 and dying in 1848. His grave in St Mary Magdalene Church, Woolwich consists of a splendid stone monument of a lion - a worthy memorial to one of England’s bravest, sporting heroes.