Memories of a ‘pocket Hercules’

Len Lemaux in his prime.
Len Lemaux in his prime.
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Local author Andrew Fairley’s book on local boxers is to be release around Christmas time.

Here, he tells us of another local boxer who not only fought in more than 200 bouts and also worked in the dockyard, the pocket Hercules, Len Lemaux.

The house where Brunel was reputed to have been born, No.1 Britain Street, Portsea, close to the junction with Dean Street.

The house where Brunel was reputed to have been born, No.1 Britain Street, Portsea, close to the junction with Dean Street.

With his chiseled physique and fine features Len must have been as popular a man with the ladies as he was with the Connaught Drill Hall fight crowd, in front of whom he boxed no less than27 times and topped the bill on a number of occasions.

Born on February 3, 1913, all his working life he was employed as a welder in Portsmouth Dockyard.

Believed to have fought more than 200 times, Len had his greatest successes as a lightweight where he outpointed fellow Pompey lad Ted Darville for the Hampshire title and fought like a tiger against Dick Corbett for the southern area belt, the fight being controversially scored a draw by referee Jim Kendrick. To give an idea of his pedigree Corbett had reigned as British and British Empire bantamweight champion in 1931 – 1932 and again in 1934.

Also a dockyard champion and holder of promoter John Mortimer’s belt in 1938, at his peak Len was a match for any leading lightweight in the country.

Dean Street at its junction with Britain Street in 1960 with the beer house the White Hart at No.5 on the corner.

Dean Street at its junction with Britain Street in 1960 with the beer house the White Hart at No.5 on the corner.

Len trained under Gus Tout at the Queen’s Club gym in Lake Road, and while he carried a solid left hook his style was more death by a thousand cuts than a cold blooded puncher. Relying on speed and a rapier jab he obliged nine opponents to retire inside the distance and was only knocked out once, a first round stoppage in June 1938 to Cambridgeshire’s Eric Boon who would win the British lightweight championship just six months later.

The notoriously heavy-handed Boon had Len on the canvas three times in less than three minutes.

Len had a particular rivalry with Portsmouth’s Billy Peace with whom he fought a trilogy of bouts.

Like Len, Billy was more boxer than puncher and their three matches were strategic affairs. Len narrowly lost a six rounds points decision in March 1931 before earning a hard fought draw in November.

Fire control girls at Fareham Fire Station in 1944. Mary Callaghan sitting third from the left.

Fire control girls at Fareham Fire Station in 1944. Mary Callaghan sitting third from the left.

A third meeting was a natural and this time Len emerged on top with a win over eight rounds.

Len also boxed two creditable draws with vastly more experienced Tommy Hyams of Kings Cross London.

A former southern area title challenger at feather and lightweight, Hyams knew a bit too much for the Pompey man and didn’t succumb to Len’s pressure.

In 1938 Len took a notable scalp in twice beating Wales’s Boyo Rees the Welsh area lightweight champion with both wins occurring over 10 rounds at the Connaught.

Miriam Finnegan's coach built pram from the early 1960s.

Miriam Finnegan's coach built pram from the early 1960s.

Rees was a very prominent lightweight and Len’s reputation would never be higher than it was at this time, but inexplicably Len was excluded from the nominated eliminators for the southern area title, much to the consternation of promoter John Mortimer who made an impassioned plea to the Board of Boxing Control for recognition. Before Len’s chance could arrive, the KO loss to Boon derailed his ambitions and he fought just nine more times, losing six.

Len called it a day in January 1940.

Len was no less courageous in the Second World War than he had been in the ring and received a commendation for brave conduct in 1943 for fighting a fire that had broken out on a ship under repair.

He raised a family with wife Alma, and by the 1950s was back in the gym training lads at Hillside in Paulsgrove, also acting as an official second for the southern counties. Len enjoyed a long retirement from the dockyard, passing away at the grand age of 86 on Christmas Eve 1999.

Fondly remembered by his family and friends as a true gentleman, the former featherweight stands tall in Pompey’s boxing history.

Where Brunel roamed

In the photograph to the left taken by Eddie Wallace in October 1961, we see the junction of Britain Street and Dean Street, Portsea.

On the corner at No. 5 is the White Hart.

This was apparently not a public house but a beer retailer and my Portsmouth Kelly’s tells me from 1934 until 1962 it was run by Alfred Walter Stocker.

A beer house was different from a public house whereas the owner could buy a licence and sell beer for consumption on the premises.

Any further information on this building would be appreciated.

No. 1 Britain Street was, of course, where the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was reputed to have been born.

Dean Street is now a lovely place to live with five of the remaining terraced houses still standing.

Fire control in Fareham in 1943

Last week I told of Mary Wilcox nee Callaghan who worked in the control for the National Fire Service in Southsea along with Canadians firefighter.

Mary also worked in control at the Fareham Fire Station and she loaned me a photograph of her with her colleagues.

Kresta coach-built prams

I wonder how many of you purchased a Kresta coach-built prams from W.J. Keast of 193 Kingston Road or from R.J. Weekes of 159 Fawcett Road when a new member of the family arrived.

It was always questionable as to having a new pram in the house before the new baby arrived as it was supposed to bring bad luck.

The prams and pushchairs of today need an engineering degree to set up and put down.

I know my daughter has recently given birth to my second grandchild and when she comes up to see me she arrives with a contraption that looks like a combination of a mobile electric chair and a commode. Awful.

Much better to have had an elegant smooth-running pram that were built to keep baby warm, dry and comfortable.

Even when Ursula was a tot I used to feel okay pushing her around in her pram.

This machine she has for her son is a complete pain and I am forever kicking the wheels or axle.

The pram in the picture belongs to Miriam Finnegan Southborne.

She purchased the pram for £54.00 from Kresta’s in Kingston Road in 1962.

A fortune then and the best part of a £1,000 to purchase today.

In 1966 it was placed in the loft and re-discovered a few years ago.

It has the same hood and wet-weather cover as supplied

The only replacement was the leather suspension straps.

It now stands in pride of place in the hallway of their house with a dolly lying in comfort.