In the late 1940’s after the end of the Second World War, an interest in boxing emerged in the local area. Young lads were encouraged to attend keep fit and training sessions at the scout hut in nearby Burnham-on-Sea organised by Billy Parsons who later fought as a professional boxer known as “The Highbridge Hurricane” (See separate story below).
Eventually a club was formed in Highbridge, the headquarters and training area were at the “White Hart Hotel” in Church Street. Mr Bill Tyler was President of the club and with the support of a committee the club was very successful for a number of years. Trainers with the club throughout its history were believed to be Taffy Smith, Ivor Yard and Johnny Popham.
Competitive matches took place at the Town Hall in Market Street, Highbridge where prior to the boxing, entertainment was provided by a dancing display by the Erin Fay School of Dancing.
Amongst opponents for the matches were teams from National Smelting (Avonmouth), Tiverton, Weston-super-Mare, Radstock (National Coal Board) Swindon and Bridgwater, also individual contests on separate bills at other venues were organised. On boxing nights the Town Hall was well attended by the public, eager to cheer on their local lads. During the life of the club many successes were achieved in both the Southern Area (National Association of Boys Clubs) and the Somerset N.A.B.C. It is believed the highest achievement was by Bobby Pocock who became the All England National Association of Boys Clubs champion at his weight in 1950.
By the mid 1950’s the boxing club had disbanded, the reason for this is not clear, it could have been financial or perhaps lack of interest, either way a boxing club was to be lost to the town. However the facility for young lads to keep fit and train continued at the “Bristol Bridge Inn”, where Billy Parsons (The Highbridge Hurricane) who had finished his professional career became landlord. He encouraged lads from groups in the town, such as the St. John Ambulance and many other individuals to use the gym.
Years were to pass and in October 1998 a new boxing club was formed, the King Alfred Amateur Boxing Club, founded by Andy Churches a qualified Amateur Boxing Association coach who had been a member of the Sydenham A.B.C. (Bridgwater) from 1991 to the formation of the new club.
Initial funds for the new club were obtained by an organised sponsored walk to Brean Down and as fifty years previously Billy Parsons (“The Highbridge Hurricane”) was there to take part in the walk aged 77 and give encouragement to the new endeavour.
Training nights were held at King Alfred School, Highbridge, until 2001, when a move was made to facilities in Love Lane (Burnham-on-Sea). The club is now flourishing under the President Roger Cross and the hard working supporters and Committee, organising their own tournaments, the third of which took place in 2003 at the Burnham Holiday Village.
Club members are matched against opponents by age, weight and experience, from other clubs in various parts of the country e.g. Bristol, Dagenham, Bideford and South Wales. Members also travel to other club tournaments to gain experience and further develop the club.
In memory of Billy Parsons who died in June 2002 the family has given the title “The Highbridge Hurricane” to the club and is now carried proudly for the club by Rob Boardman.
From the details obtained the new club appears to echo what had taken place all those years ago, it is hoped the King Alfred Amateur Boxing Club has continued success.
Information for the Original Boxing Club – Ralph Cornish – Peter Teal
Details King Alfred A.B.C. from Andy Churches and Roger Cross
THE HIGHBRIDGE HURRICANE
A young Billy Parsons at school in West Huntspill showed little interest in the art of boxing. Yet who would have imagined that this young lad would eventually spar with Don Cockell who was preparing for his World Heavyweight title fight with Rocky Marciano, who ruled the world of boxing from 1951 –1955?
On leaving school Billy attended a keep fit class run by a couple of local builders, and although not keen at first was encouraged to box, and eventually he climbed into the ring against an opponent, was successful it was fairly obvious he was a natural. At the age of eighteen, his first amateur bout was in Weston-super-Mare, where he quickly beat his opposition with a knock out, this was to be the pattern for his amateur days, with thirty two wins from thirty six fights – seventeen by knock out.
The Second World War put his boxing career on hold, as he became a fireman on the Somerset and Dorset Railway at Highbridge, although he was still training and boxing with American servicemen stationed in the local area. All of which paid off when he turned professional in 1945, that young lad at school in West Huntspill was now nine stones of granite with dynamite in both fists as he knocked out his first opponent.
A year later in 1946 Billy married Joyce Manchip at West Huntspill church, back in the ring the “Highbridge Hurricane” in his first fourteen fights knocked out ten of his opponents. By the age of twenty six his amateur and pro record showed twenty four knock outs and twenty two points wins, out of fifty three fights. Promoters from London were chasing the boxer who was now described as “The greatest prospect for British Championship Honours the West Country had produced for years”. Billy finally relented and spent some time training at Jack Soloman’s famous gym in London.
Even though he was now training alongside the likes of Don Cockell, Jack Gardner, Randolph Turpin and Freddie Mills he still found time to return to Highbridge and encourage the local youngsters in the towns amateur boxing club. Several promoters wanted Billy to move to London, where they promised him he would be fighting in world-class bouts. But the pull of the West Country was too strong and his boxing career came to an end.
After keeping a guesthouse for a short period with his wife Joyce, they became Licensees of the “Bristol Bridge Inn” on the Bristol Road where Billy continued to support and train the local amateur boxers. He and his wife later worked at Morlands Sheepskin Factory until being made redundant when the factory closed. By now there were three children, Carol, Terry and Jeanette.
On June 8th 2002, Billy “The Highbridge Hurricane” a grandfather and great grandfather died at the age of eighty.
(Information supplied by Carol Barnes (Daughter)