THE GYPSY CONTROVERSY
An Average Working -Class Family
Beeston, Norfolk 1831
On April 8, Jem Mace is born in the remote village of Beeston-next-Mileham in rural Norfolk. He is the fifth of eight children born to William Mace and Ann Mace (formerly Rudd). He is christened at the Anglican Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. Parish records describe his father as "a labourer". But later documents will indicate the true nature of his life-style.
Mace as World Champion (1872)
The Gypsy Connection
Beeston 1839
Jem's uncle, Barney Mace, has married the teenage daughter of a well-known Romany family, Lurena Baker, after falling in love with her when they met at Norwich Fair.
Their eldest son, Pooley Mace, is born. He will become the close friend and lifelong companion of his cousin Jem.
The Ring Nickname
Norfolk 1850. London 1857
At the time of his first appearance as a prize fighter, Mace is nicknamed the 'Swaffham Gypsy' (from a town near his home village).
By the time of his debut in the London Prize Ring, this is shortened -- simply to 'The Gypsy'. Soon Francis Louis Dowling, editor of the leading fight mag of the day, will describe Mace in insulting language verging on racism.
A Statement in Court
London, Holborn 1861
Lord William Frederick Windham of Felbrigge Hall, Norfolk is called to give evidence at Gray's Inn court. He seeks to avoid being disinherited by his uncle who claims he is 'mad' and who has described crazy behaviour.
But, in court, Windham seems entirely lucid. He asserts that the family of Jem Mace, Champion of England, have been tenants of his forebears at Beeston for over a hundred years. This is, of course, incompatible with the gypsy way of life.
The Great Street Fight
Dublin 1864
Mace is in Ireland but has refused to fight his challenger for the world title, Joe Coburn, an Irish-American. Mace gives as his reason his belief that Coburn's nominated referee is in fact his own uncle.
Nevertheless, a ballad entitled 'The Cowardly Englishman' circulates. It accuses Mace of lack of courage.
Irish bare- knuckle fighter, Bartley Gorman I, himself a gypsy, believes that Mace is a fellow Romany and that he has let the side down. But the outcome will not be what Gorman expected..
The Autobiography
London, 1908
In his autobiography, '50 years a Fighter', Jem Mace, aged 77, states "the assertion, oft repeated, that I have gypsy blood in my veins, is completely untrue".
Mace attributes the notion to the fact that his cousin and constant companion, Pooley Mace, is indeed a half Romany.
London (1907)
The Final Caravan
Grassendale, Lancashire 1910
Nearing the end of his life, Mace spends time at a gypsy settlement on an abandoned farm where a boxing booth is in operation.
But he is also to be found on the road with Sullivan's Circus -- and at various fixed addresses in London.