James FIGG (1684–1734)
The James Figg Pub (formerly The Greyhound Inn), Cornmarket, Thame
James Figg was born in Thame, possibly in Priestend, to Francis and Elizabeth Figg, one of seven children. His proud boast was ‘Here I am Jemmy Figg from Thame. I will fight any man in England.’ The former Greyhound Inn (now named after him) is traditionally held to have been his headquarters in his early days. His portrait hung over the bar there long after his death and these verses were placed beneath:
The Mighty Combatant the first in fame,
The lasting Glory of his native Thame,
Rash and unthinking Men at length be wise,
Consult your safety and Resign the Prize,
Nor tempt Superior Force, but Timely Fly
The Vigour of his Arm, the quickness of his eye.
Most of his life was spent in London. He appeared in contests at the Boarded House in Marylebone Fields and also kept a booth on the bowling green at Southwark Fair. He opened Figg’s Amphitheatre on Oxford Street, much frequented by the nobility, and probably made additional income there as victualler and publican. Although he is often regarded as the first boxing champion, from 1719–1730 he could claim the title ‘Champion of England’ for all kinds of contest, whether boxing, wrestling, swordplay or fighting with cudgels. He is said to have been only once defeated in 270 fights. He was unsurpassed for his cool timing, judgement and dexterity. He was tutor and coach as well as contestant and many students from the gentry and nobility attended Mr Figg’s Great Room. He is thought to appear in Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress and Southwark Fair. In 1729 he was appointed gatekeeper of upper St James’s Park by the Earl of Essex.
He died in 1734 and was buried in St Marylebone churchyard. The following newspaper obituary demonstrates his reputation and celebrity:
Last Saturday there was a Trial of Skill between the unconquered Hero, Death, on the one side and till then the unconquered Hero, Mr James Figg, the famous Prize-Fighter and Master of the Noble Science of Defence on the other. The Battle was most obstinately fought on both sides, but at last the former obtained an Entire Victory and the latter tho’ he was obliged to submit to a Superior Foe yet fearless and with Disdain he retired and that Evening expired at his house in Oxford Road.
- Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Tony Gee; Thame Local History Research Group website: www.thamehistory.net
- Pictures taken during unveiling ceremony:
Mayor of Thame and The James Figg public house
The plaque was unveiled at the James Figg Pub, Cornmarket, Thame on 14 April 2011 by Cllr Adam Buckland, Mayor of Thame.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
‘Champion of England’
for trials of skill
born in Thame and associated
with this inn then called
21st Century Thame