Winter, Thomas (1795-1851) (DNB00)


WINTER, THOMAS (1795–1851), pugilist, styled ‘Tom Spring,’ was born at Witchend, near Fownhope, Herefordshire, on 22 Feb. 1795, his father being a butcher with a large business. After serving in his father's trade he, at the age of seventeen, made discovery of his fighting powers by gaining an unexpected victory over a local bully named Hollands. Two years later, in 1814, he accepted a challenge to fight Henley, a local boxer of repute, and vanquished him after eleven rounds. From this time he definitively took up boxing as a profession, and assumed the name of Tom Spring. Early in 1817 he went up to London, and on 9 Sept. met at Moulsey Hirst a Yorkshireman named Stringer, the stakes being forty guineas and a prize given by the Pugilistic Club. Spring won the match with some ease in thirty-nine minutes, after twenty-nine rounds, the last of which was said to have been the severest ever seen. He next fought the celebrated Ned Painter for two hundred guineas on Mickleham Downs on 1 April 1818, and achieved a victory after thirty-one rounds [see Painter, Edward]. Later in the year, on 1 Aug., he met Painter a second time at Russia Farm. This was the one and only occasion on which he lost a match. By a chance blow he lost the sight of one eye, and bore a scar for the rest of his life. His reputation was firmly established after his next encounter, when, on 4 May 1819, at Crawley Down, he fought seventy-one rounds with Carter, during which the ropes were broken and both combatants went down several times. Spring won the victory by opposing science to the oldfashioned heavy hitting. He now went on a sparring tour in the west, in company with his friend Tom Cribb [q. v.], the champion. On his return he won an easy victory over Ben Burn on Wimbledon Common (20 Dec. 1819). A third match with Painter was arranged, but fell through, Painter forfeiting the stakes. Spring again met Burn on Epsom Downs (16 May 1820), and, though out of condition, once more displayed the superiority of his method. On 27 June of the same year he won a purse of 20l. for a fight with Joshua Hudson at Moulsey Hirst. On 20 Feb. 1821 he met and vanquished in twenty-six rounds, lasting fifty-five minutes, Tom Oliver [q. v.], winning 200l. After Cribb's retirement Spring claimed the championship of England, and challenged all comers for three months on 26 March 1821. He now married and retired for a time from the ring, in order to keep the Weymouth Arms in Weymouth Street, Portman Square. Early in 1823 he and Shelton underwent a week's imprisonment in default of bail for having acted as umpires in a match between Daniel Watts and James Smith on the Downs, near Brighton, when Smith died from congestion of the brain.

On 20 May 1823 Spring recommenced his career by fighting Neat of Bristol on Hinckley Down, near Andover, a match which had long hung fire, though eagerly desired by the boxing world. Spring won after eight rounds in thirty-seven minutes. He closed his career by winning two other victories and the sum of 1,000l. within the year. On 24 Jan. he met Langan, an Irishman, on the racecourse at Worcester, the stakes being 300l. a side. Before the contest fifteen hundred people were thrown to the ground by the collapse of the grand stand, twenty being seriously injured. A severe and confused fight lasted two hours and twenty-nine minutes, and at the seventy-seventh round Langan was insensible. A long correspondence followed between the principals and their supporters in the pages of 'Pierce Egan's Life in London,' the defeated party contesting the validity of the victory. On 8 June, however, a second contest took place on a raised platform at Birdham Bridge, near Chichester, the stakes being five hundred guineas a side. The fight, which was declared 'one of the fairest battles ever witnessed,' lasted an hour and forty-nine minutes, and Spring again showed his superiority. He behaved with great humanity, and his opponent with incredible pluck. Not less than twenty thousand people are said to have been present. Spring now finally retired from, the ring. He first kept the Booth Hall tavern at Hereford, till in 1828 he took over from Tom Belcher the Castle tavern, Holborn, where he spent the rest of his life. In 1828 he received from the townsmen in Hereford a handsome vase as a testimonial, and in April 1824 was presented with a silver cup at Manchester. In 1846, at a dinner presided over by Vincent George Dowling [q. v.], he was further presented by his admirers with a money testimonial and a silver gallon tankard.

Spring had a fine figure and a remarkable face and forehead, in his early years he stood as a model at the Royal Academy. His height was five feet eleven and a half inches, but he made it equal to more than six feet. His fighting weight was thirteen stone two pounds. He bore a high character for honesty and humanity, and his universal popularity is attested by a doggerel elegy, 'The Life and Death of Thomas Winter Spring.' He died of dropsy and heart disease at the Castle, Holborn, on 20 Aug. 1851, and was buried in Norwood cemetery, where there is a monument to him. He left one surviving son, who bore his father's name.

[Bell's Life in London, 24 Aug. 1851; Miles's Pugilistica (with portrait after G. Sharples, 1822, and other illustrations), ii. 1-51; The Great Battle between Spring and Langan (second fight), illustrated, 1824 ; Fistiana, pp. 115, 116; Gent. Mag. 1851, ii. 662-3.]

G. Le G. N.