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FAMOUS PUPILS-WILLIAM PHELPS-'BRIGHTON BILL'

Another Union scholar came to a tragic end in the prize-ring; this was William Phelps, known as 'Brighton Bill', who was killed in a fight with a renowned pugilist, Owen Swift...in 1838. He was one of a family of nine, living at 1 Circus Street, and entered the Union School at the age of eleven, in May, 1829.

The Middle Street School, Brighton, 1805-1905 by Geo. Haffenden   p. 41

How 'Bill' became responsible for two well-known sayings

The fight took place near Royston, Herts, for 50  a side (each) and lasted 1 hour 35 minutes (85 rounds). Swift (a featherweight) was known as 'The Little Wonder' and became notorious as this was the second fight in which his opponent had died.  As a result of Bill's death, the rules governing the sport were changed, and the 'London Prize Ring Rules' came into effect. Subsequent revisions were made to stamp out ungentlemanly conduct such as head-butting and throttling. The London rules also gave birth to two well-known phrases - since a fighter who succeeded in 'toeing the line' when returning from a knockdown was deemed to be 'up to scratch'. The 'line' or 'scratch' being the mark on the ground to which the contestants had to put their forward foot before the fight could begin or recommence.


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