by J R Ashby
Iron Hague, of Mexborough, English Heavyweight Champion
Iron was a Champion
Hague, or to give him his correct name, James William Hague, was
born in a small back to back house in Woodruff Row, Mexborough,
believed to have been close to ‘The Brickyard’ Lower Dolcliffe
Road, on 6th November 1885.
He attended the nearby Garden Street, Primary School and because
he hated it he played truant on a number of occasions the
punishment for which was a sound thrashing It soon became
evident that he could display almost superhuman amounts of iron
self will, thus absorbing vast amounts of pain, and it was this
which earned him the nickname of Iron Hague, and was used by
classmates, teachers, and family alike.
He was popular and well liked among the pupils, he showed
natural leadership qualities, which his teachers were quick to
acknowledge, soon making him both Classroom and Playground
Monitor and ‘woe betide’ anyone who disobeyed him, as he would
administer, what he called a ‘love tap’.
His ability to withstand pain became known throughout the school
and he was challenged to fight on a number of occasions in the
playground. At first he earned himself boiled sweets but over
time these became pennies and then pounds, then at the age of
fourteen years he took part in his first bare knuckle fight.
It is questionable as to when Iron left school. The official
leaving age, for the latter end of the 19th Century,
was 12yrs and it would seem feasible that he would leave school
as soon as he was legally allowed. Although it is reported by
some that he did not leave school until he was 14yrs.
His first job was employed, on the pit face of Denaby Main
Colliery, but he hated it and left after just three days to work
at the Phoenix Glassworks, Mexborough, owned by Thomas Barron.
It was at this time that a boxing booth, owned by Jim Watson,
came to winter in Mexborough and like a moth to a flame Iron was
attracted to it and Jim, recognising the raw talent in him
became his first trainer and it was with him that he won his
first unofficial fight.
That winter Jim trained the youngster well and by the time Iron
was 15 yrs, in 1900, the boxing bug had well and truly bit. He
began to visit all the boxing booths that came to the town and
surrounding area and never lost a fight.
His exploits in the booths attracted the attentions of William
Biggs, landlord of the Bull’s Head Public House, High Street,
Mexborough. Mr. Biggs became his organiser and promoter and
arranged his first legal fight under rules.
This fight attracted the attentions of two men who were to be
influential in his development as a nationally known boxer.
These were none other than: Mr. F.J. Law the landlord of the
Montagu Arms Public House, who was to become his trainer and
provide premises for Iron to use as a base and also train; and
Mr. T. Weston, landlord of the Reresby Arms Public House, Denaby
Main, who would become his sponsor and financial backer. Messes
Biggs, Law and Weston were to play a major roll in his climb to
becoming the Heavyweight Champion of England.
It was under the patronage of these three gentlemen that he had
his first professional fight. This took place in 1904 at the
Volunteer Drill Hall, Doncaster, where he took on Dan Lewis and
knocked him out in the 3rd round.
Hague’s next notable fight was at the age of 19yrs, in April
1905 when, again at the Drill Hall, he fought Dick Parks who
was, at the time, the Pitman Heavyweight Champion who was felled
in the 14th round by the hammer blow of Iron Hague’s
He was now the Pitman Heavyweight Champion and four months
after, in August 1905 he took on Albert Rodgers to become
Heavyweight Champion of Yorkshire after Rodger’s Seconds threw
in the towel at the end of the 6th round. And 12mths
later he knocked out Fred Drummond, a heavyweight boxer of
London, in the 2nd round of a match at Sheffield.
Then the following month came a request he had waited for all
his boxing life, he received an invitation to box, in the
hallowed hall of the National Sporting Club, London. At this
time the club was owned by Mr. A.F. Bettinson and its president
was none other than the Earl of Longsdale, after whom the
Longsdale Belt was named, and the club was run on very strict
lines. Boxing was conducted in silence allowing the spectators
to study the skill of the boxers and Iron gave them something to
study. In a series of three eliminators he took on and beat: G.
Turner and J. Gibson of Bow; H. Croxon of West Drayton; then
lastly A. Pearson of Barnbury. Six months after he was back
again, this time fighting Corporal Sunshine who had been the
Army & Navy Champion for the past three years. The result,
again, was a knock out to Iron Hague, in the 4th
round. This was followed, early in 1909, by an invitation to
fight Gunner Moir for the title of the Heavyweight Championship
Hague moved to the Pier Hotel, Withernsea, on the east coast of
Yorkshire, while training. The adjacent Assembly Rooms became
his private indoor gym when the weather prevented work on the
beach and word, that a future champion was training there spread
and hundreds came to Withernsea, many from Hull, to watch him
At 10.51p.m. on 19th April 1909 Gunner Moir and Iron
Hague met in the ring of the National Sporting Club. Again, in
true Iron Hague style, it ended in a knock out to Hague after
just 2mins 47secs. and he became Heavyweight Champion of England
with his portion of the prize being £650.
When they heard the news in Mexborough the 2,000 people who
stood outside the Sheffield Telegraph Newspaper Office (now
Sheila’s Florist, Bank Street) went wild, cheering the new
champ, and plans began immediately to welcome him home.
It is estimated that more than 50,000 people came into
Mexborough, from the surrounding district on that day. So when
he arrived at Mexborough Station, such were the numbers that
Station Road and High Street, leading to the Bulls Head, were a
solid, heaving, mass of humanity. Thousands of cheering voices,
some almost on the point of hysteria, could be heard as his
train approached the platform and as soon as he emerged from the
railway coach he was seized, the horses removed from the traces
of a carriage, and Iron was carried shoulder high, to be placed
in it. The carriage was then pulled, not by horses but by men,
fuelled by the enthusiasm of the crowd, to the Bulls Head, the
crowds screaming their exuberance all the way.
Although he was now English Heavyweight Champion Iron remained
naïve in the ways of the ring. If he was to succeed on the
international fighting stage he needed to be taught ringcraft
and who better to teach him, in the ways of the ring, than the
Middleweight Champion of the World, Sam Langford, better known
as ‘The Boston Tar Baby’.
They met at 11p.m. on the evening of the 25th May
1909 at the National Sporting Club and fought for the title of
the Heavyweight Championship of the World. In the 2nd
round they thought it was all over when Iron’s sledgehammer fist
caught the left side of Sam’s head and sent him cart wheeling
across the ring. By the fourth round Langford had discovered
how raw the English Champ was, he drew him close by pretending
to punch with his right, but as soon as Hague took the bait his
left fist shot out and Iron Hague was on the canvas let down by
lack of ring experience.
On 27th Oct. 1909 wedding bells rang out at
Mexborough Parish Church when Iron married the niece of his
trainer Mr. F.J. Law. Iron had known Lucy for some time as she
was also involved in his training. Mr. Law was responsible for,
besides many other things, his correct diet and Lucy, being his
cook, was in control of making sure his diet was given
correctly, and it was in this capacity that Iron and Lucy met at
‘The Low Drop’ to the rear of the Montagu Arms.
In January 1910 Iron, wishing to learn ring craft was to have
sailed, on the Lusitania, for America. He was to again have met
and fought Sam Langford, but this was never to be as the
heavyweight boxer, Harry Crossly was killed in America and when
his body was returned to Mexborough Iron was heard to state
“Americans don’t fight by the Queensbury Rules” and refused to
On 1st April 1911 Iron was again invited to fight at
the National Sporting Club. This time it would be for the
honour of fighting for the first Heavyweight Longsdale Belt. On
24th April 1911, he meet Bombardier Billy Wells and
on that fateful night the bell rang and Iron shot out of his
corner, in usual form, but the Bombardier was more skilful and,
working on Hague’s upper body won the first round on points.
The forth round Iron’s blows hit the back of Wells’ head,
leaving Iron open, the Bombardier sent first a right and then a
left to Iron’s jaw, and he hit the canvas. Iron was up again on
the count of six but the superior skills of Wells again put
Hague on the canvas. Hague shot out of his corner at the start
of the fifth round, Wells slipped while trying to avoid one of
Iron’s mammoth punches thus a terrific match began between the
two men. The quiet of the hall was shattered as the shout of
“foul” was heard as Hague, who began to rise from the canvas
following a blow to the jaw, was rushed by Wells who gave him
another right and left, then another right to the shoulder, as
he hit the floor. The referee waved Wells back, giving Iron
time to rest for a few seconds, but it was all over for him.
Wells worked on Iron pushing him onto the ropes, then after a
punch to the throat, which made him drop his hands,
Wells gave an almighty right to the jaw which sent our champion
sprawling onto the canvas. But, true to his Yorkshire Grit, he
was up again, onto one knee, but he fell back and was counted
out. Hague later commented that Wells, at 6ft 4in, had
outreached him and with his expertise had out boxed him and
“Had him down seven times before knocking him out”. Whereas
Wells stated that he had carried Iron’s marks on his left side
for some time after the fight, also that Iron had been a
“Hard Hitter” and that the only way that he had been
defeated was by the use of a boxing plan. Again Iron had been
let down by his lack of ringcraft.
Iron continued to fight for a number of years and on 11th
May 1912 went into partnership with George Law and opened an
open-air arena named ‘The Stadium’. This was situated to the
rear of the Montagu Arms, off Station Road, but unfortunately
this venture failed.
Then on 21st December 1914, shortly after the
outbreak of the 1st. W.W., he joined up and became
Guardsman 21499, 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards. He
gave his next of kin and address as Lucy Hague, 22 Orchard
Street, Mex. Records described him as: 29yrs & 30days; 5ft 10in
tall; with a chest of 45in; his weight is not mentioned. Other
items recorded are that he had a daughter, by the name of Jane
and that his occupation was a miner. In January 1915 he began
his training at Caterham and in August of that year was sent to
the frontline in France.
The man that returned to Mexborough was far different from the
one that left. He was physically a broken man, having been
invalided out of the army due to his lungs being badly damaged
by German Mustard Gas, and it wasn’t long, after his return
home, that he contracted double pneumonia. On his recovery he
became a second and also acted as a referee and timekeeper at a
number of fights. He was also a barman at the ‘Low Drop’, a bar
situated to the rear of the Montagu Arms.
Between the 1st & 2nd W.W., he became a
general handyman at a holiday camp at Bridlington, where his
wife Lucy was a cook. Jane, his older daughter, took a job as
barmaid at the Bull’s Head, while his youngest daughter Agnes,
stayed with his parents at their home on Orchard Street.
But times were hard and in March 1939 Rev. Somerset, the vicar
of our town, received a letter from the Reg. Adjutant for the
Grenadier Guards which stated that it had been reported to him
that J.W. Hague, 22 Orchard Street, Mex. was living in
distressed circumstances and in need of financial assistance.
The vicar visited him and, finding the report to be true, filled
out the necessary forms enabling him to obtain help.
It was soon after that that the 2nd W.W. broke out and Iron was
found a job as a ‘Firewatcher’ (a lookout for incendiary bombs)
at Steel, Peech and Tozer, Steel Foundry. It was here where he
was later to slip and break his hip.
In 1947 his wife Lucy died and his health began to fail
rapidly. He moved to live with his younger daughter, Agnes
Ruecroft, where he died of pneumonia, aged 65yrs, in 1951. A
sad end to once very proud fighting man.
have received the following information from John Townsend (01.01.10).
I have read with interest your account of Iron Hague. However
Iron never fought for the World Heavyweight title
Harry Crossley did not die in America - it was his brother
Herbert. Harry died in England. Herbert was the heavyweight and
Harry was a champion cruiserweight. My father saw the body of
Herbert after it was brought back from New York.
I enclose photos of the graves of Herbert and Harry in Swinton
4th May 2009. Broadcast covering interviews with Iron
Hague’s family & friends.
Commemorating the Centenary of his fight to become English
Interview with Stella Batty in 1992
Iron Hague, 1885-1951, Heavyweight Champion. ‘A Champion’s Diary’
collated by B. Chambers in 1997.
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without the permission of J.R. Ashby.