Merthyr’s Boxers: Billy Eynon

The next boxer we are going to look at is Billy Eynon. Many thanks to Gareth Jones for his assistance and advice in writing this article.

Billy Eynon was born on 26 December 1893 in Treharris. As a teenager he was lured into fighting at the infamous fairground boxing booths at Georgetown. In his excellent book ‘The Boxers of Wales: Volume 2 – Merthyr, Aberdare and Pontypridd’, Gareth Jones relates the story of how he was tempted to fight at Jack Scarrott’s booth on the promise of winning five shillings. When he went to collect his winnings however, he was told by Scarrott that his cornermen (both of course employed by Scarrott) were both entitled to two shillings each, leaving the young Billy with just a shilling!

Eynon made such an impression however, that Scarrott offered him a week’s work at Brecon Fair. This was eventually extended to six-months, and provided Billy with invaluable experience.

Eynon’s first ‘legitimate’ fight took place on 31 January 1914 at the Drill Hall in Merthyr. The headline fight that night was between Eddie Morgan (see previous entry – http://www.merthyr-history.com/?p=592) and Tommy Phillips, which Morgan lost on points. The local crowd were appeased somewhat when Billy Eynon defeated Dick Jenkins in his debut match.

He was beginning to consolidate his reputation when the First World War broke out. Eynon joined the Royal Artillery, and despite being wounded in France, carried on boxing. He won the Army featherweight title in 1918 and met the Navy champion in Salonika before a crowd estimated at 200,000 people.

Western Mail – 19 May 1916

Following the war, Eynon, now boxing as a flyweight, appeared in his first fight against Kid Doyle at the Olympia Rink in Merthyr, a match which he won. The victory earned Eynon a rematch at the National Sporting Club in a fight which would be an elimination fight for the British title. Eynon lost the fight on points.

Soon after this, Billy Eynon changed weight-divisions to become a bantam-weight, and in 1920 challenged again for the British title. On 18 October he beat George Clark on points to earn a fight against the reigning British bantam-weight title holder Jim Higgins.

On 29 November 1920, Eynon faced Jim Higgins at the National Sporting Club. The fight would prove to be a controversial one. Eynon, hampered by weight difficulties was forced, on the day of the fight, to undertake vigorous exercises and have a Turkish bath to try to reduce his weight, whilst his opponent rested and prepared for the match. An exhausted Eynon took to the ring and although he acquitted himself well, the match went to Higgins on points. Many in the crowd, including the Prince of Wales, disagreed with the decision and vented their frustration by throwing gold sovereigns into the ring for Eynon. Although he lost the fight, Eynon himself said he made far more money that night than his opponent!

Billy Eynon carried on boxing for several years, but in 1927, he was forced to give up the sport due to a detached retina and the risk of blindness. In 1928 a boxing tournament was held in Merthyr to raise money to help for him.

Billy Eynon lived out the rest of his days in Merthyr and died in 1980.

The Olympia Rink

The next time you travel past the General Hospital heading towards Pontmorlais, you may very well see a street sign on the left for ‘The Rink’….but why ‘The Rink’?

In the first decade of the 20th Century, a new craze hit Britain – roller-skating. In Merthyr, skating rinks were opened at the Angel Hotel and also at the disused theatre of the Old Market Hall, but in 1909, a purpose built skating rink was begun in Pontmorlais. Commissioned by The South Wales Rinks Co. Ltd in partnership with Messrs Cross and Cross of Walsall, the rink was designed by Mr Longworth to accommodate 3,000 people. A prospectus was issued by the company, and 2,000 shares were sold in the first weekend alone. The building which was 208 ft long and 70 ft wide, had a hard rock maple floor, orchestral gallery, lounges, a refreshment buffet, and was lit by 30 electric pendant lights. The Rink opened on 19 March 1910.

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Merthyr Express – 1 November 1909

When completed, it became one of Merthyr’s major venues (and certainly one of the largest), and as well as being used for roller skating (the Olympia Rink even had its own roller-hockey team), the building was used for balls, political meetings and other special events. Following the death of Keir Hardie, the former Merthyr MP, a Memorial meeting was held at the Olympia Rink.

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Sadly, with the advent of the First World War and the inevitable wane in interest in roller-skating, the Olympia Rink began to lose money, and by the end of 1916, was put up for sale. Very little information is available about the building after this, and it sadly burned down in the 1920’s.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

If you have any information about the Olympia Rink you would like to share, please leave a comment to the left or email me at: merthyr.history@gmail.com