Green plaque for Harborough's modest boxing champ

The trumpets sound a fanfare and there's the familiar clipped voice of a black-and white Pathe newsreel.

Saturday, 25th August 2018, 8:46 am
Updated Monday, 3rd September 2018, 12:16 pm
Jack Gardner at home with wife Grave and young daughter Jackalyn

It’s 1950, and the Pathe cameras are at Market Harborough’s Symington factory as Colonel Kenneth Symington hosts a celebration dinner for the town’s new boxing champion Jack Gardner.

At 24, Jack had just become heavyweight champion of Great Britain and the British Empire, with a victory that ended the five-year reign of Bruce Woodcock.

Film-star handsome, Jack enters the hall to loud applause from assembled sports people and local dignitaries, looking like a more muscular, but shyer, Errol Flynn.

Jack Gardner meeting the then Princess Elizabeth

He tells the guests: “It’s a grand feeling to know that whoever you’re boxing, and wherever you’re boxing, that you’ve got a town that’s at the back of you, 100 per cent.”

(See youtube clip by typing ‘sport stars hail jack gardner’ into youtube search engine.)

At home in her Market Harborough bungalow this week, Jack’s daughter Jackalyn Bradford-Turner watches the clip with tears in her eyes.

“He was a good-looking man” she says later. “And in those days boxers were almost household names.

“I never saw him fight – I was just a baby. But having a dad who had been a boxing champion did give me kudos at school.”

Market Harborough’s Jack Gardner, former British, Empire and European champion, has been awarded a green plaque by public vote via a county council website.

It’s not quite clear where it will go yet. Jack was born in Bath Street, grew up in Cross Street, owned a farm just outside the town and had a sports hall named after him at Market Harborough Leisure Centre. But there’s no doubt that Jack is a worthy recipient.

Born in 1926 in Market Harborough, he began his explosive boxing career as a Grenadier Guard in the Army.

He won the ABA Heavyweight title, as well as the Army and Imperial Services titles in 1948, and represented Great Britain in that year’s Olympic Games, in London.

He went pro after the Olympics, and in a year had won his first 13 fights by knock-out.

His 1950 Great Britain and British Empire titles were followed by the European title in March, 1951, when he beat Austrian Jo Weidin on points.

But boxing careers can be brutally short. Six months later he’d lost the European title to a six foot five inch German called Hein Ten Hoff.

In March, 1952, he lost his other titles too, again over 15 gruelling rounds, to Welshman Johnny Williams.

Fortunately, canny Jack, still only 25 but with a wife - Grace – and daughter Jackalyn, had a Plan B.

He bought Ash Tree Farm, between Market Harborough and The Langtons by auction, getting someone else to bid in case his ‘star quality’ pushed the price up. Part of the farm is still run by son Jim Gardner.

“Neither dad or mum had farmed before” said Jackalyn. “They must have woken up the next morning and thought ‘what have we done?’”

The small farm was never easy, and Jack supplemented his income with a brief boxing comeback then second jobs as a car salesman, a prison worker and a lorry driver.

He died of a brain tumour in 1978, aged 52. His ashes are scattered beneath a Grenadier apple tree at his farm.

And if modest Jack could see his own green plaque, he still wouldn’t blow his own trumpet. He might say – as he did in his speech 68 years ago – “I would like to thank the people of Market Harborough for the grand way in which they have supported me.”