Photo above – Ted Lewis taken in April 2017. Ted is the best of the East End – a boxer, a Billingsgate porter, a union rep, a photographer, a storyteller and a great community person who used to run a youth club in his local church hall and give talks to young people at the Ragged School Museum.
Alan Tucker interviewed and recorded Ted Lewis at The Geezers club in Bow in April 2017. Here’s what he found out about him:
Ted Lewis was born in Ordell Road, Bow in 1929, and became a professional featherweight boxer in 1947.
Ted left school at 11, because he was evacuated to a village in Devon with a church run school which only took infants and juniors, so he worked on a farm, which he enjoyed. He came back to London at 13 and his father said he had to get a proper job with good prospects. He started working in a printers, but he didn’t like being indoors. One day got his fingers caught and crushed in a book bending machine (for attaching the spine).
Ted then started working in the Billingsgate fishmarket and at 18 got his fish porters license. Ted loved Billingsgate, it was hard work but with a nice crowd of people, and he was more or less self employed. He stayed until a couple of years after the market moved to Leyton, but it was not the same and Ted said it was more like working in a factory, so he retired.
Ted’s family name was Lucioni, reflecting his Italian ancestry, which was changed to Lewis. His father, grandfather and uncle were all professional boxers, but they didn’t encourage Ted to become one. Ted went to a local youth club where one day somebody suggested that he put gloves on to provide a sparing partner for someone. Ted won three fights that night. He said he was lucky in that he was “born with a punch”. So he started boxing as an amateur, turning professional in 1947.
Teddy Lewis fought 38 professional fights, won 29 and knocked out his opponents in 21 of those. He said he was a very aggressive fighter, even as an amateur, which convinced him he should turn professional. He’s not impressed with the boxers he sees today.
He said he stopped fighting in 1951 after getting a cut eye which kept reopening. View Ted Lewis’ boxing record here. He sometimes gets confused with Ted Kid Lewis was a different boxer.
Working as a fish porter at Billingsgate kept Ted fit, and it had the advantage of an early finish enabling Ted to go to the gym.
At that time fairgrounds had boxing booths where members of the public were enticed to have a go by the promoter shouting, “£2 if can last 3 rounds, £5 if you can knock him out.” Ted fought regularly under the name of Teddy Bartlett in a travelling booth run by Tommy Woods. Ted said that you had to be careful with the amateurs and street fighters and not knock them out immediately. The audience had paid 2 shillings each to see a fight, so Ted would keep the fight going for going for a few rounds. Sometimes no members of the public would come forwards so the (disguised) professionals would fight each other. In this case the action was staged. Ted gives the example that his opponent might say, “Hit me on the jaw,” so Ted would hit him on the shoulder with the flat of his hand producing a big “whack” sound and his opponent would accordingly throw his head back.
Ted was earning a lot of money and he and his girlfriend Betty, later his wife would go to all the West End shows, dine out and dress well. Ted said, “I suppose you would call me a wide-boy.”
You can find out more about Ted’s life as a Billingsgate porter in the OurBow film ‘the Strength of Samson and the Brains of an East End Wide Boy’ .