The Lonsdale Belt: The History of British Boxing’s Most Prestigious Championship

8 min


The Lord Lonsdale Challenge Belt, commonly known as the Lonsdale Belt, is the oldest championship belt in British professional boxing . Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale introduced the prize on behalf of the National Sporting Club (NSC), intending it to be awarded to British boxing champions. Arthur Frederick Bettinson, manager of the NSC, introduced terms and conditions regarding the holding of the belt, which ensured its lasting prestige. Freddie Welsh won the first Lonsdale Belt in 1909 after winning the NSC British Lightweight title. Heavyweight Henry Cooper was the first and only boxer to win three Lonsdale Belts during his 17-year professional career. In 1929 the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) assumed responsibility for awarding the belt, which continues to be awarded to British champions since then.

Only six boxers have won two Lonsdale belts each outright since 1934, which led to the BBBofC introducing more stringent rules of attainment in the 1980s and 1990s. The last winner of two belts was Clinton McKenzie in 1987. The Lonsdale belt is a coveted prize with great monetary and sentimental value, finding homes in private collections, museums and has been auctioned for large sums of money. Belts have been stolen on numerous occasions, none of which have ever been found. Since 1909, only 161 boxers have won a Lonsdale belt outright across all weights. In 2013 the BBBofC in a move to further acknowledge the esteem held for outright Lonsdale belt winners introduced the Lonsdale Badge, which outright winners of the belt are now entitled to display on their boxing shorts during bouts.

History

The original Challenge Belt design presented by the National Sporting Club 1909–1929

1909–1936: National Sporting Club

Lord Lonsdale was the first president of the National Sporting Club (NSC). In 1909, he introduced the Lonsdale Belt—originally the Challenge Belt—as a new trophy for British boxing champions in each weight division A 9-carat or 22-carat gold belt composed of two heavy chains with a central enamel medallion depicting a boxing match, the centrepiece is flanked by enamel medallions showing single boxers and gold medallions with a scroll on which is inscribed the names of belt winners. The medallions are interspersed with smaller gold medallions depicting the Union Rose. The belts are backed with a red, white and blue ribbon. The first belts were made in the Birmingham workshop of jewellers Mappin & WebbThe silversmiths and trophy makers Thomas Fattorini Ltd, were commissioned to make the belts in sterling silver in the early 1970s and have been making them since. The manufacturer and the date a belt was manufactured can be identified by the hallmark on the parts. Each portrait of Lord Lonsdale is uniquely hand painted in vitreous enamel.  A total of 22 Lonsdale belts were issued by the NSC; 20 were won outright.

The manager of the NSC Arthur Frederick Bettinson published details about the terms and conditions of holding the belt agreed by the NSC in Sporting Life on 22 December 1909. The main rules were:

  • The holder was required to defend his title within six months of a challenge. Minimum stake of £100 a side (£200 for heavyweights, £50 for flyweights)
  • The belt became the holder’s property after three successful bouts held under the auspices of the NSC, consecutive or otherwise, or after it was held for three consecutive years. Outright winners would also receive an NSC pension of £50 a year from the age of 50.
  • The holder was required to pay a deposit and insurance for the belt.

The first recipient of this belt was Freddie Welsh, who defeated Johnny Summers on 8 November 1909 for the NSC British Lightweight title.

First holders of NSC Challenge belts

 Freddie Welsh – 8 November 1909 – Lightweight

 Tom Thomas – 20 December 1909 – Middleweight

 Young Joseph – 21 March 1910 – Welterweight

 Jim Driscoll – 18 April 1910 – Featherweight

 Digger Stanley – 17 October 1910 – Bantamweight

 Billy Wells – 24 April 1911 – Heavyweight

 Sid Smith – 4 December 1911 – Flyweight

 Dick Smith – 9 March 1914 – Light-heavyweight

1936–present: British Boxing Board of Control

George Groves displays the Lonsdale belt presented by the BBBofC. Picture is changed to a portrait of Lord Lonsdale, replacing the two boxers in the original version.

The NSC became virtually defunct in 1929 and lost control of the sport to the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC), which started to issue the Lord Lonsdale Challenge Belt in 1936. Lonsdale consented to the use of his name and image on the belt in perpetuity; an image of his face remains on it. In 1939 the last 9-carat gold belt was launched by the BBBofC and won by the lightweight Eric Boon that year. The last 9-carat gold belt was won outright by Henry Cooper in 1959. Belts made from 1945 are composed of hallmarked silver and the laurel-leaf border has the thistle, daffodil and shamrock added to the extant rose to represent the four national flowers of the UK The belt was machine-made for a short time in the 1970s before the BBBofC decided to have it hand-made again, passing the contract to Thomas Fattorini Ltd, who continue to make the belts as of 2019. Each belt costs £14,000.

First holders of the BBBofC Lonsdale Belt

Scotland Benny Lynch – 16 September 1936 – Flyweight

Scotland Johnny McGrory – 24 September 1936 – Featherweight

England Jimmy Walsh – 19 October 1936 – Lightweight

England Jock McAvoy – 27 April 1937 – Light-heavyweight

England Johnny King – 31 May 1937 – Bantamweight

Wales Tommy Farr – 15 March 1937 – Heavyweight

England Jock McAvoy – 25 October 1937 – Middleweight

Scotland Jake Kilrain – 21 February 1938 – Welterweight

Changes

George Groves displays the Lonsdale belt presented by the BBBofC. Picture is changed to a portrait of Lord Lonsdale, replacing the two boxers in the original version.

In 1987, the BBBofC decided to award only one belt to any boxer in each division. A boxer can, however, win belts outright in different weight classes.

On 1 September 1999 the BBBofC changed the criteria for winning a belt outright; boxers must now win four—rather than three—championship contests in the same weight division. The rule also stipulates that one of the four wins must be a mandatory contest. The BBBofC general secretary John Morris cited the rising costs of making the belts as the chief reason for the rule change.

The BBBofC introduced the Lonsdale Badge in 2013; it is worn by outright winners. According to a Eurosport report:

Donations and auctions

The Lonsdale belt won by Bombardier Billy Wells in 1911 is now kept at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, London, and is not on display to the general public. Johnny Brown’s Lonsdale Belt was donated to the Museum of London in 2010. In November 2000 the belt awarded to Randy Turpin in 1956 was auctioned for £23,000 while in September 2011, the belt won by the welterweight Jack Hood in 1926 fetched £36,000. Hood, who died in 1992, had displayed his belt above the bar at the Bell public house, of which he was the licensee, in Tanworth-in-Arden .

In 1993, Henry Cooper sold all three of his belts for £42,000 after losing heavily on the Lloyd’s insurance market.  One of the belts—the last one made of gold—was sold for £22,000. The others sold for £10,000 each. Cooper was expecting £70,000 for the sale but was content they were all sold together.

Theft

The belts have attracted targeted theft over the years. The first recorded in the media was Don Cockell‘s Lonsdale belt, which was stolen in 1952 from a glass cabinet at his home in London while he was out dancing. He did not own the £15,000 belt at the time, needing one more victory.  In 2007, after attending a training camp, Bobby Vanzie returned to his home to Bradford and discovered his belt had been stolen. Tara promoter Jack Doughty said in the Manchester Evening News: “This is the best belt a boxer can win. It is better than those for world title fights, gold plated with a portrait of Lord Lonsdale in the middle.”

Pat McAteer’s belt was stolen from his son’s home at Annapolis, Maryland, in 2012. The boxer’s son, also named Pat, told the Liverpool Echo that since his father’s death he has only had the belt out once to show his nine-year-old nephew Will. “Will was like ‘wow’ when he saw ‘Pop Pop’s’ belt. He was going to inherit the belt from me and he was to pass it to his son and so on, so it would stay in the McAteer family.” Jack Petersen’s Lonsdale belt was stolen from his son’s home in Burnham, Buckinghamshire in 2013. His son Robert, managing director of Cardiff PR firm Petersens, told Wales Online: “It’s the family’s crown jewels, a magnificent looking piece of art. It would be a terrible shame if it was melted down.

Current holders of the BBBofC Lonsdale Belt

Wales Andrew Selby – 14 May 2016 – Flyweight

Scotland Lee McGregor – 16 November 2019 – Bantamweight

England Brad Foster – 8 March 2019 – Super Bantamweight

England Ryan Walsh – 26 September 2015 – Featherweight

England Sam Bowen – 14 April 2018 – Super Featherweight

England Maxi Hughes – 19 March 2021 – Lightweight

England Robbie Davies Jr – 13 October 2018 – Light Welterweight

Wales Chris Jenkins – 20 October 2018 – Welterweight

vacant  Super welterweight

England Ted Cheeseman – 27 October 2018 – Light Middleweight

Wales Liam Williams – 22 December 2018 – Mark Heffron – Middleweight

England Zach Parker – 3 November 2018 – Super Middleweight

England Joshua Buatsi – 23 March 2019 – Light Heavyweight

England Lawrence Okolie – 22 September 2018 – Cruiserweight

vacant  Heavyweight

Outright winners of Lonsdale belt

KEY

***        Outright winner of 3 belts

**          Outright winner of 2 belts

  • Jim Driscoll; Featherweight (1910)
  • Digger Stanley; Bantamweight (1912)
  • Freddie Welsh; Lightweight (1912)
  • Bombardier Billy Wells; Heavyweight (1913)
  • Johnny Basham; Welterweight (1915)
  • Joe Fox; Bantamweight (1917)
  • Jimmy Wilde; Flyweight (1917)
  • Tancy Lee; Featherweight (1917)
  • Dick Smith; Light Heavyweight (1918)
  • Pat O’Keeffe; Middleweight (1918)
  • Jim Higgins; Bantamweight (1921)
  • Johnny Brown; Bantamweight (1925)
  • Jack Hood; Welterweight (1926)
  • Len Harvey; Middleweight (1930)
  • Johnny Cuthbert; Featherweight (1930)
  • Jackie Brown; Flyweight (1932)
  • Dick Corbett; Bantamweight (1934)
  • Nel Tarleton ** ; Featherweight (1934)
  • Jock McAvoy; Middleweight (1935)
  • Jack Petersen; Heavyweight (1935)
  • Johnny King; Bantamweight (1937)
  • Eric Boon; Lightweight (1939)
  • Ernie Roderick; Welterweight (1941)
  • Jackie Paterson; Flyweight (1943)
  • Nel Tarleton ** ; Featherweight (1945)
  • Billy Thompson; Lightweight (1950)
  • Ronnie Clayton ** ; Featherweight )1950)
  • Peter Keenan ** ; Bantamweight (1951)
  • Ronnie Clayton ** ; Featherweight (1953)
  • Terry Allen; Flyweight (1953)
  • Wally Thom; Welterweight; (1954)
  • Randolph Turpin; Light Heavyweight (1956)
  • Joe Lucy; Lightweight (1956)
  • Peter Keenan ** ; Bantamweight (1957)
  • Pat McAteer; Middleweight (1957)
  • Charlie Hill; Featherweight (1958)
  • Terry Downes; Middleweight (1960)
  • Brian Curvis ** ; Welterweight (1961)
  • Henry Cooper  *** ; Heavyweight (1961)
  • Freddie Gilroy; Bantamweight (1962)
  • Howard Winstone ** ; Featherweight (1962)
  • Howard Winstone ** ; Featherweight (1963)
  • Chic Calderwood; Light Heavyweight (1963)
  • Brian Curvis ** ; Welterweight (1964)
  • Henry Cooper  *** ; Heavyweight (1964)
  • Walter McGowan; Flyweight (1966)
  • Maurice Cullen; Lightweight 1966)
  • Henry Cooper  *** ; Heavyweight (1967)
  • Johnny Pritchett; Middleweight 1967[96]
  • Alan Rudkin; Bantamweight 1969[97]
  • Jimmy Anderson; Super Featherweight (1969)
  • Ralph Charles; Welterweight (1971)
  • Ken Buchanan; Lightweight (1973)
  • John McCluskey; Flyweight (1974)
  • Evan Armstrong; Featherweight (1974)
  • Chris Finnegan; Light Heavyweight (1975)
  • Joey Singleton; Super Lightweight (1975)
  • Alan Minter; Middleweight (1976)
  • Maurice Hope; Super Welterweight (1976)
  • Jim Watt; Lightweight (1977)
  • Jimmy Batten; Super Welterweight (1978)
  • Bunny Johnson; Light Heavyweight (1979)
  • Colin Powers; Super Lightweight (1979)
  • Johnny Owen; Bantamweight (1979)
  • Pat Thomas; Super Welterweight (1979)
  • Kevin Finnegan; Middleweight (1979)
  • Clinton McKenzie; Light Welterweight (1979)
  • Pat Cowdell; Featherweight (1980)
  • Roy Gumbs; Middleweight (1982)
  • Tom Collins; Light Heavyweight (1983)
  • Dennis Andries; Light-heavyweight (1984)
  • George Feeney; Lightweight (1984)
  • Hugh Russell; Bantamweight (1985)
  • Cohn Jones; Welterweight (1985)
  • Lloyd Honeyghan; Welterweight (1985)
  • Prince Rodney; Super Welterweight (1985)
  • Tony Willis; Lightweight (1986)
  • Robert Dickie; Featherweight (1986)
  • Clinton McKenzie ** ; Light Welterweight (1987)
  • Kirkland Laing; Welterweight (1987)
  • Lloyd Christie; Super Lightweight (1987)
  • Charlie Magri; Flyweight (1987)
  • Tony Sibson; Middleweight; (1987)
  • Horace Notice; Heavyweight; (1987)
  • Herol Graham; Middleweight; (1988)
  • Tony Wilson; Light Heavyweight; (1989)
  • Pat Clinton; Flyweight (1989)
  • Billy Hardy; Bantamweight (1989)
  • Paul Hodkinson; Featherweight (1989)
  • Johnny Nelson; Cruiserweight (1990)
  • Colin McMillan; Featherweight (1991)
  • John Doherty; Super Featherweight (1991)
  • Carl Crook; Lightweight (1991)
  • Andy Holligan; Super Lightweight (1992)
  • Robbie Regan; Flyweight (1992)
  • Lennox Lewis; Heavyweight (1992)
  • Andy Till; Super Welterweight (1993)
  • Crawford Ashley; Light Heavyweight (1994)
  • Sean Murphy; Featherweight (1993)
  • Neville Brown; Middleweight (1994)
  • Drew Docherty; Bantamweight (1994)
  • Francis Ampofo; Flyweight (1994)
  • Billy Schwer; Lightweight (1994)
  • Robert McCracken; Super Welterweight (1995)
  • Ross Hale; Super Lightweight (1995)
  • Sam Storey; Super Middleweight (1995)
  • Delroy Bryan; Welterweight (1995)
  • Michael Ayers; Lightweight (1995)
  • Floyd Hazard; Super Featherweight (1995)
  • Terry Dunstan; Cruiserweight (1996)
  • Richie Wenton; Super Bantamweight (1996)
  • Ryan Rhodes; Super Welterweight (1997)
  • Paul Ingle; Featherweight (1997)
  • Ady Lewis; Flyweight (1997)
  • Ryan Rhodes; Welterweight (1997)
  • Geoff McCreesh; Welterweight (1998)
  • Jon Jo Irwin; Featherweight (1998)
  • Charles Shepherd; Super Featherweight (1998)
  • Michael Brodie; Super Bantamweight (1998)
  • David Starie; Super Middleweight (1999)
  • Ensley Bingham; Super Welterweight (1999)
  • Derek Roche; Welterweight (1999)
  • Julius Francis; Heavyweight (1999)
  • Michael Gomez; Super Featherweight (2000)
  • Bobby Vanzie; Lightweight (2000)
  • Bruce Scott; Cruiserweight (2001)
  • Nicky Booth; Bantamweight (2001)
  • Michael Alldis; Super Bantamweight (2002)
  • Danny Williams; Heavyweight (2002)
  • Howard Eastman; Middleweight (2003)
  • Neil Sinclair; Welterweight (2003)
  • Mark Hobson; Cruiserweight (2004)
  • David Barnes; Welterweight (2004)
  • Dazzo Williams; Featherweight (2004)
  • Jamie Moore; Super Welterweight (2005)
  • Junior Witter; Super Lightweight (2005)
  • Michael Hunter; Super Bantamweight (2005)
  • Matt Skelton; Heavyweight (2005)
  • Scott Dann; Middleweight (2005)
  • Alex Arthur; Super Featherweight (2005)
  • Graham Earl; Lightweight (2005)
  • Carl Froch; Super Middleweight (2006)
  • Carl Johanneson; Super Featherweight (2007)
  • Ian Napa; Bantamweight (2008)
  • Kell Brook; Welterweight (2009)
  • Jason Booth; Super Bantamweight (2009)
  • John Murray; Lightweight (2010)
  • John Simpson; Featherweight (2010)
  • Stuart Hall; Bantamweight (2011)
  • Brian Rose; Super Welterweight (2012)
  • Lee Selby; Featherweight (2013)
  • Frankie Gavin; Welterweight (2013)
  • Billy Joe Saunders; Middleweight (2013)
  • Jon-Lewis Dickinson; Cruiserweight (2014)
  • Bradley Skeete; Welterweight (2016)
  • Martin J. Ward; Super Featherweight (2017)
  • Ryan Walsh; Featherweight (2017)
  • Lewis Ritson; Lightweight (2018)
  • Kash Farooq; Bantamweight (2019)
  • Brad Foster; Super Bantamweight (2020)


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