Originally built for bathing, York Hall on Old Ford Road is now considered by many to be the home of British boxing, its earthy, no-frills reputation sealed by the blood of countless boxing legends.
Today York Hall is well loved and used for both bathing and boxing, but at one point it was nearly game over for this Grade II building.
Origin of York Hall
York Hall was opened in 1929 by the Duke and Duchess of York, from whom it takes its name. The hall has a capacity of 1,200 people, and was designed by the borough engineer and architect, A.E. Darby.
York Hall was originally purposed as a new public baths complex, offering first class and second class swimming pools. It also had slipper baths, Turkish and Russian baths and public laundry facilities, and cost £125,000 to build.
In the 1950s the first class pool fell into disuse and the second class pool was renovated. It was around this time that York Hall started hosting boxing events.
Boxing Champions to Bow
Bethnal Green has a long history of boxing. Daniel Mendoza, the English heavyweight champion from 1792-1795, lived at 3 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green, for over thirty years.
‘Mendoza the Jew’ as he was also known, opened his own gym and wrote a book called the The Art of Boxing. He was most famous for his bouts with Richard Humphries, his boxing hero.
The boxer Joe Anderson, 1869-1943, also came from Bethnal Green, and was well-known as the ‘All England’ champion in 1897. It was boxers like Mendoza and Anderson that brought East London into the public eye for Boxing.
While they were both before York Hall’s time, other champions began as amateurs in bouts at York Hall and are more recent boxing stars. For example, Lennox Lewis famously fought Noel Quarless in the venue in 1990. Lewis was a professional boxer who was a three-time world heavyweight and lineal champion. He’s also famed for defeating Mike Tyson in 2002.
In 1995 Joe Calzaghe took down Frank Minton in an unbelievable 85 seconds. Calzaghe holds the record for the longest reigning super-middleweight world champion, defending his place for over 10 years.
There are countless champion boxers who’ve had their blood splattered on the York Hall boxing ring canvas. Former world champion David Haye had his first bout at York Hall, and went on to have four others there. Carl Froch the super-middleweight champion, also had his first four paid bouts at York Hall, and Nigel Benn.
Near knock-out for York Hall
In 2003, most people believed that York Hall would be closed down. There were rumours of £1.5 million penthouse flats in its space. Even in 2003, despite being on the ropes, it was pulling in quite a crowd with the North East London Divisional championships, with a crowd of near 1200, reaching capacity. With an annual upkeep of £600,000, the council found it difficult to justify what they believed was a future drain on the community, despite it being the borough’s main leisure centre at the time.
But it was beloved. The London Pools campaign and Bethnal Green Sharks swimming club fought and protested the shut down, while promoters were thinking of changing the hall into a type of boxing museum to save it in some form.
Much like a battered boxer in over their head, York Hall was saved by the bell, and the ref with the solution was Greenwich Leisure. They signed a 15 year deal to have the Hall redone and kept. A victory for the community, and the Hall was saved.
York Hall today
Recovering from its flash knockdown, York Hall was done up a year later with a multi-million pound refurb, as part of a project between Tower Hamlets council and Greenwich Leisure.
After the refurbishment, York Hall became a leisure centre with a done-up pool and new bigger gymnasium, had a health spa in the basement area offering several different treatments, and contained a multi use events hall.
Greenwich Leisure, GLL, is the largest UK-based charitable social enterprise, and uses the brand, ‘Better.’ Along with York Hall, they operate 238 public sports and leisure facilities.
The venue isn’t only known for it’s boxing, but also for its wrestling. Revolution Pro Wrestling, IMPACT wrestling and Ring of Honor are just some of the major promotions that York Hall has held shows for.
Today the main theatre has a 280 seat balcony that looks directly over the ring, like a kind of unpretentious cockney amphitheatre. The small, earthy feel that the boxing hall has adds to the atmosphere during the bouts, and brings the community closer together.
If you liked this, take a look at our photo gallery of the boxing fans and the sense of camaraderie in York Hall.
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