Teddy Baldock is enshrined in the record books as Britain’s youngest World champion of the modern era. Born in Poplar on 23 May 1907, his professional career started at the age of thirteen, by seventeen his brilliant boxing skills and ring magnetism had him appearing as a top-liner at the Royal Albert Hall.
It is unlikely that any London boxer has enjoyed a larger following than did the popular East Ender, Teddy Baldock. Whenever he fought coach-loads of supporters left Poplar to cheer him. When he met Archie Bell at the Albert Hall on 5 May, 1927, no less than 52 crowded charabancs chugged out of the East End, heading for Kensington like an Army convoy.
Despite his popularity, Baldock’s story is one which portrays the highs and lows of boxing. A world champion at the age of 19, he was burned out by the time he was 24. Despite earning big money in the ring, he died penniless at the age of 63.
Born at Poplar on 24 May, 1907, and actually christened Alfred, Teddy Baldock (career record 73-5, 37KO’s) was destined to become a fighter. His grandfather, Jack Baldock, had been a tough bare-knuckle battler, while another scrapping relative, “Hoppy” Baldock, had been a second to many top pugilists of his day, including Charlie Mitchell, Jem Smith, and Ted Pritchard. His father, Ted, had fought at Wonderland and in the fairgrounds, and it was he who started his son boxing when the lad was just a boy.
Apart from taking his son to Premierland and other East End halls, Ted used to get down on his knees in the kitchen of their little terraced house and encourage the youngster to punch away at him
At school, the young Baldock was good at football, athletics, and swimming, but it was boxing at which he excelled. He soon joined a local Boys’ Club, and many of his early fights were at the St Michael’s Church Hall in Poplar, against local lads. When Teddy kept winning, opponents had to he brought in from further a field. When he won an East End Boys’ Clubs’ five-stone championship, Teddy was presented with a medal, the first of many amateur trophies he would win.
Much of Teddy’s time was taken up in working with his father, who operated as a street bookmaker. After winning one particular fight, the youngster’s reward was a bicycle, which helped to get him around the streets of Poplar to collect betting slips and cash, which he then took to his father at a pre-arranged pub just before the first race each day.
Teddy had his first paid contest at the age of thirteen. He beat Young Harry Makepeace from Custom House on points, over six rounds at Barking, in 1921. He was paid seven shillings and sixpence, and it was the start of an unbeaten run, which would extend to 41 fights over more than five years.
As a teenager, Teddy was a real handful. He went to Epsom Racing Stables and became an apprentice jockey, but he was sacked after a fight with a stable-lad who wanted to sort him out. When Teddy later ran away from home, his father decided that firm discipline was needed if he was to progress as a boxer. So he took Teddy along to Joe Morris, the match-maker at Premierland, who managed former British feather weight champion Mike Honeyman.
It proved to be a smart move, because although eleven years his elder, Honeyman soon got to like Teddy. They trained together in a loft above a banana-drying shed at Dewsbury Street in Poplar, and Baldock soon became a regular performer at Premierland. He often boxed on the same shows as Honeyman, and Mike worked in his corner whenever he could.
One of Teddy’s early fights was against fellow-East Ender Young Riley, who came in a stone the heavier. It made no difference, however, because the Poplar boy’s speed won him the decision. It was only Teddy’s tenth paid engagement, but his potential was clear to see.
Speed was undoubtedly one of Baldock’s main assets, but nevertheless he was astonished one day to find himself billed as “The Mumtaz Mahal of the Ring”. The Premierland promoter had, in fact, named him after a very fast two-year-old race¬horse owned by the Aga Khan! The Poplar boy was certainly catching the eye of many followers of boxing, and after he had knocked out Young Bowler (Bethnal Green), in his fifteenth paid fight on 24 January, 1924, the weekly magazine Boxing carried the following comment:
“Teddy Baldock pleased us very much by his workmanlike dispatch of Young Bowler in a minute and a half. This kid will be a star performer before long, believe us! He is speedy, accurate, and ever ready to flash out with either hand, and he weighs as yet little over seven stone.”