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13 November 2014

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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > History > Local Heroes > Bartley Gorman - King of the Gypsies

Bartley Gorman - a fighting legend

Bartley Gorman - a fighting legend

Bartley Gorman - King of the Gypsies

'King of the Gypsies' is not a title that is simply inherited. Staffordshire-based bareknuckle fighter Bartley Gorman did his way - in his own words, "it is a title earned in blood, snot, sweat and gore".

Bartley Gorman was the most famous bareknuckle fighter of modern times. Gorman, who was enormously proud of his heritage, and who settled in his adopted home town of Uttoxeter in East Staffordshire, was feared and respected in equal measure.

When he won the title of Bareknuckle Champion of Great Britain and Ireland, aged 28, he was 6ft 1in and weighed 15½ stone.

Between 1972-1992, he reigned supreme in the world of illegal gypsy boxing.

During these years, he fought down a mineshaft, in a quarry, at horse fairs, on campsites, in bars and clubs and in the street, and even challenged infamous London brawlers Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw.

Attempted murder

He even survived a brutal attempt on his life by a mob at Doncaster Races who were determined to end his reign.

Bartley became a living legend, and to a certain extent put the small market town of Uttoxeter on the map.

For Uttoxeter he was a bit of a 'a town treasure' and they even honoured Bartley by putting his name on their Millennium monument alongside such illustrious Staffordshire greats as Joseph Bamford, who founded JCB.

Ali and Gorman

Not only was he renowned and feted in his own community, his reputation spread far and wide, even coming to the attention of Muhammed Ali, with whom he once sparred.

In fact, Ali was one of his heroes, and Bartley based much of his fighting traits on the boxing skills of 'The Greatest'.

Boxing family

Bartley came from a rich heritage of fighters and many of his forefathers had been champion gypsy boxers before him.

In some ways, he felt that he was the natural successor to his great-grandfather Boxing Bartley - Ireland's King of the Tinkers in the 19th century - and his grandfather Bulldog Bartley - another unbeaten bareknuckle fighter.

After semi-retirement in 1992 (a bareknuckle fighter never fully retires!), Bartley settled to build his own house on the outskirts of Uttoxeter and for the remaining 10 years, was able to watch the rise of the next breed of gypsy fighters.

In January 2002, hundreds of gypsies from across the country came to the town for his funeral after he died from liver cancer, aged 57.


Gorman's biography 'King of the Gypsies', written with the help of Peter Walsh, was completed just before Gorman's death.

Gorman tells an uncompromising but touching story of a man compelled by the weight of his own violent family history to fight and suffer pain.

The book reveals that the red-haired gypsy boy Bartley Gorman was only nine years old when he first witnessed the misery that violence brings.

Bartley saw his passive uncle killed before his very eyes by one punch thrown by a rogue showman.

In fact, much of the book is taken up with tales of brutal fights at fairs, racecourses, bars - anywhere travelling men met, argued and brawled.

The book 'King of the Gypsies' is published by Milo Books.

Bareknuckle 'sport'

For gypsies, bareknuckle fighting was seen as a legitimate and acceptable sport: a form of expression.

As young boys today seek to emulate the skills of David Beckham, young gypsy boys would dream of being the champion boxer of their patch.

The biography even reveals the secret lineage of the gypsy champions and unveils unique photographs of the top fighting men of today.

Peter Walsh, who got to know Bartley during the last 18 months of his life, sums him up:

"He was a unique man, a one-off. He was a lovely man with a wicked sense of humour but a streak of melancholy that never left him."

Making it to the big screen

A film based on King of the Gypsies is currently in production and feature film rights are in negotiation.

Uttoxeter's own film-director, Shane Meadows, is likely to bring the film to the silver screen.

Bartley Gorman's grave in Rocester graveyard

Bartley's grave, in Rocester

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last updated: 24/11/2009 at 11:05
created: 05/04/2006

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