Bendigo statue in Sneinton, circa 2012. photo: John Sutton
With the Brian Clough statue erected in 2008 and more bronze tributes imminent of Counteh legends Jimmy Sirrel and Jack Wheeler, Nottingham has been pretty good in recent years at honouring its sporting heroes. One, however, who’s been relatively overlooked is William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson.
Bendigo’s story is a remarkable one. Born in Nottingham’s slums in 1811, he took up bare-knuckle boxing as a teenager. The tough bogger went on to become champion of the whole of England - sometimes fighting as many as 96 rounds, and often drawing tens of thousands of spectators. Eventually retiring at the age of 39, Bendigo’s subsequent years were largely marred by a volatile relationship with alcohol. However, he did spend time teaching at Oxford University, and also became a preacher in his latter years, before his death aged 69.
Some of you may have seen the stone statue of Bendigo that stands above the Zam Zam restaurant in Sneinton – formerly the Bendigo pub. Ryan Patrick Drain of Radford, however, has decided that Bendigo deserves a proper statue, in bronze, to stand in pride of place in Nottingham city centre.
Can you give us a brief history of Bendigo’s life and why he’s special?
Bendigo was one of 21 children, and was born in the toughest part of Nottingham to grow up, the Trinity slums. He lost his father at fifteen and was sent to the work house - but despite his tough start he managed to become a champion boxer and fought hard to provide for his brothers, sisters and mother.
So how did a bloke in his twenties get to find out about a guy who died over 100 years ago - and what made you decide you wanted to start raising money for a statue?
I first heard of Bendigo from my dad; I used to do a bit of boxing and he used to tell me that I was a young Bendigo. I just fell in love with the story – for Nottingham, I think he’s the missing peice of the jigsaw, the third muskateer if you like, along with Brian Clough and Robin Hood.
Your statue campaign is already gathering momentum – can you tell us about some of the well-known names who have given you their backing?
We have the backing of Graham Allen, MP for Nottingham North, Carl Froch has also expressed his wish for a new bronze statue of Bendigo, and we’ve had support from the people at BBadTV, a company that promotes bare knuckle boxing across Britain. We’ve also been talking to the owners of the new Bendigo Ales, a new independent brewery based in Nottingham.
If you succeed in your goal, where would you like the statue to go?
When we succeed we want the statue in Trinity Square, a stone’s throw from where he was born.
As well as a statue, you’re also looking to organise a clean-up of Bendigo’s grave in St Mary's Rest Park on Bath Street…
We’re organising a Bendigo pub crawl, a Mansfield Road pub run where each punter puts in a couple of quid and we have a pint in every pub. This will hopefully raise enough money to have the grave cleaned, it’s not in a great way at the moment.
What other things have you got planned to raise money for the statue?
Merchandise wise, we’re looking at making Bendigo tops and pictures, and auctioning off some Nottingham Forest memorabilia. Also, Bendigo was known for being able to throw half a house brick from one side of the Trent to the other, so we’re thinking of bringing that to the present day and having a little event by the Trent.
Your campaign has gathered interest from people on the other side of the world. Can you tell us about that?
There’s a town in Australia called Bendigo that’s actually named after him. I got in touch with the local paper out there to tell them what I was doing and I was absolutely overwhelmed by the reaction – they adore our local hero and celebrate him. We have been invited over so we’re hoping to link up with them for some fundraising.
There are quite a few landmarks around Nottingham already associated with Bendigo, as well as places that he trained...
He had a gym above The Maze. You can still feel the perimeter of the sparring ring, and his original pull up bar is still there.
Finally, what’s the best way for people to find out more about Bendigo and your campaign?
Read the brilliant biography Bold as a Lion by JP Bean. The best way to find out about my campaign is through my Facebook page. I can promise you though, you won't be able to get away from hearing about this, because I'm in this for the long run - I adore the story and I love the legend.
Nottingham Wants a New Bendigo Statue Facebook page