Boxing Legends Entertained the Crowds at Brighton Dome

To celebrate Heritage Open Days 2020 we are publishing a series of blogs researched and written by Brighton Dome's heritage volunteers. The blogs reveal the fascinating stories connecting Brighton Dome's history with the Royal Pavilion Estate and the city.

Did you know that world boxing champions have competed on numerous occasions at Brighton Dome? Organised by local businessman Sir Harry Preston, national and world champions descended on Brighton annually throughout the 1920s and 1930s to participate in charity tournaments. All of the proceeds went to the Royal Sussex County Hospital and Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children.

The events became such a popular success that they were deemed by the Daily Mail as one of the ‘chief sporting fixtures of the country’. With Edward VIII, Prince of Wales as patron and a star-studded line up of boxing legends, Preston filled Brighton Dome with spectators, raising up to £6,000 per event for the hospital charities, a considerable amount of money at the time.

In the early 1900s, Preston established a successful hotel business and set about transforming Brighton into a sought-after destination for London’s elite to visit, relishing the opportunity to convince the wealthy to make a trip to the seaside and attend his boxing events at the same time. Perhaps the greatest event he put on was in 1925, when he convinced the then world heavyweight champion, American Jack Dempsey, to fight at the venue. This was Dempsey’s only ever appearance in the UK and he did it completely free of charge thanks to Preston’s persuasion. Dempsey is still considered one of the all-time greats and as the newspapers at the time commented, securing his appearance was a truly impressive feat.

Sir Harry Preston even took part in the events himself at the age of 60, using his experience as an amateur boxer to survive three rounds. The businessman covered the costs for all of the events himself and on his death in 1936, The Guardian paid tribute to his philanthropy:

"His great tournaments for hospitals brought him his knighthood. But those who knew him best will testify that the origin of those spectacular entertainments was his own sensitive sympathy with suffering humanity".

Sir Harry was known as a great ambassador for Brighton and his spirit is perhaps epitomised by his charity boxing tournaments that took place at Brighton Dome.

Written by Heritage Volunteer Thomas Murphy

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