Fighting was often a way of life in Georgian England. One interesting but rather comical story involves a dispute between a Lewes Fair shoemaker and a “sturdy beggar” in 1794. Apparently, the fight began when the shoemaker offended the beggar by “refusing to bestow a charitable boon upon him.”
The affronted beggar, who was claiming to be a maimed sailor, then attacked the shoemaker. While the beggar’s companion watched and the men fought, a crowd began to gather. The fight was well sustained on both sides for several rounds, but the wooden legged beggar soon discovered the shoemaker’s strength to be superior to his own. At that point, the beggar decided that if he was going to win he needed to alter his fighting tactics.
Instead of continuing his attack on the shoemaker’s face and chest, the beggar began “furiously assaulting the [shoemaker’s]…with his teeth.” The beggar’s new method was so successful, the shoemaker began to bellow with pain and then began shouting for assistance from the surrounding crowd.
People from the crowd then rushed to the shoemaker’s aid, but they discovered the beggar’s jaws were so firmly attached to one of the shoemaker’s legs, that it could not be pried loose without great difficulty. In fact, to get the beggar off the shoemaker, it required numerous successive blows from horsewhips, shepherd’s crooks, and walking sticks upon the back of the beggar.
While the beggar was being assailed by whips, crooks, and walking sticks, the beggar’s companion attempted to help him by striking back. However, a farmer dexterously knocked the beggar’s companion down with a stick. This caused the companion to fall into the middle of a sheep-pen, and it was there he remained for the duration of the fray as he decided it was the safest place
As far as the final results of the brawl and whether or not any legal action was taken, I could find nothing published. However, I suspect both men learned their lesson when it came to charity as one suffered scars from teeth being attached to his leg, and, the other, no doubt, lived the rest of his life with scars from successive blows to his back.
- —, Derby Mercury, 16 October, 1794
- Sporting Magazine, Vol. 5, 1795