Boxing Lives Project
born: 31/08/1889, Whitechapel
William Thomas Wells was born in the East End slum of Whitechapel, where the family lived at 250 Cable Street. Leaving school at 12, he worked as a messenger boy, then at 18 joined the Royal Artillery as a gunner. He quickly reached the rank of bombardier and won an all-India army boxing championship while serving in Rawalpindi. Realising he had a bright future in the ring, in 1910 he left the army and turned pro.
Within a year Wells was British heavyweight champion and held the title for almost eight years, until KO'd by Joe Beckett in 1918. He never regained his crown but continued boxing until 1925.
Wells was a splendid boxer and a naturally heavy hitter, but he lacked the 'killer instinct' and punch-resistance of the great heavyweights, and was knocked out by world-class men such as Georges Carpentier, Gunboat Smith and Frank Moran.
Wells never lost on points and won the first heavyweight Lonsdale belt. He has appeared on countless cinema and TV screens as a gong-man at the start of J. Arthur Rank films. (Words: Alex Daley)
Billy Wells in the USA
© courtesy of the George Grantham Bain Collection
⊕ Billy Wells in the USA
⊕ Bombardier Billy Wells vs Charlie Penwill, Hoxton Baths
⊕ Wells training at Selby, 1913
⊕ Billy Wells and other boxing figures