Sporting legend inspired future boxers from Knowle West
Main image: Relatives Josh Knight and his grandfather Philip Charles at Dixie’s grave in Arnos Vale – with the boxer’s original boots and a copy of the new book.
The great-great grandson of Dixie Brown has just produced a book about the popular boxer who spent his later life in Knowle West and inspired future generations.
Josh Knight (22) who grew up in the area, where many of Dixie’s family still live, has been researching his famous relative and compiled a book of documents.
The Life of Dixie Brown 1900 – 1957 includes newspaper articles, sketches, boxing programmes and posters – with details of the dates, locations of his fights and his opponents.
Josh told The Knowledge: “I’m interested in boxing and always have been. I’ve always been interested in history in general and always trying to find out as much as I could.”
While doing his research he discovered the Boxing History online site run by Miles Templeton – who sent him documents about Dixie.
He explains: “Those news articles are quite rare, so I decided to share them with the family.
“I’ve got all the info and people asked me to print documents for news articles, so I thought it best to have them published in a book – when people see it they ask to order one and I’ve sold 60 already.”
Josh also has the advantage of a number of relatives in the area who can give him anecdotes and information about Dixie and his life.
The boxer, who had nine children while living in Bristol, was born Anthony Charles in St Lucia in 1900. He first came to the UK from the Caribbean island by boat in 1919 – helping to build the Panama Canal on the way.
Josh says: “He went to London and a couple who ran a fairground found him hiding in a cupboard. He was probably a bit scared because of his skin colour. That’s how he started doing the bare-knuckle fights. He went to Cardiff and started boxing from there.”
Dixie married his Welsh wife Lilian (Lily) in Exeter in 1922 and moved to Bristol in 1923.
Josh has documentation to show the sporting legend competed in over 100 fights as a welterweight and middleweight in the 20s and 30s. He also had around 200 bare-knuckle fights – but these are not listed.
“His biggest fight was at Colston Hall, there were 4,000 people there. The bloke he lost to, George Rose, went on to compete for the European title,” Josh says.
“It’s been difficult as we’ve been told he was told to lose certain fights. There were certain ones he could have won…”
A colour bar which was introduced in 1909 and ran until 1947 banned non-white boxers from becoming British Boxing Champions – and meant that Dixie was never highly paid.
He was blinded in a fight in the 1930s in St Judes, and moved to Knowle West afterwards.
Josh says: “He was a Roman Catholic and the local community had a whip round to send him to Lourdes to cure him – but it didn’t work.”
During the Second World War – Dixie and Lily used to play host to a number of black GIs – as the boxer was well-known and respected.
Josh also has a letter from Bristol City Council requesting to build an Anderson Shelter at Dixie’s home in Cossington Road. He was bombed out of the house and then lived in Ilminster Avenue.
“Local young boxers used to idolise him…”
Many older Knowle West residents have fond memories of Dixie in later life, who had a special chair at the former Venture Inn on Melvin Square, which one of his grandchildren would bring in for him.
“People say they can remember him as a kid and local young boxers used to idolise him,” Josh says.
“He used to go down Throgmorton Road on a Saturday with his stick and people used to say, ‘Take your bins in because Dixie’s coming!’”
Former professional boxer Bob Fisher, a lifelong Knowle West resident, started learning the sport as a pupil at Connaught School, near to where Dixie lived.
He recalled: “I knew from my father and other people used to say how good Dixie Brown was as a boxer. The adulation he had from people in the community was superb – and very well known.
“To me he was a good inspiration for young kids in the region…”
The local hero died in 1957 and is buried in the Catholic Cemetery, next door to Arnos Vale Cemetery, with his wife Lilian and his son Sidney, who died at the age of 15.
Josh is now working on a second book which can be pre-ordered, where he has transformed a lot of old black and white photos into colour. This book will concentrate on Dixie’s life before and after his boxing days.
He is convinced that Dixie would not have been held back in his sporting career if he was boxing in this century.
He says of his great-great grandfather: “He lost a lot of things because of his colour. If it was today – I don’t know how far he would have gone.”
To get copies of the books contact Josh on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0755 7749 766.
You can view Kathleen Charles talking about her grandfather or “granfer”, Dixie Brown, for Knowle West Media Centre’s University of Local Knowledge:
See also Dixie’s granddaughter Margaret Rawlins remembering his funeral in Knowle West: https://www.ulk.org.uk/content/dixie-browns-funeral
Former Knowle West boxers also talk about Dixie Brown as a sporting legend: https://www.ulk.org.uk/content/dixie-brown-boxing-legend