In-depth blog about former slave and boxing legend Bill Richmond (1763-1829); subject of Luke G. Williams' biography, published by Amberley in August 2015.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

UPDATED! Richmond Unchained cover and title musings

The wonderful folk at Amberley Publishing have produced the draft cover for Richmond Unchained and I hope you all agree that it's rather spiffing!

The cover features Bill in a typically combative pose, as rendered by Robert Dighton in a pencil and ink print owned by the Royal Collection (this, incidentally, is a much clearer, more defined and generally superior piece of work by Dighton compared to the mass produced etching of Richmond held in the National Portrait Gallery and many other institutions).

In the background of the cover are a series of ornate columns and arches - a classical backdrop which I think lends the cover quite an air of gravitas. It was common during the height of Regency 'boximania' for the day's leading pugilistic heroes to be painted within such classical contexts as a means of glorifying their physical perfection and glorious bravery, and linking their exploits to the great mythical and classical figures from the past.

Bill Richmond was - unjustly in my view - never afforded a portrait with such classical trappings though - an oversight that hopefully this cover goes some way to correcting! I can't think of a more appropriate backdrop for a man of dignity, respectability and style such as Bill.

The title of my book - for which Amberley have utilised a particularly striking font - is, of course, a deliberate echo of Quentin Tarantino's 2012 'western' (or, as he argued, 'southern') Django Unchained.

The wording of the title is partly a commercial decision, of course, but there's also a couple of other reasons for choosing it.

Firstly, on a fairly literal level, I think 'Richmond Unchained' neatly represents the way that Bill Richmond overcame his birth as a slave to become a free man.

More importantly, though, the word 'unchained' is symbolic of Bill's mentality. He wasn't only free 'physically', but free in terms of his capacity to aim high and dream big.

Throughout his life, Bill Richmond refused to be shackled by any chains - be they the chains of slavery, or the metaphorical chains which often - at this time - doomed people of Bill's ethnic background to a life of either poverty or humiliation.

Not only that, but Bill ignored the chains of convention by - for example - marrying a white woman at a time when 'intermarriage' (to use the hateful term of the day) was surprisingly commonplace, but viewed by many bigots as unnatural.

In summation, Bill Richmond refused to be contained or constrained by anyone or anything.

He was truly a man whose mind, imagination and life were 'unchained'.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Richmond Unchained: word cloud

Well, it's been a while since my last post, mainly because I've been very hard at work on Richmond Unchained. The book is now complete and in the 'final checking' stage, prior to submission, editing and proofing. It will be delivered to my publishers Amberley in April and hopefully hitting bookshelves in August!

As a little sneak preview of the book, I've used to produce this rather nifty 'word cloud' based on my manuscript. Unsurprisingly, 'Richmond', 'Cribb' and 'Molineaux' seem to come up quite often! Given that the majority of the book is set in Britain - and reflects on attitudes in England / Britain towards pugilism and race - I thought the British Isles themselves made a rather appropriate back-drop to the word cloud!

More Richmond Unchained posts will follow in the next few days. Until then, a reminder of the background to the project ...

The biography of the world’s first black sporting superstar
By Luke G. Williams

Today the name of the bare-knuckle boxer Bill Richmond is largely unknown to the wider public, but he is one of the most significant sportsmen in history and was one of the most celebrated celebrities of the Georgian era. The fact no biography has ever been devoted to Richmond is startling, for the story of his life and career is a compelling and thrilling tale, played out against the backdrop of a series of significant historical events.

As one of the first black men to survive and thrive in white-dominated English society, Richmond is long overdue recognition as one of the key figures in sporting as well as social history. Born into slavery in Staten Island, New York during colonial rule, Richmond escaped from a life of servitude by winning his freedom as a young boy and carved a new life for himself in England as a cabinet-maker and then a renowned and widely respected prize-fighter and trainer.

From his humble origins, Richmond, through force of will and personality, fought his way to the top table of British society, ultimately fulfilling an official role at the coronation celebrations of King George IV in 1821. Richmond’s amazing life encompassed encounters and relationships with some of the most prominent men of the age, including the progressive Earl Percy, the writer William Hazlitt, the dissolute Prince Regent and the wild and untameable Lord Camelford.

The story of Bill Richmond is not only an incredible tale of personal advancement and triumph, but also the story of a life which was shaped, informed and influenced by a series of turbulent historical events – including the American War of Independence, the fight for black emancipation and Britain’s long-running conflict with the Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Luke G. Williams’ biography, the first full-length account of Richmond's life, utilises over a decade of research on both sides of the Atlantic, revealing details, sources and new facts about Richmond’s life that have never before been published. In separating myth from fact and legend from reality, for the first time, the full story of Bill Richmond’s life and times is brought gloriously to life.

Richmond Unchained will feature illustrated material from the Georgian period, as well as new and exclusive illustrations by acclaimed American artist Trevor Von Eeden.