A Fist Fight at Wigginton

Bare-fisted boxing was not uncommon - and often involved significant wagers - although there is no evidence of any betting in the following unfortunate case. The news item appeared in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 15th September, 1827.





On Tuesday evening a fatal occurrence took place at Wigginton, near Tring. Two men of the names of James Kindell and John Olliffe, engaged in a pugilistic contest, which ended in the death of Olliffe. James Kindell is the son of a respectable shoemaker, in Tring, and was attending Wigginton Feast. The deceased was a labourer residing in Wigginton, and has left a widow and two children.

James Kindell, and his second, Francis Smith, were taken into custody on Wednesday, by the constable at Tring, to await the Coroner's inquest, which was held on Thursday morning, at Mr. Landon's, the Cow Roast, near Tring. Having sworn the Jury, they proceeded to view the body (which was lying at his own cottage), when Mr. Dewsbury, surgeon, of Tring, attended and examined it. The Jury returned, when the following evidence was adduced:-

Mr. Dewsbury sworn. - Is a surgeon at Tring; saw the body about eight o'clock on the evening of Tuesday; found him dead; had the clothes stripped off the body; on the left side of the chest, in the abdomen, discovered a considerable bruise, and some slight bruises on the left side of the neck, a fracture, or incised wound; did not attempt to bleed him; attended on the morning of the inquest, and opened the body; on opening the body found a considerable quantity of coagulated blood in the cavities of the abdomen; on removing that fluid discovered a rupture of the spleen, which was quite sufficient to account for the man's death; believes that violent contraction of the muscles of the spleen might have produced the rupture, but believes this was caused by a violent blow, which in his opinion was the case.

Harding Dell sworn. - Lives at Wigginton; is a labourer; has known the parties many years; saw them in company together on the night they fought about six o'clock; (was with Olliffe on Sunday night; heard no particular remark from him then); they were standing within a short distance of each other when he first saw them (on the bowling green); were wrangling about fighting; Kindell appeared quite fuddled; Olliffe was not so much so; 'twas Wigginton feast; Olliffe was going away from the green, having refused to fight; Kindell followed him, and said he would fight him - that he would give him five minutes to consider of it and no more; Olliffe said he was not fit to fight, as he had the ague on him the day before; Kindell made no reply, but went away to the brewhouse. Witness went up to Olliffe and told him he was not fit to fight; he said he must fight; some one called for Kindell; does not know who; Kindell came and asked Olliffe what he wanted; he replied, he came back to fight K. because he had followed him; K. then stripped, and they set to in a regular way, and appeared very much exasperated with each other. Thos. Jones seconded Olliffe, and F. Smith seconded Kindell. The fight lasted about half an hour; Kindell gave Olliffe the first knock-down blow; Jones picked him up; Olliffe appeared more savage; had a minute between each round; for two or three rounds Olliffe knocked K. down. James Lake had a watch to mark the time. Olliffe appeared to get very weak in the last two rounds; K. hit him a blow in the last round but two on the left side; (witness remarked he had received a blow which would do him a great deal of harm); was some minutes before he was able to set-to again; appeared quite helpless; set to again, and had another round; Kindell then hit him a blow on the ear; did not fall; they had another set-to in a sort of struggling manner, and fell; Olliffe said he could not fight any more; Jones then held up his hand and said the man was beat. [He was carried to his sister's cottage, and shortly afterwards died].

Other witnesses deposed to the same facts.

The Coroner summed up the evidence, and the Jury returned a verdict of Manslaughter against James Kindell, the principal, who was accordingly committed to Hertford or trial at the ensuing Assizes.

Answers to Questions


December 2009

R. Bowles-Meentzen (meentzen @t yahoo.com) of Los Angeles, California, writes: I read with interest your story on the fistfight in Wigginton,  which ended in an unfortunate circumstance. The person mentioned as the second is who I believe to be my gggranduncle Francis Smith who was born in Wigginton and was the son of Francis and Hannah Smith. His parents lived in a house in the Commons. His sister, my ggggrandmother married and came to America in 1850.

Local newspapers in 1827 tended to cover quite large areas and carried comparatively little local news. However fist fights were popular. John Olliffe's death was particularly newsworthy - and I doubt that Wigginton would normally get mention in the paper as often as once a year. The inquest verdict of manslaughter suggests that James Kindell would probably have been arrested and tried. HALS - the Hertfordshire Archives and Library Service - will have records of the Court case and could provide you with details. They also have a microfilm of the Hertfordshire Mercury newspaper, which may have published an account of the court case, perhaps with some mention of witnesses.

John Olliff, aged 28, of Wiggington, was buried at St Bartholomew, Wigginton, 15 September 1827.


  News of the fight echoed around the country, as this short account from The Examiner of 23rd September, 1827, taken from the Bucks Gazette shows.


Other papers mentioning the fight were the Cambridge Chronicle & Journal, the Devizes & Wiltshire Gazette, and the Oxford Journal.


The Cambridge Chronicle  and Journal of 7th December 1827 reported on the Hertford Assizes and said:

James Kindell, arraigned on the coroner's inquisition for killing John Oliffe, on the 11th September, at Wigginton, in a pugilistic battle, was acquitted.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

February 2013   Additional news coverage from other papers.