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Charlie Douglas MBE





“Jesus was also a traveller” - Charlie Douglas


Charlie Douglas, MBE, was born in Tuphall Road, Hamilton, on November 6, 1929. He revelled in the title "King of the Gypsies", awarded him by his own Romany people for his many achievements.

Indeed, Charlie and his two boxing sons loathed the modern, politically correct term "travelling people" to describe the Romany people – for whom Charlie was both a charismatic leader and spokesman. He was the youngest child of David Douglas, known as big Jack Salts, and Margaret-Ann. Charlie was only six when his mother died. He had three brothers Davie, Joe and Walter and two sisters Margaret-Ann and Janet.

From an early age, Charlie's two main passions were pugilism and horse dealing and breeding, two areas at which Romany people have long excelled.

However, Charlie's father believed firmly in education and from an early age he developed an avid interest in philosophy and literature. Consequently, it was with some amusement that Charlie considered an offer from a well-meaning civil servant to help him fill in his expenses forms for meetings he attended at the Scottish Office while representing his Romany peers as an adviser to the Scottish Government – the implication being that, as a gypsy, Charlie would be illiterate.

However, such incidents were in the future when, as a young man Charlie effortlessly combined his bibliophilia with shrewd horse dealing and breeding and fighting many bareknuckle battles in Romany boxing tournaments – where he excelled.  His reputation as a breeder became international as he often traded horses as far afield as Canada and Australia.

Similarly, given his early bareknuckle boxing exploits it was no surprise when his sons, David and Charlie, took up boxing under Queensberry rules.  Both won a clutch of amateur titles, while David became the Scottish welterweight champion in the early 1990s. Charlie's grandson Alex also carried on the family tradition by winning an amateur title.

David said: "From an early age, my brother and I were taught the boxing basics and beyond by legendary Larkhall club coach Dave Barry, who had defeated world flyweight champion from Hamilton Walter McGowan's Dad Joe Gans three times in the in the amateurs.  "My father had a great talent for motivating and inspiring me from ringside, as was proved when I fought Liverpool's Joey Frost and won, despite being an underdog."

Charlie's equal ability to inspire his gypsy peers led in 1974 to him being invited by the government to act as an adviser on Romany affairs. The post brought Charlie into contact with legal lord Lord Birsay, who became a fast friend of the "King of the Gypsies" and a regular visitor to his family home in Larkhall.  So valuable was Charlie's input and so highly was his advice valued by the Scottish Office that he was created a Member of the British Empire in 1974.

Similarly, so highly was Charlie rated as a referee, ringside judge and timekeeper at Scottish amateur boxing championships that he was asked at the age of 78 to make a comeback in that role.

His son David said: "My Dad's title of 'King of the Gypsies' was one no other gypsy person ever disputed and he was a king – not just of Romany folk but also as a husband and much-loved father, grandfather and great-grandfather.''

Charlie died 13 September, 2009, in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, aged 79. He is survived by his wife Margaret (b.c. 1936, married 1954), three sons, David (the Scottish Welterweight champion and the first for about 50 years to successfully defend the title), Charlie and Alex (owner of South Lanarkshire Builders in Larkhall’s Carlisle Road), four grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

He was buried at Hamilton’s Bent Cemetery.


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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024