IT was the most unlikely setting for a bareknuckle prize fight - a Hampshire sea shore.

Organisers hastily set up an improvised ring with ropes and stakes and the two boxers slugged it out in front of a vociferous crowd of about 150 people.

But the illegal bout at Stokes Bay, near Gosport, came to an unexpected conclusion after four rounds when police officers Charles Kearl and Mark Gregory, who had been hiding in furze, suddenly burst forward and arrested one of the fighters James Richards and placed him in handcuffs.

Richards was no fool and sensing the mood of the crowd, submitted quietly and politely asked if he could use one hand to dress himself. No sooner had it been released, irate spectators surged forward and demanded to know what they were going to do with him.

"Take him to Gosport police station," Kearl replied.

They never had the chance. Several men pulled him away, rushing to a boat from which they had originally landed.

Richards's battered opponent, James Dooley, could scarely move.

"Too knocked about," he told the two police officers. He advised them to go away and as the crowd dispersed, they took no action against him.

The law however caught up with six people who had freed Richards and at Hampshire Quarter Sessions on July 1, 1863, they were accused of forcibly rescuing him from custody.

The prosecution conceded the assault on the police had not been of an aggravated nature with only sufficient force to prise Richards away. Witness after witness concurred that as soon as the police were seen, the fight broke up and the crowd were quietly dispersing until the police interfered.

It was also revealed Richards had been brought before a magistrate and he had agreed to be bound over.

However the six defendants - George Mathison, George Baker, Edward Hart, Thomas Price, Henry Booth and Robert Hooper - were not treated so leniently. Convicted, they were each jailed for four months with hard labour.