From a Daily newspaper cutting of the time…
SIR HARRY PRESTON
SPORTSMAN AND HOTEL PROPRIETOR
“Sir Harry Preston, the famous sportsman and hotel proprieter, died at Brighton last evening at the age of 76. He entered a London nursing home on June 28 to undergo an operation for an internal complication, and for a time made progress. He returned to Brighton in mid-July. But on July 28 a blood transfusion was resorted to, the blood being given by his old friend, Captain E. V. Chandler, the former amateur heavy-weight boxing champion. This was apparently successful, but earlier this month he had a relapse and on August 5 a slight operation had to be performed; since then his condition had caused anxiety. His courage never failed him, and he was cheered by flowers and other remembrances from friends all over the world.
The late Lord Dewar once described Preston as “the companion of princes, the counsellor of prize-fighters and the bosom friend of bishops.” Friendship was certainly his hobby. Himself an original, he liked originals of every kind and class, and he found his happiness in making other people happy. He was a born optimist, who worked hard and played hard, a true sportsman who always kept himself in condition, a man who “warmed both hands before the fire of life.”
To his fitness he certainly owed the prolongation of life, notably his recovery from a serious illness in 1930. Even when over 70 he used to take a daily cycle ride in sweaters and then ride a horse over the Downs.
Harry John Preston was born on February 19 1860, the son of a solicitor. He began his career as a teacher, and was at one time in a merchant’s office in the City. It was his passion for boxing which brought him to a public house in the East End, afterwards to an hotel in Bournemouth, and then at the age of 42, to the Royal York Hotel at Brighton. When that was sold in 1928 he moved to the Royal Albion Hotel close by.
From boyhood Preston was full of courage, whether in the ring, on the Rugby football field, or in any hard game that makes for character. There were few branches of sport in which he did not excel. Even when past 60 years of age he boxed, but then, as always, for charity. His tournaments at Brighton, in which professionals took part as eagerly as prominent amateurs, brought in little short of £30,000 for Sussex hospitals. Altogether, he raised over £100,000 for hospitals. He was a venturesome sailor, and was several times given up as lost at sea. Many were the cups and trophies that he won. He was a successful motor-boat owner; he was one of the first to fly; and he was a strong swimmer and a bold and graceful high diver. But boxing was his favourite sport.
As a youth of 18 he joined the West End Boxing Club, to become associated with Bernard J Angle, John Douglas, George Vize, “Peggy” Bettinson, and others of that school. In those days the lowest weight was 10st, but though Preston did not scale more than 8st 10lb, he did not hesitate to fight men a couple of stone heavier. He was still in his teens when he won his first bout, and later defeated a young fellow named Kingsford who was fully 6ft tall. In an open competition at Chelsea Town Hall at 10st 4lb, he defeated E. Hutchings, the then Queensbury light-weight champion. Later, against Hutchings, Preston was so hurt that a “cauliflower” ear developed, but he continued to box, and when in 1884 the Amateur Boxing Association instituted a bantam-weight competition, he was one of the first to enter. He reached the semi-final, which he lost only by a narrow margin to A. Woodward, who won the championship and held it in the following year.
On the death of his father in 1884 Preston gave up serious boxing. He had known most famous pugilists from John L. Sullivan to Gene Tunney, and of the thousands of fights he witnessed that between Peter Jackson and Frank Slavin at the National Sporting Club was, in his opinion, the best.
Among his other interests Preston was a successful breeder of bull terriers, a keen horseman, an enthusiastic dancer, and for many years Bones of his own accomplished minstrel troupe. He has left in “Memories”, published in 1928, an amusing account of a life of which he must have enjoyed every hour.
Preston had a genius for hotel-keeping, as a letter which he wrote in The Times last November on “The Ideal Menu” proved to all who understand good fare. But more than that, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that everyone who entered his hotel as an ordinary guest left it as a firm friend, and he was almost as well known in America and France as in England. In 1927 a silver Chippendale salver was presented to him engraved with 126 distinguished names, the central one being that of the Prince of Wales (now King Edward VIII). In the same year another group of friends united to present him a loving cup inscribed with 32 well-known signatures. Innumerable people in all wake of life rejoiced when Preston, to his great surprise, received the honour of knighthood in 1933. He was married twice, first to Miss Ellen Griessen, and then, in 1914, to Miss Edith Ellen Collings, who was associated with him in business for more than 40 years, and who survives him. He leaves a daughter by each marriage.
A few hours before the death of Sir Harry Preston Mr Fred Brown of Queen’s Park Rise Brighton, who had been his most trusted servant, died. He was well known to many visitors to the Royal Albion Hotel. His former master’s long illness had worried him. When he retired from the post of head porter at the hotel recently, Sir Harry Preston presented him with a gold watch.“
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