This blue plaque always makes me smile, high above the hustle and bustle of Camden (Or what used to be the hustle and bustle of Camden!) an unassuming plaque for 'pugilist' Tom Sayers, who was he you ask? well I happen to know the answer to this from my days as a volunteer guide at Highgate Cemetery where Mr Sayers final resting place was a stop on the tour.
Tom Sayers was a champion bare knuckle boxer, basically the Muhammed Ali of Victorian London, almost undefeated during his 10 year career. Although he was only 5ft8 and weight just 150lbs he frequently took down much bigger competitors (boxing in those days had no formal weight divisions.) as men his own refused to take him on as they considered him 'too dangerous to fight'. The pinnacle of his career was in 1860 when he accepted a challenge to fight American undefeated boxer John Camel Heenan. The fight attracted so much publicity that was parliament was cut short so MP's could attend the match. With undefeated reputations and national pride at stake neither side was going to back down easily the fight went on for over two hours and was eventually declared a draw after 37 rounds.
Sadly for Sayers after a decade of taking punches his health was deteriorating and he was forced to retire soon after. As there was no pensions or NHS in those days his fans had a whip round and came up with £3000 the equivalent of about £300,000 in todays money so he could retire in comfort, but he died a few years in 1865 later, aged just 39. As he was still such a huge celebrity the funeral procession was one of the longest ever seen, people lined the streets all the way from his home Camden all the up to Highgate cemetery to pay their respects. Sayers father and two children lead the procession but the chief mourner was his pet dog 'Lion' who was decked out in a black ruff for the occasion, when Sayers coffin was lowered into the ground 'Lion' lay on his masters grave and howled, and so a statue was of the mourning dog was erected in his honour and still guards Sayers grave to this very day.
Here at Peculiar we have always been a massive fan of The Londonist they have helped us countless time when researching our tours - I mean If you can think of a question about London not matter how obscure, you can bet that some bright spark at the Londonist will have written a witty and informative article on the subject.
However as the Londonist is currently slowing its output due to the current situation we were delighted to stumble on this great little Facebook group it has started where ordinary members of the public can post pictures of any weird and wonderful London related thing they might find on their travels! check it out Here https://www.facebook.com/groups/londonisturbanoddities/
Are you stuck at home with time your hands? Are you interested in history? do you like writing? or maybe just have a good London related anecdote to tell? if the answer is yes to any of the above then we would love to hear from you, for more info drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Practical- “something that is likely to succeed or be effective in real circumstances”
I live in a block of practical flats – as described in the 1935 brochure advertising Northwood Hall. With their own private toilets, gas supply and close to London , this block was noteworthy for the time.
Designed by Architect George Edward Bright, Northwood Hall stands at 300 feet above sea level, one of the highest points in London, on a clear day you can see across the city as far as Crystal Palace.
Surprisingly untouched by bombs of the Second World War, the unique cruciform shape is believed to have been used as an aerial navigational aid. For such a significant building, there is oddly little known about George Edward Bright .
The block featured a restaurant for residents, guest rooms and outdoor amenities including a tennis court. Indoors, there were uniformed porters available 24/7 and an optional maids' service charged at hourly rates. Additional services included rubbish collection, shoe cleaning and delivery of papers, food and even cooked meals – all provided through a hatch which went from each flat to the corridor.
We find ourselves presently living in unreal circumstances and I ask myself how practical are these flats now ? Attempting to keep to social distancing controls in a block of 194 flats, 7 floors, 2 small lifts and some 400-500 people is not easy – or so you would think.
The early hours peace and quiet allows for exploration of this wonderful art deco building. Balustrade staircases, reminiscent of M C Escher graphics, lift shafts and corridors not unlike a Hitchcock film and surprising silence. The kind of silence which speaks volumes about the lives lived and of this incredible faded grandeur of a building.
Northwood Hall is one of many architecturally significant buildings in the Highgate and Hampstead area.
Another amazing London blog that has helped us out several times when doing research for new tours. No idea who the old lady in question is, she preserves her anonymity very well! But the blog has been going since 2004 so as you can imagine she has managed to compile information on just about every imaginable facet of London history and culture - a good one to browse when you have a bit of time on your Hands, (like during a Global Pandemic for instance!) Click below to check it out http://www.shadyoldlady.com/
Do you miss pubs? yep so do we, so in order pay homage to London's many drinking establishments we have complied a quiz about weird wonderful history associated with some of our local boozers...
One thing I love about living in Hampstead you will never run out of bits to explore, I was out for a socially distanced walk this morning when I happened to stumble on this incredible house.. (3 years in the neighbourhood and I didn't even know the damn thing existed!)
As you can imagine it has a rather interesting history... first and foremost it was the inspiration for the character of 'Admiral boom' in Mary Poppins (The author P.L Travers was living in the neighbourhood at the time.)
It also features in a painting by the artist Constable entitled 'A romantic house at Hampstead'.
The house was originally built as a masonic lodge and named 'The Golden Spikes' (The conspiracy theorists amongst you will no doubt be able to tell me the significance!)
In 1755 it was brought by a retired naval Captain named Fountain North who added the ship like elements as he was missing his life at sea.
Around this time it became known locally as the Admirals house as it was mistakenly believed to have been the home of Admiral Barton: An 18th century admiral who became something of celebrity after his ship was captured and he and his crew were held hostage by the king of Morocco for several months. (He did in fact retire to Hampstead after he was released where his eccentric behaviour became the stuff of local legend - apparently he kept a cannon on the roof of his house and would fire it in the air to mark important occasions -as you do!)
Other notable owners have included: Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott, known for his work on Westminster Abbey and the Gothic style Renaissance Hotel at St Pancras station.
writer John Galsworthy author of the 'Forsythe Saga' and winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1932
writers John and Winifred Fortesque: Winifred was a novelist (best known for her 1930's bestseller 'Perfume from Provence') and John was a military historian.
It is also worth noting that the there is rumoured to be a tunnel in the gardens that connects the house to nearby Hampstead heath (possibly built during the house's early days as Masonic lodge presumably for some weird and wonderful Masonic carry on!)
As you I'm sure you are aware we at Peculiar are not the only ones to take an interest in London's long and colourful history, and so we feel it would be down right rude not to give a shout out to some of the other writers, bloggers and tour guides out there who are making humorous and thought provoking content about our pet subject....
We are kicking off this feature with a great blog I stumbled on yesterday when trying to come up some quiz questions... Cabbieblog.com
As the name suggest its written by a cabbie under the pseudonym Gibson Square and is full of all kinds of London trivia - After all who knows London better than taxi drivers right? As well as all lots of weird and wonderful stories about the life of Black driver. Apparently the author has a book coming out later in the year, called 'Everyone is entitled to my opinion' - love it! Definatly one to check out!