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.
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Interesting bits of London history and news of our tours and events