From a cat to a dog – this week we’re looking at the grave of Victorian-era bare knuckle prize fighter Tom Sayers which features a statue of his faithful hound, Lion.
Sayers – widely considered the first boxer to hold the World Heavyweight Champion after he defeated American John Camel Heenan in 1860 – had a career spanning more than a decade in the the mid-19th century and was able to retire in 1860 thanks to a generous public. But he died only five years later at the age of 39 in 1865.
His burial at Highgate Cemetery – where this tomb is located – is said to have been attended by 10,000 people, such was his fame. Lion, a mastiff, was described as the “chief mourner” at his funeral.
Lion had been Sayers’ dog since at least early 1861 when mentions of the brown dog accompanying the pugilist started to appear in the press. The newspapers noted the apparent bond between the two but when Sayers failed bid to create a circus saw him auction off various associated animals and paraphernalia, that didn’t stop Lion being on the auction list.
Sayers apparently had a change of heart, however, as Lion’s turn to go under the hammer came up and stepped in to buy back the dog – but not before the price had apparently run up to 20 guineas.
Following Sayers’ death, Lion again went to auction and this time was sold to a close friend of Sayers, a former soldier who was the landlord of the Welsh Harp pub where the boxer had held his circus auction.
Following a public subscription, the stone monument – including the statue of Lion – was installed over Sayers’ grave in 1866.
Lion, however, was again sold and apparently ended his life on a country estate.
WHERE: Western Cemetery, Swain’s Lane (nearest Tube is Archway); WHEN: Guided tour only – bookings essential for weekdays/no bookings on weekends (tours run every half hour from 10.30am to 3pm); COST: £12 adults/£6 children eight 17/no children under 8; WEBSITE: www.highgate-cemetery.org