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.

With thanks to an article by Gary Lucken, ‘A tale of ‘Lion’ hunting: Boxing Monthly turns pet detective’ published in Boxing Monthly.

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

PICTURE: Nick Garrod (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

OK, there’s a plethora of monuments in London which depict animals including well-known Animals in War Memorial in Park Lane. But in this series we thought we’d take a look at some of the less well-known monuments or those that are a little off the beaten track. 

First up, it’s Dick Whittington’s cat – sometimes portrayed as male cat called Tommy – who can be seen sitting atop what’s called The Whittington Stone at the foot of Highgate Hill in London’s north.

The Grade II-listed monument, the base of which dates from 1821 and was restored in 1935, is said to mark the spot where Whittington, who was said to be about to give up on life in the city after failing to make his fortune and, with his cat in tow, was making his way home to Gloucestershire, heard the famous Bow Bells of London ring out and apparently say to him “Turn Again Whittington! Thrice Lord Mayor of London!”.

Which he did and which become true, apparently thanks to his cat whom he sold for a fortune in gold to someone from a rat-infested land, usually referred to as the Kingdom of Barbary.

Of course, Sir Richard Whittington, while known by many through Christmas pantomimes, was a real person who lived in the 14th and 15th centuries (and was indeed Mayor of London three times) but whether he actually had a cat remains a matter of conjecture.

The sculpture of the cat, made of polished black Kellymount limestone, is the work of Jonathan Kenworthy, and was only added to the top of the stone in 1964.

There is apparently a belief that if the Whittington Stone is ever removed or any harm befall it, it is an omen of disaster.

WHERE: Highgate Hill, near the intersection with Magdala Avenue (nearest Tube station is Archway); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: No.