SAYERS, Tom (1826-1865)
Plaque erected in 2002 by English Heritage at 257 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London NW1 7BU, London Borough of Camden
TOM SAYERS 1826-1865 Pugilist died here
At 257 Camden High Street, a plaque honours the boxer Tom Sayers, a sporting legend of the Victorian age, who died here at the age of 39. In 1860, he took part in the ‘fight of the century’, a marathon 37-round struggle against the American John C Heenan.
Born in Brighton, Sayers moved to London in 1842 to take up work as a bricklayer on the London and North-Western Railway as it pushed through Camden Town. He lived in Camden Town for about 20 years, where his last permanent address (between about 1860 and 1864) was 51 Camden Street (formerly 10 Belle Vue Cottages; now demolished). He was diagnosed with diabetes while living there.
His last days were spent at the home of his friend John Mensley, above the Mensley boot factory at 257 Camden High Street. He had intended merely to visit but, becoming extremely ill, asked that his personal belongings be sent to him, and died here on 8 November 1865. It was from this address that Sayers’s famous funeral procession, modelled on that of the Duke of Wellington, set out for Highgate Cemetery. Over 100,000 people formed part of the procession, and his tomb – which features an effigy of his dog, Lion – is one of the most striking in the cemetery.
‘THE FIGHT OF THE CENTURY’
Sayers made his first appearance in the boxing ring in 1849. Weighing just under eleven stone (69kg), and standing just five feet nine inches (175cm) tall, he relied on his enormous strength and courage and his capacity to endure pain. A string of high-profile victories followed, and earned Sayers – now nicknamed ‘The Little Wonder’ – the chance of an encounter in 1853 with Nat Langham, then regarded as the most formidable prize fighter of his time. After 61 rounds, Sayers was beaten for the first and only time in his career. Success followed hard on this failure, with his crowning achievement coming in June 1857, when he beat the heavyweight Bill Perry on the Isle of Grain. For this he won the champion’s belt, making Sayers the nearest equivalent to world champion that the Victorian sporting world could offer.
His final, and most famous, appearance in the ring was in Farnborough, Hampshire, in April 1860, against the American John C Heenan. The fight was attended by MPs and social commentators including William Makepeace Thackeray, and was even followed by Queen Victoria. After over two hours and 37 rounds, it ended in a draw. Sayers was badly hurt, and his fans raised a public subscription for £3,000 so that he could retire from the championship.