Thursday 31 May 2012

Tom Sayers

Funny the things you find tucked away, probably in most towns. I found this though in the 'City' of Brighton and Hove a couple of weeks ago. This memorial to the great Tom Sayers, prizefighter extraordinary, is just screwed to the wall of a shop near the North Laines area. A relatively small man, Sayers was born into poverty in Brighton around 1826 and moved between London and Brighton in his trade as bricklayer. Becoming a professional fighter in 1849 he won the bout against Abe Couch. He maintained winning form for a while but failed as a pub landlord. This prompted the need to earn more money, but fights within his own class were becoming difficult to arrange due to his dangerous reputation. He fought out of his weight against heavyweights Paulson and Bill Perry - The Tipton Slasher! and won on both occasions. This was the precursor to The Big Fight, celebrated in ballad, against the challenger, the American, Heenan, known as The Benecia Boy.

Although the fight game was by now illegal nothing could prevent this huge contest at Farnborough, Hants on 17th April 1860. Sayers was nearly three stones lighter, five inches shorter, and eight years older than Heenan. Early on in the bout Sayers' arm was disabled but he managed to close Heenan's eye...they fought like tigers for forty rounds taking over two hours, only ceasing combat when the police moved in and closed the contest. It was declared a draw. Ulitmately both men were awarded the championship belt.

Sayers retired and a public subscription raised over £3000 for him. He made some unwise choices of female companions and a daliance with the circus failed too. After a fairly dissolute period of heavy drinking he died in 1865 and his funeral was attended by 100,000 people. Buried in Highgate Cemetery his memorial is a sculpture of his dog 'Lion'.

A true son of Sussex and bold as you like.