Passport from Pimlico

Photo:Tom Sayers (1826-1865)

Tom Sayers (1826-1865)

Tribute poem to Tom Sayers, champion boxer

By A P Staunton, North Laine resident

This poem is a tribute to Tom Sayers from the North Laine
who took part in the first ever World Heavyweight Title Fight
(although back then the 'world' consisted only of Britain
and America).  See here for more information about Tom Sayers.

Amongst the slums of Brighton,
Pyms Gardens and Orange Row,
Full of walkways with human waste on,
Lay Thomas Street and Pimlico.

Plagued by pox and fevers,
Side by side with chickens and pigs,
Amongst fish-heads severed with cleavers,
Tom Sayers was born, in Eighteen-Twenty Six.

He couldn't read, he couldn't write,
A product of the time,
But he learned how to lay bricks and fight
On the Brighton-Hastings Line.

He found more work upon the railway,
Helped build Kings Cross, then Chalk Farm,
Where he had his first bout, so they say,
Broke a fifteen stone bullies right arm.

A lightening bolt, just one quick punch,
Caused the lads to drop their trowels,
For they'd never heard such an awful crunch
Or seen a Navvy evacuate his bowels.

Tom Sayers was onlyfFive foot eight,
One hundred and fifty pounds, soaking wet,
But nobody of the same height and weight,
Would fight such a potent threat.

So, he had to take on the 'Heavies'
Giving away inches and stones,
And was partial to a few cheeky bevvies,
Before going out to break bigger bones.

Eventually came the Championship of England,
He was matched with the 'Tipton Slasher'
Bill Perry, whose knuckles had been sharpened
Upon the skulls of many a whippersnapper.

At the Isle of Grain, for nearly ten rounds,
Perry wouldn't relinquish his title,
Or the purse of four hundred pounds,
Which, out of the two, was more vital.

But the Tipton man, could slash no more,
Despite the coaxings from his camp,
Pole-axed he fell, face down on the floor,
Tom Sayers, the new English Champ!

Next came the first ever World Title fight,
April the Seventeenth, Eighteen Hundred and Sixty,
Tom Sayers, the pride of British might,
Against John Heenan, the American gypsy.

Heenan stood six foot, two hundred pounds,
The scourge of San Francisco Docks,
Where he was paid to throw his weight around,
Breaking strikes and heads with rocks.

An enforcer, big and belligerant,
Feared on every Steamship-Packet,
He even once knocked out a cormorant
For making a mess on his jacket.

All over England excitement mounted,
Day and night their merits were studied,
Hours to the fight eagerly counted,
From peasants to the blue-blooded.

It was the only topic of conversation,
Relief from the war in Crimea,
Relief from Imperial Legislation,
Relief they had never listened to Chris Rea!

For two and a half hours they battled and bled,
Until Aldershot Constabulary happened by,
With that, every man and his dog fled,
The fight, it was declared a tie.

Sayers and Heenan tried to resume,
The American thought the result a con,
Though he spent the next two days in a darkened room,
As Sayers sipped champagne down The Swan.

Tom never fought again after this draw,
And went back to his favoured pastime,
Bought a pub, put his name above the door,
And died five years later, aged just thirty-nine.

So let's not forget this pugalist
Who is buried up in Highgate,
And remember those North Laine fists,
That punched so true and so straight.

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 236, September/October 2015]


This page was added on 03/11/2015.

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