The Farnborough Explorer
Interesting Things Around Farnborough

The First World Title Boxing Match

In April 1860, an unusual excursion was booked with the South Eastern Railway. Two trains of 33 carriages each, in which each seat was taken and many stood for the journey (approximately 8000 people). Tickets cost three guineas each and were stamped "To Nowhere". The first train left London Bridge at 3:30am while the second left at 4:20am.

At all events, the police had to stop this excursion's merrymaking, so at dawn they were seen lining the countryside, truncheons at the ready and positioned at all the likely spots between London and Dover. But the tip-offs that the police had been given were false. The trains took the Reading line at Redhill, stopped to water at Guildford, arriving at Farnborough at 7am. The revellers alighted from the train, walked up the hill and along the Farnborough Road, where they selected a meadow near to the Ship Inn (roughly the site now occupied by the car park of the Farnborough Gate shopping complex), then at 7:30, following a pint of ale each, courtesy of the Ship Inn,  John Heenan and Tom Sayers fought what is recognised as the first world title boxing match.

Two hours and twenty seven minutes later, they were level pegging after 42 rounds when the Aldershot Police stormed the ring waving magistrates warrants. Chaos ensued, the referee resigned, but Heenan continued to fight, battering his opponent's companions, then running off in a wild scramble. He had to be carried back to the train, which returned him to London via Bricklayer's Arms Station. Sayers also dodged the police and returned to London to drink champagne at The Swan in the Old Kent Road.

The final round was merely a wild scramble, both men ordered to desist from fighting. The blues being now in force, there was of course no chance of the men continuing, and adjournment was necessary. Heenan had rushed away from the ring, and ran some distance with the activity of a deer, and although he was fit as ever, he was obviously totally blind. Sayers, although tired, was also strong on his pins and could have fought some time longer, although by then the authorities were up in arms in all directions, so it would be a mere waste of time to go elsewhere.

Bell's Life

The fighters shared the 'purse' of £400 which was raised from the excursion ticket sales (the organisers got the rest).

Sayers never faught again and was dead five years later, his funeral at Highgate was attended by 30,000 mourners.

Heenan spent two days in a totally darkened room in London before returning to America. Following several disastrous business ventures, he died in poverty of Tuberculosis in Wyoming in 1875.

The only people who seemed to know where the fight was to take place in advance was the Ship Inn who surprisingly were stocked up enough to be able to keep all the 8000 spectators in refreshments for the two and a half hours of the fight. It was equivalent to twelve weeks of their normal patronage.

Several other people had to dodge the police that day: The Prince of Wales was there, so was Charles Dickens, William Thackery and also Lord Palmerston (the Prime Minister), who was within a few days, being asked pointed questions in Parliament. The outcome of which was a call for a serious code of conduct and by 1865, the "Queensbury Rules" had been formulated.