TEN YEARS AGO: Sir ‘Enry’s Blue Plaque was first for the Old Kent Road

Kevin Quinn (14 September, 2018) Culture

At his old stomping ground of the Thomas A Beckett where he '...sweated for many an hour and lost loads of blood…’

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The News will regularly delve into our archives to bring you stories that you might remember from the paper – this is from ten years ago, almost to the day:

Sir Henry Cooper was immortalised down the Old Kent Road, when he unveiled a Blue Plaque in his honour.

The ceremony took place at the Thomas A Beckett pub, a place where in his own words he ‘…sweated for many an hour and lost loads of blood…” but his old training venue still holds a special place in his heart.

The Blue Plaque scheme, run by the ‘News’ and Southwark Heritage in association with Southwark Council, commenced in 2002 and by September 2008 40 plaques had already been erected in the borough, with Sir Henry’s being the first to be put up on the Old Kent Road.

A host of old boxers and dignitaries gathered to honour the boxing legend, whose family lived in Elsted Road, Walworth, when he was born. Later on in life he lived at Daneville Road, Camberwell, and was clearly delighted with the award from the people who live in the borough he cherished.

He said: “It just a pleasure to come back here and see so many familiar faces. They are older but they all have their hearts in the right places. It is great to be honoured in this way.”

Speaking to the ‘News’ after the ceremony Sir Henry explained that although he moved out of the borough as a young boy, he would often return, not just to train but to visit his many relatives that lived near the boxing gym.

But the venue, although vastly changed, instantly bought back some great memories: “It’s different coming back now, but it’s still lovely and I have some really great memories of the years round here. Even when we moved away we used to come back and visit the relatives.”

Despite being the star turn on this particular day, he never felt the main attraction of the gym as it churned out champion after champion. He added: “If you look at this part of London and Bermondsey in particular, there was a time when there were seven outright Lonsdale Belt winners at one time. If you look at places like Birmingham or Manchester they would not have so many and you have to say that is marvellous and says a lot about the area.”

Sir Henry was as much revered for his charity and TV work after he retired, but amongst his old peers it was still ‘Enry’s hammer, which famously floored Muhammad Ali, that looms large in the memory.

Camberwell boxer Mark Rowe, a former middleweight champion of Britain and the Commonwealth, was at Wembley the night he floored Ali and said: “That left hook was one of the hardest I have ever seen, probably the best in the world at one stage. Once you got hit you stayed hit. I remember seeing him lift a man clear off his feet with that punch.”

Bill Chevalley, 83, a former trainer at the Thomas A Beckett gym, could only sum up his thoughts on Sir Henry in a simple way. He said at the unveiling of the Blue Plaque: “The best thing I can say about him is he is a very nice man. I have known him for many years and he is just such a nice man, along with his brother. They are wonderful people and the way they went about their life meant people outside of boxing loved the sport, and that is a great credit to Henry in particular.”

Sir Henry was the first person to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice, and since his retirement from boxing  carved out a successful TV career, including a stint as a captain on A Question of Sport.

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