"Dear Chris, I really enjoyed what you wrote about my great great great grandfather, but I would like to put you right about the "four guardians" - they are Robert Coombes himself.
Many thanks, Alison. Of course, identification would be much easier if the heads could be replaced - restoration of this great monument is long overdue.
There is a similarly adulatory monument in Woolwich churchyard to Tom Cribb, Champion Pugilist of England (1781-1848). It is a stone lion with his paw resting on an urn, with the great boxer's championship belt draped over it. Cribb's funeral was one of the biggest ever seen in London.
Both these monuments are relics of a time when sportsmen may have been worshipped but were actually proxies for noble patrons who could not compete in person for reasons of status and class. As soon as social attitudes changed and the upper classes could compete as long as they didn't do it for a living, amateur athletics displaced professional sport almost completely.
The picture of Tom Cribb's lion comes from "The Black Diamond", Alan Bartlet's website devoted to the boxer.