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Britain’s Biggest Headstone Honouring Father Of Nine Could Be Torn Down By Council

Jess Hardiman

Published 
| Last updated 

Britain’s Biggest Headstone Honouring Father Of Nine Could Be Torn Down By Council

Featured Image Credit: SWNS

A headstone honouring a bare-knuckle boxer dad-of-nine is at risk of being torn down by the council after it transpired that the ‘large memorial’ was erected ‘without permission’. 

The huge marble memorial – believed to be Britain’s biggest headstone – was created to honour Big Willy Collins, who died at the age of 49 after collapsing on holiday with his family in Majorca in July 2020. 

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

The headstone at Shiregreen Cemetery in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, is crafted from solid Carrara marble and weighs 37 tonnes. 

Along with depictions of Jesus, biblical scenes and two life-sized statues of Big Willy, the memorial even features a solar-powered jukebox playing his favourite tracks, with mourners also able to connect to a speaker through Bluetooth to play their own songs. 

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

However, council bosses have revealed that the headstone was erected without permission, meaning it may have to be demolished. 

Cllr Alison Teal, Executive Member for Sustainable Neighbourhoods, Wellbeing, Parks and Leisure at Sheffield council said: “We are aware of a large memorial which has been erected in Shiregreen Cemetery. 

“This memorial was built without permission, and we are currently considering our next steps.” 

The headstone, which is lit with LED lights that change colour, is under 24-hour CCTV monitoring, which Willy’s family can access on their phones and use to ‘speak’ to him. 

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

However, Cllr Teal made it clear that there are strict planning laws governing the sizes and dimensions of graves. 

She said: “All plans for grave memorials should be submitted to the council and must receive approval from Bereavement Services before they are erected.

“For submissions, applicants must provide several details, including the material and size of the memorial, the proposed inscription and a sketch. 

“A memorial should be less than 75mm thick and no taller than 1.35m from ground level."

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

She added: “Cemeteries are a place where people can come, pay their respects and visit loved ones who are no longer with us. 

“We understand memorials are deeply personal, however we must have rules in place to ensure fairness.” 

Willy’s daughter, Mary Collins, 30, earlier dismissed suggestions that the family was concerned the headstone may be taken down, having said: 

“We don’t worry as all the plots taken up, we own. 

“We bought all the plots as it’s a family grave, so we’re not taking over more space than it should be. 

“From behind, all of the plots are ours, but when someone dies the headstone starts at the head. We’re not worried, and it’s well taken care of. We jet wash that road all the time. We have a lot of respect. 

Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

“My father’s grave is on a hill, so it has to be raised anyway. It’s in line with other headstones.” 

But when asked to comment on the council’s new statement, Mary confirmed a meeting had been arranged with the local authority to discuss the future of the memorial. 

She said: “At the moment, there’s going to be some kind of meeting on Monday, so on Monday, we can comment further then. 

“There are larger headstones in that graveyard than that. But there’s literally nothing more we can comment on until Monday when we have a meeting with the council.” 

One of 16 children, Willy – known by many as the ‘King of Sheffield’ - had been the patriarch of the Collins family and had around 400 nieces and nephews. 

Hundreds of mourners lined the streets of Sheffield last August for Willy’s funeral – his body carried in a gold-plated casket, transported by a horse-pulled carriage. 

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

When the headstone was unveiled on Thursday 17 March, Mary paid tribute to her late dad, saying he was ‘the best father in the world’. 

She said: "It’s a sad day but it’s also a way to show the world what he meant to us. 

"Our father was a family man and he means the world to us – he still means the world to us. We’ve given him everything we’ve got and he deserves it.” 

Mary continued: “He loved Sheffield. He was as much a Sheffield man as he was an Irish man. 

"If you met him once for five minutes you would never forget him. 

"We now have somewhere where we can meet and talk about him and for others to remember him. 

"He was my best friend. Not a day goes by where we all don’t think of him.” 

Topics: UK News

Jess Hardiman
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