Mural on the side of a building commemorating the Battle of Cable Street
The Cable Street Mural, East London commemorates the Battle of Cable Street which took place on Sunday 4 October 1936 © jo-marshall via Wikimedia Commons
The Cable Street Mural, East London commemorates the Battle of Cable Street which took place on Sunday 4 October 1936 © jo-marshall via Wikimedia Commons

Uncovering England’s Secret, Unknown or Forgotten Memorials

Murals and shrines, inscriptions on benches and trees, plaques to battles fought and loved ones lost. The way we memorialise publicly and personally says a lot about our local history.

Research published in 2018 shows that 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men have created a memorial of their own. From statues and street names to street shrines and temporary artworks, we're exploring the variety of ways people and events have been commemorated.

For our 'Immortalised' season of activity in 2018, we looked at the changing memorial landscape and how some of our once revered public figures have become symbols of difficult histories. Who has been left out, who should perhaps be contextualised.

As part of this work, we asked for help in identifying little-known memorials. Here’s a selection of some that were nominated by the public that bring to light the often inspirational and poignant stories they tell.

Jarrow Crusaders, County Durham

A bronze statue commemorates the 200 shipyard workers who marched from the town of Jarrow to Parliament in October 1936 to highlight their unemployment and poverty. They carried a petition to the British government requesting the re-establishment of industry in the town following the closure of its main employer, Palmer's shipyard, in 1934. During their journey the 'crusaders' received sustenance and hospitality from local branches of all the main political parties, and were given a broad public welcome on their arrival in London. Initially the march produced few results: Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to meet the marchers and the depression in the North East continued for many years. But as time went on the Jarrow March was recognised as a defining event of the 1930s and helped to foster the change in attitudes which paved the way for improved working conditions. The statue, commissioned by the supermarket chain, Morrisons, sits outside its store in Jarrow.

Crossbones Graveyard, Southwark

A place for the commemoration of ordinary people who have been rendered by society as outsiders. There is a long-held belief that this patch of wild ground was once a paupers' burial ground and, before that, the final resting place for 'Winchester Geese' - prostitutes from the stews of Southwark. By the time it closed in 1853, Crossbones held the mortal remains of an estimated 15,000 paupers. In the 1990s excavations associated with the extension of the Jubilee Line found bones and it is now a wild garden shrine to 'the outcast dead' with photographs, ribbons, flowers, poems and other ephemera attached to the fence. Every year, around Halloween, a ceremony is held for those ostracised.

Dolly Peel, South Shields

Dorothy Peel (Dolly) was a fishwife, smuggler and protector of local sailors and an infamous character from Victorian South Shields. She is commemorated by a statue in the centre of the town. During the Napoleonic Wars her husband and son were press-ganged to serve in the Royal Navy, and so Dolly sneaked on board as well. Once discovered she was nursing sick and wounded sailors. Her work was so respected she was allowed to stay on board with her family and was pardoned for interfering with naval practice. Her husband and son were released from the navy and exempted from future press-ganging. The incident made her into a local heroine. Her statue was commissioned in the 1980s by her great-great-great grandson and is intended as a tribute to the strength of local working women.

'Cracker Packers' on a Carr's Table Water Biscuit, Carlisle

The 'Cracker Packers' was the affectionate nickname for workers at the former Carr's factory in Caldewgate. A bronze statue to commemorate the factory's largely female workforce was commissioned by Carlisle City Council. Unveiled in March 2018, it features two women workers, one from 1910 and one from the present day. They are standing on a bronze Carr's Table Water Biscuit mounted on a granite plinth. At its height Carr's employed 3,000 workers, the majority of whom were women who began work in the factory at the age of just 14. Often the factory would be the place of work for many generations of the same family, with women dedicating their entire working lives to Carr's crackers.

Martineau Guest House, Tynemouth

Harriet Martineau (1802 - 1876), novelist, political economist, and England's first woman journalist, regained her health at this property from 1840 to 1845. Martineau, famous for her progressive politics and feminist perspectives on marriage, children and domestic life, also used popular fiction to address economic issues such as strikes and taxation. In addition to 50 books, Martineau penned over 1,600 leader articles on the issue of slavery - to which she was opposed. She spent two years travelling around America, having arrived during pro-slavery riots. She lent the weight of her (then well known) name to the abolitionist cause - which was seen as a wildly radical move at the time. At an unveiling of a statue of her in Boston in 1877 Wendell Phillips, in his last public address, said: "It is easy to be independent when all behind you agree with you, but the difficulty comes when nine hundred and ninety-nine of your friends think you are wrong. Then it is the brave soul that stands up, one among a thousand … this was Harriet Martineau."

Male inmates, former Watford Workhouse

Etched bricks on the walls of the former male courtyard of the Watford Workhouse commemorate some of the inmates who died there. Their names are shown, and sometimes the dates when they died. It is believed that they have no other memorial or grave marker. Watford Workhouse was built in 1836-7 and could house up to 100 inmates. Though it was often a last resort, the 'inmates' were there of their own free will. People usually ended up in the workhouse if they were too poor, old or ill to support themselves. Before the establishment of public mental asylums, the mentally ill and mentally handicapped were often consigned to the workhouse too. The building is now part of Watford General Hospital on Vicarage Road.

Stained glass window, All Saints Church, Cambridge

The window, unveiled in 1944, features four women and their dedication to humanitarian work: Josephine Butler - campaigner for women's rights and women's health; Elizabeth Fry - prison reformer; Edith Cavell - pioneering nurse who during the First World War saved the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination, before being found and executed by firing squad; and Mother Cecile (Annie) Isherwood - founder of the Community of the Resurrection of our Lord in South Africa.

Bridle Bridge, Girsby, Yorkshire

The bridge was paid for by wealthy landowner, Theophania Blackett, to allow public access to the nearby church on the order of the Court of Queen's Bench in London. The situation arose because Theophania did not want the public to walk across her land in order to reach All Saints Church. Whilst the bridge made access to the church possible, local people were denied access to beautiful countryside on their doorstep - pushed out by wealth. A stone on the bridge is inscribed, 'Bridle Bridge, Erected by Theophania Blackett 1870, Thomas Dyke Esq, Civil Engineer'.

Milepost in memory of Eily Gayford, London

In 1942, Eily Gayford and Molly Traill began a training scheme for women to work as boat crews on the canals, to help combat a shortage during the Second World War. The scheme took place on the Grand Union Canal and Eily (known as Kit) went on to write a biographical account of her experiences, 'The Amateur Boatwomen: Canal Boating 1941-1945'. The trainees later became known as Idle Women. The milepost is on the Grand Union Canal towpath, south of Widewater Lock.

'The Xylophone Man', Nottingham City Centre

An engraved plaque commemorates Frank Robinson, also known as 'The Xylophone Man', who for years played the instrument in Nottingham's city centre. The memorial was paid for by public donations after Frank died in 2004 at the age of 73. Unveiled in 2005, the plaque reads "He played his Xylophone here for fifteen years, bringing a smile to the faces of the people of Nottingham".

Warren James mural, The Fountain Inn, Parkend, Gloucestershire

In 1808 Parliament directed that large areas of the Forest of Dean be enclosed in order to satisfy an increased demand for naval timber. Unable to compete with the outside industrialists, and denied their ancient rights to collect timber or graze animals in the enclosed areas, many Foresters were subject to poverty. Unrest grew and Warren James (1792-1841) emerged as a populist leader. In 1831 he led a group of up to 3,000 Foresters in open revolt against the Crown, tearing down around 60 miles of fencing in an attempt to retake possession of the enclosures. James was tried and sentenced to death, then deported to Tasmania. He was pardoned five years later, but unable to return home, he died in 1841.

'Immortalised' Season

The 'Immortalised' Season helped people explore the country's memorial landscape - who is remembered, who is missing, and why. It included events, an exhibition and a design competition.

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