Prostitutes and murder victims, but no 'slave traders' - who the public does and doesn't want to honour with memorials

Public also backs Grade II listing for gravestone of anti-slavery campaigner in Bristol, home of controversial statute of 'slave trader' Edward Colston

A memorial to comedian Rik Mayall in his birth town of Harlow, Essex, is among those nominated by the public as worthy of more recognition
A memorial to comedian Rik Mayall in his birth town of Harlow, Essex, is among those nominated by the public as worthy of more recognition

Memorials to countless prostitutes, two murder victims and one “headscarf revolutionary” have been nominated by the British public in a nationwide search for little-known tributes that deserve greater recognition.

Other nominations include working-class heroes whose names are recorded in “the people’s Westminster Abbey”, and a mural for the late comedian Rik Mayall.

The call for nominations was made by Historic England, the public body that advises the government on heritage listings, as part of its “Immortalised” project, which examines who Britain chooses to honour and who the country fails to notice or prefers to forget.

Historic England said the project also aims to review the “challenging histories” behind “contested” memorials like the statue of Edward Colston, the once revered Bristol MP and philanthropist whose links to the slave trade have now seen him branded “one of most evil men in British history”.

Explaining the thinking behind Immortalised, Historic England said: “It will explore how, why and who England remembers in its streets, buildings and spaces – who has been left out, and who should perhaps be contextualised.”

A spokeswoman added: “We were inundated with suggestions for memorials that deserved more recognition. People were really excited about the project.”

The public response has now led to seven relatively unknown memorials either gaining listed status or having their current listing upgraded.

Among them is the now-Grade II-listed gravestone of 19th century anti-slavery campaigner and social reformer Mary Carpenter. It is in Bristol, the city where controversy rages about the statue of Edward Colston.

Also getting listed status are memorials to the murder victims Sarah Smith of Wolstanton and Charlotte Dymond of Bodmin Moor.

Sarah Smith’s memorial, which now receives a Grade II listing, takes the form of chillingly engraved tombstone in St Margaret’s churchyard in the Staffordshire village of Wolstanton.

As well as recording that Sarah Smith “departed this life” on 29 November 1763 aged 21, it sets in stone a bitter accusation against her alleged killer:

It was C–s B–w
That brought me to my end
With half a pint of poyson​
He came to visit me
Write this on my grave
That all that read it may see

For nearly 250 years, no one was certain who the poisoner was. In 2006, however, local historian Jeremy Crick publicly identified the killer as Charles Barlow, a wealthy farmer who lived near Sarah’s home.

Mr Crick said Barlow killed Sarah to avoid the shame of being named as the father of her illegitimate daughter.

Local burial records suggest the baby died of natural causes soon after her murdered mother. The alleged killer Barlow is thought to have survived to die, unpunished, of old age.

The second murder victim monument to be getting a listing marks the spot on Bodmin Moor where Charlotte Dymond, a servant at Penhale Farm near Camelford, Cornwall, was killed on 14 April 1844.

The memorial to Charlotte Dymond, found dead on Bodmin Moor with her throat cut from ear to ear

Local folklore suggests Charlotte’s ghost roams the moor on the anniversary of her death, still dressed in her Sunday best.

These were the clothes the young servant was wearing when she went for a Sunday stroll with her boyfriend Matthew Weeks – who was recognised by a witness, despite that day’s fog, on account of his pronounced limp.

When they found her body, Charlotte was still in her Sunday best, but with her throat cut from ear to ear.

Weeks was hanged after a jury found he had killed the twenty-something servant after she rejected him, possibly because she was planning to elope with 26-year-old labourer Thomas Prout.

Some have questioned Weeks’ guilt, but there is no doubt on the monument, which has now been given a Grade II listing. It states: “Charlotte Dymond was murdered here by Matthew Weeks.”

The Immortalised project will also include an exhibition, to open in London next month, featuring 50 of the memorials nominated by the public.

Those honoured in the nominated memorials also include some who have died recently, like the comedian Rik Mayall. The Young Ones star, who died aged 56 in 2014, is commemorated by a 20ft mural painted on the side of the Playhouse in Harlow, the Essex town where he was born.

Another nominated mural is the one in Hull honouring the “headscarf revolutionaries” led by Lillian Bilocca, who demanded greater safety controls for fisherman after three trawlers from the city sank with the loss of 58 lives in 1968.

A mural in Hull honours the ‘headscarf revolutionaries’ led by Lillian Bilocca, who demanded greater safety controls for fisherman

The 38-year-old fish factory worker, the mother of a trawlerman, faced death threats from those who resented her “interfering with a man’s domain”. She lost her job after taking three weeks off without leave to devote herself to campaigning, and was reportedly blacklisted by other potential employers.

But “Big Lil” got the safety measures she demanded (after threatening to picket Harold Wilson’s house if the then prime minister refused to meet her). By the time she died aged 59 in 1988, she had become something of a local hero.

Other memorials, however, commemorate those who died centuries ago, in obscurity and sometimes in shame.

Cross Bones Graveyard: honouring the paupers and prostitutes who made up the ‘Outcast Dead’ (David Merrigan/Flickr)

One such memorial is the Cross Bones Graveyard Garden near London Bridge.

A plaque at the entrance pays tribute to “the outcast dead” and records how in Medieval times the site had been the unconsecrated burial ground of prostitutes nicknamed “Winchester Geese”.

They got their name by plying their trade within the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester, who from the 12th century had a palace at Bankside and allowed activities on the land he controlled that were banned elsewhere in London.

The bishop was happy to make money from the prostitutes by taxing their brothels, but he wouldn’t allow them a Christian burial in sacred ground. It is believed that instead they ended up in what became known as Cross Bones Graveyard.

The site was used for burials of the poor until 1853, when it was closed because it was “completely overcharged with dead”.

As the website Flickering Lamps records, a high proportion of those dead were children or babies of the Victorian slums who died before their fifth birthday.

After archaeological investigations in the 1990s, a 2010 BBC documentary found that one girl had died of advanced syphilis, suggesting she was infected as a child, possibly by a man who subscribed to the nonsensical 19th century belief that the disease could be cured by having sex with a virgin.

After years of campaigning, Cross Bones reopened to the public in 2015 in its current form as a community garden and memorial.

The Victorian poor are also honoured in what some regard as “the people’s Westminster Abbey”: the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Postman’s Park near St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The memorial, in a park which acquired its name due to its popularity with workers on their lunch break from the nearby old General Post Office, was the brainchild of Victorian painter George Frederick Watts.

He outlined his “Jubilee suggestion” in a letter to The Times in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee.

“It is not too much to say,” wrote Watts, “That the history of Her Majesty’s reign would gain a lustre were the nation to erect a monument to record the names of likely to be forgotten heroes.

“The material prosperity of a nation is not an abiding possession; the deeds of its people are.”

Among the first to commemorated on one of the glazed Doulton tablets was Alice Ayres, a “gentle and quiet-spoke” nursemaid who lived in Southwark, London, looking after the young children of her older sister Mary Ann.

In April 1885 Victorian England had been gripped by descriptions of the 25-year-old’s heroism after fire broke out at the property.

Alice had ignored the watching crowd’s entreaties to save herself by jumping from an upstairs window. Instead she had returned through the flames to the bedroom she shared with her three nieces.

She threw a mattress out of the window and then dropped the three young girls onto it or into the arms of the watching crowd.

But by the time it came to saving herself, she was so overcome by the smoke that she slipped half-conscious from the window, hitting a shop sign on the way down and slamming into the pavement.

Despite Queen Victoria herself sending a lady-in-waiting to get updates on the young woman’s condition, she died days later of her injuries, with her last words being reported as “I tried my best and could try no more”.

“Not one woman in a thousand would have shown the silent abnegation and practical pluck of Alice Ayres,” recorded one typically sentimental Victorian newspaper account. “When the moment arrived, the lofty, brave soul in her which had done its simple duties rose to heroic heights

A glazed Doulton tablet in London commemorates the heroism of Alice Ayres (Alamy)

Alice Ayres has already received the strange compliment of featuring in the 2004 film Closer, based on the Patrick Marber play, in which Natalie Portman played a character who steals Alice’s identity after reading her plaque in the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice.

Now the memorial itself has had its listing upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*.

The other three memorials being granted listed status on Monday are:

* Preston Abstinence Memorial, Lancashire, erected in 1859 to commemorate the success of the Temperance Movement: Grade II

* A Peace Memorial erected in Witney, Oxfordshire, to mark the end of the First World War: Grade II

* The Czech Memorial Fountain, unveiled in 1968 in Leamington Spa, to honour those who served in the Czech free army which was based in the town during the Second World War: Grade II

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