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London's unsung heroes and where you can find tributes to them

Katie Wignall

London is covered with thousands of memorials, sculptures, busts and plaques but often they just showcase the same old faces that we know from history. Look Up London's Katie Wignall reveals the memorial's that honour the capital's unsung heroes:

Three Mills Green Tragedy, Bow 

'Helping Hands' by Alec Peever (2001) remembers a tragic accident on July 12 1901 at the Nicholson Gin Distillery at Three Mills, when Thomas Pickett was poisoned by gas while working in a well on this spot. His comrades Godfrey Maule Nicholson, Frederick Elliott and Robert Underhill 'successively descended in heroic efforts' but they all died trying to save him. It's also mentioned on Watt's mural in Postman's Park near St Paul's Cathedral. 

Photo by Look Up London

 Dave Squires

For over a decade, much-loved street sweeper Dave Squires kept the areas around Lower Marsh and Waterloo station spick and span, but after a long illness he finally passed away in 2009. The people of Lambeth missed his happy and positive persona so much that Southbank Mosaics in Waterloo decided to erect a memorial to him, which still stands on Lower Marsh. 

Annie Besant Plaque

Photo by Look Up London

Annie Besant

Bow quarter, which is now made up of converted flats, stands on the site of the old Bryant and May Match factory, whose terrible working conditions were fought against Annie Besant and her fellow workers in 1888. Factory owners tried to get the workers to sign a statement refuting the allegations of bad conditions but the workers, led by Annie, refused. This caused some of them to be sacked but eventually galvanised the workforce to strike, leading to the factory caving to their demands of better conditions, an important milestone in both trade union and women’s rights movements. 

Photo by Look Up London

Chevalier d'Eon

Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (but let's go with the easier Chevalier d'Èon) was a French soldier, diplomat and spy. Born in France, d'Éon lived in London 1762-1777 as a man, and 1786-1810 as a woman. On his first visit to the capital d'Èon was part of the French Embassy, helping to negotiate the Peace of Paris which ended the Seven Year War. When re-called to France, d'Éon refused to return – despite being awarded the Croix de St Louis – wanting to stay in the more lenient and liberal London. D'Èon made a name for herself in the capital, performing extraordinary fencing performances dressed as a lady, despite not being the most 'feminine' of transvestites (she was known to hitch up her skirt when going up stairs). This didn’t stop contemporary feminist writers including Mary Wollstonecraft hailing D'Éon as ‘a shining example of female fortitude'. D'Éon's name is carved on the Burdett-Coutts memorial in St Pancras Old Church, NW1.

Photo by Look Up London

Minnie Lansbury Memorial Clock, Bow Road

Daughter-in-law to George Lansbury (leader of the Labour party 1931-35) Minnie was a political activist in her own right and joined the East London Suffragettes in 1915. She was elected alderman on Poplar's first Labour council in 1919 and two years later she was one of five women (along with their male colleagues) on Poplar council that went to prison for refusing to levy unfairly high tax rates on the East End's poor. During her time in prison she contracted pneumonia leading to her death aged only 32.

Photo by Look Up London

Violette Szabo

This monument at Albert Embankment in Vauxhall represents everyone who lost their lives working as SOE (Special Operations Executive) agents behind enemy lines during WWII in Europe. In particular the bust depicts Violette Szabo, the youngest of the recruits who served on two missions in occupied France. On her second mission she was captured, interrogated under torture and deported to Germany. On February 5 1945 she was executed at Ravensbrück concentration camp in Berlin. The sculpture’s plinth states: 'In the pages of history their names are carved with pride'.

Photo by Look Up London

Jacob the Dray Horse, Queen Elizabeth Street

In the sixteenth century part of Bermondsey become known as Horselydown – deriving from 'horse-lie-down' – and referred to a resting place for horses before they crossed London Bridge. The Courage Dray Horses (from the Old English ‘Dragan’ meaning to draw or haul) were stabled on the site of this statue in the nineteenth century and used to deliver beer from Courage breweries across London. Heroes indeed. The horse can be found in the centre of The Circle building complex on Queen Elizabeth Street.

For more monuments around town, check out five historical things to look out for in Southwark.

Or, here are five historical things to look out for in Spitalfields.

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