A brief introduction to

6 Surprising stories told through public memorials

We asked the public to tell us about England’s secret, unknown and forgotten memorials and bring to light the often inspirational and poignant stories they tell.

Murals and shrines, inscriptions on benches and trees, plaques marking battles fought and loved ones lost.

The way we memorialise publically and personally says a lot about our local history.

Earlier this year we asked you to tell us about England’s secret, unknown and forgotten memorials and bring to light the often inspirational and poignant stories they tell.

Here are 6 of your suggestions:

1. A bridge in Bristol is named in honour of a slave

Pero's Bridge, Bristol
Pero’s Bridge, Bristol. Copyright Nilfanion, creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons

The pedestrian footbridge that spans Bristol’s floating harbour opened in 1999 and is named in honour of Pero Jones. In 1765, wealthy slave plantation owner and sugar merchant, John Pinney, bought 12 year old Pero to work on his Mountravers plantation in Nevis – a small island in the Caribbean Sea. In 1784, Pero accompanied the Pinney family move to Bristol and served as a personal servant to John Pinney for 32 years. Pero’s Bridge, designed by Irish artist Eilis O’Connell, commemorates the life of one slave who lived and died in the city.

2. A stone on the Moors is thought to mark the grave of a giant

Wade's Stone, Yorkshire. Image courtesy of Tees Archaelology
Wade’s Stone, Yorkshire. Image courtesy of Tees Archaelology

Standing stones are prehistoric ritual or ceremonial monuments, with dates ranging from the late Neolithic to the end of the Bronze Age (c.3000 to 800 BC). A Scheduled Monument, Wade’s Stone in the parish of Barnby has links to local folklore and is the most ancient of all of the contributions received.

The giant Wade and his wife Bell were said to live in a castle in Lythe and kept cattle on the moors. Wade’s Causeway, which crosses Wheeldale Moor in the National Park, is said to have been built by the giant so that Bell could milk her cows and the iconic Hole of Horcum (a 400 metre deep valley) is said to have been formed when Wade scooped up a handful of earth to throw at Bell during an argument. A nearby hill – Blakey Topping – is thought to have been formed in the process.

3. A giant steel sculpture represents normal people who have lived extraordinary lives

'Stragglers' sculpture, Scarborough, Yorkshire.
‘Stragglers’ sculpture, Scarborough, Yorkshire. Copyright Historic England.

‘Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers’ is a giant steel structure in rusting steel based on a former miner from County Durham who, as a soldier, was one of the first allied troops to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the end of the Second World War.

The artist Ray Lonsdale explained that the sculpture represents ordinary people pulled out of ordinary lives because of war, who involuntarily experienced extraordinary things and whose lives were profoundly affected as a consequence. It was on loan to the town, but a local campaign and the generosity of one donor has made the sculpture a permanent fixture.

4. A public sculpture marks the site of a former gallows

The public sculpture of the Dorset Martyrs by Dame Elisabeth FrinkCopyright Historic England

The public sculpture of the Dorset Martyrs by Dame Elisabeth Frink was put forward, as it commemorates those who in the 16th and 17th centuries were executed for their religious beliefs at Gallows Hill in Dorchester. The Grade II listed sculpture – three standing bronze figures – was installed on the site of the former gallows in 1986.

The Council of Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, and the Catholic Community in Dorset, commissioned Elisabeth Frink to make the public sculpture, who had been brought up in the Catholic faith.

5. A mural in Hull recognises the loss of life of trawler men

Mural, Hull
Mural of Lillian Bilocca from the Headscarf Revolutionaries, Hull. Copyright Historic England

One of Hull’s most famous campaigners, Lilian Bilocca fought for better safety rights on the trawlers after the ‘triple trawler tragedy’ claimed 58 lives in 1968. Lil was part of the ‘headscarf revolutionaries’ – a group of fishermen’s family members – and led a direct action campaign to prevent undermanned trawlers from putting to sea. Her petition for the Fisherman’s Charter inspired 10,000 signatures. A mural covering the side of a house in hull, unveiled in 2016, recognises the work of Bilocca and the loss of life.

6. A monument in Wiltshire warns against lying

The Ruth Pearce (or Pierce) monument in Devizes, Wiltshire. Copyright Arpingstone via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

The Ruth Pearce (or Pierce) monument in Devizes, Wiltshire, stands in the market place opposite the Corn Exchange building. The story goes that Ruth was buying corn at the Exchange when the merchant found he was short of money. Everyone said they had paid and Ruth said that not only had she paid but God could strike her dead if she was lying. At that moment she was struck by lightning and in her hand was the money she hadn’t handed over. The story was true-ish – Ruth dropped dead whilst haggling over corn and the monument was put up in 1814 by religious zealots to warn against using the name of God when lying.

Written by Marina Nenadic, Marketing Executive at Historic England

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