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8) ‘HELPING HANDS’

On 12th July 1901, four men died here while re-opening a disused well for Nicholson’s Distillery. Carbon dioxide created by rotting weeds was trapped beneath the water and disturbed by labourer Thomas Pickett (26), overcoming him.

Godfrey Nicholson (29), managing director of Nicholson's, immediately went down to help Pickett, but also collapsed. Two more men, George Elliott (24) and Robert Underhill (24) tried to help, only to die themselves. Bow Fire Brigade removed the bodies using smoke helmets.

A tall cruciform memorial was erected over the well shortly afterwards. Eventually this also commemorated others who had died in workplace accidents. In 2001 it was replaced by sculptor Alec Peever's 'Helping Hands' memorial, incorporating fragments of the original in its plinth. In 2011, the memorial was moved 50 metres and the site of the well was marked by a small plaque. Nicholson, Elliott and Underhill are also commemorated by a plaque in Postman's Park, EC1.

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The ‘Helping Hands’ memorial