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Champion Islington boxer Len Harvey to be honoured with plaque

PUBLISHED: 10:39 19 April 2013 | UPDATED: 10:39 19 April 2013

Glyn Roberts at the Len Harvey exhibition at Islington Museum

Glyn Roberts at the Len Harvey exhibition at Islington Museum

TONY GAY at tonephote@aol.com

An often overlooked champion boxer who campaigned against the colour bar that once stopped black boxers competing for titles is finally to be honoured in his home borough – thanks to the help of the Gazette.

Len Harvey, a great boxer who won 111 of his 133 fights during the first half of the 20th century, is finally to get much-deserved recognition in the form of a green plaque somewhere in Islington – the borough where he lived for 40 years until his death.

Harvey, whose gripping life story was recently featured in the Gazette, and who has been adopted as “one of their own” by Islington Boxing Club, is to be honoured after topping the Islington People’s Plaque poll – gaining 37 per cent of the 4,700 votes submitted.

Harvey was born in Cornwall in 1907 and started fighting at the age of 12, moving to London shortly afterwards.

He went on to become the British champion in three categories – middleweight, light-heavy and heavyweight.

During his career, he ignored the colour bar by insisting on fighting two black fighters, Len Johnson and Larry Gains. Gains, a Canadian fighter, later wrote about Harvey having given him a chance in England.

Harvey finally retired in 1942, after losing a ferocious fight with the famous Freddie Mills.

Harvey then became the licensee of the Star and Garter pub – now the Steam Passage Tavern – in Upper Street, Islington.

But Harvey’s name has been all but forgotten – something Len Harvey fan and ex-boxer Glyn Roberts has been campaigning to have remedied.

Mr Roberts, 45, a lifeguard who lives in Hilldrop Crescent, Holloway – near Harvey’s former Penn Road home – is thrilled that Harvey is now to receive a plaque.

Mr Roberts, who has spent thousands collecting Len Harvey memorabilia, said: “I was absolutely jumping for joy. It just shows that for Islington people, Len Harvey is one of their champions.”

Two other local heroes are also to receive green plaques – social campaigner Betty Knight and pioneering pathologist Dr Gordon Signy.

Ms Knight fought for better living conditions in council homes, particularly on the Spa Green Estate off St John Street, Finsbury, until her death in 2010.

Dr Signy, who lived in Alwyne Road, Islington, was instrumental in developing the investigation and treatment of blood diseases before his death in 1972. He also founded the Journal of Clinical Pathology and captained the British fencing team.

The Islington People’s Plaques scheme was launched by Islington Council in 2010 and has already honoured people such as Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-century advocate of women’s rights, and the comedian Kenneth Williams.

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