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Who is the biggest St Helens legend of them all?
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Who is the greatest legend St Helens has ever had?

One member of a popular local Facebook group recently asked people from the area their views on the most impressive of them all – and we want to hear what you think.

Jon Miligan asked on the St Helens Back in the Day page: “Who would you class as a true ‘St Helens legend’?

“Still with us or not, famous or not, they could be sporting, or maybe someone who has worked tirelessly within their profession, maybe someone big in industry, someone who helped put the town on the map, someone has gone up and beyond doing charity work…

“Or they could be one of life’s unintentional heroes that we all simply know of!”

Nearly 200 people flooded him with ideas – and we share a handful of the most common suggestions below.

Sister Duffy

Sister Duffey.
Sister Duffey. (Image: St Helens Library Archive Service)

Several people suggested Sister Kathleen Duffy, a local nurse at the former Providence Hospital renowned for her care and Christian spirit.

Alan Varley wrote: “Only one St Helens legend. Sister Duffy.”

Hundreds of local people attended her funeral and paid their respects on social media to the nurse, who moved to St Helens from Ireland as a young woman, after she passed away last year.

The Pilkingtons

The Greengate Works in St Helens.

The names of several Pilkington family members cropped up several times, in honour of their pivotal role in making St Helens the glass capital of the world.

The company was born in St Helens almost 200 years ago, and remained at the cutting edge of glass production ever since.

Alastair Pilkington invented the ‘float glass’ process in the 1950s – a discovery that revolutionised glass-making the world over.

Steve Prescott

Many people said St Helens’ greatest figure had to be this Saints legend – as much for what he did after his playing career as during it.

Gary Taylor best summed up why: “There’s only one that can be classed as a legend, and that’s obviously Steve Prescott.”

“The man was tireless even when diagnosed with a terminal illness, he strived to raise millions for charity, his wife and two children must have been so proud.”

Keiron Cunningham

St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham celebrates with the trophy after winning the 2014 First Utility Super League Grand Final
St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham celebrates with the trophy after winning the 2014 First Utility Super League Grand Final 

Keiron Cunningham’s legendary status is beyond question in St Helens, with a statue of the former Saints player outside Langtree Park.

The rugby league hero is now St Helens RLFC’s head coach, after hundreds of appearances and impressive successes for the club in the 1990s and 2000s.

Mark Johnson wrote: “Keiron Cunningham defo, rugby playing legend.”

Johnny Vegas

Johnny Vegas with his dad.
Johnny Vegas with his dad. 

Carole Ford and several others suggested local funny man Johnny Vegas.

Plenty of people in St Helens know the renowned comedian personally, as he is often among the crowds or on the stage at local community events.

As well as his stand-up, the star is best known for his roles in TV shows including Ideal, Benidorm and a popular ITV Digital advert with a puppet called Monkey.

Ray French

Ray French, top right, at a recent rugby league heritage event in St Helens Central Library.
Ray French, top right, at a recent rugby league heritage event in St Helens Central Library.

Local boy Ray French is one of the few rugby players to have represented England not only in rugby league – but in the union game as well.

He played first in the national rugby union team, before switching to rugby league and playing for Saints in the 1960s.

But he is probably best known and loved as a major rugby league commentator, commentating on every Challenge Cup final between 1982 and 2008.

He also had a spell as a teacher at Cowley School, now Cowley International College.

Dave Roughley wrote: “Ray French. A true gentleman and a fantastic teacher. A true ambassador for St Helens.”

Martin Murray

Arthur Abraham (R) of Germany and Martin Murray of Great Britain exchange punches 

Local legend Martin Murray is a former British and Commonwealth champion, and one of Britain’s top boxers.

The 33-year-old may have lost four world title bids – sometimes by the narrowest of margins – but he remains steadfast in his determination to reach the top.

Julie Horsley Foster wrote: “Will always be a sporting legend from st helens in my eyes…. his career isn’t over yet.”

David Yates

Alison Sudol with director David Yates, on the set of Fantastic Beasts 

Stephen Bebbington suggested David Yates , who played a major role in making the Harry Potter movies the global sensations they became – as director of several of the films.

But he started out in St Helens, with a Super 8 camera bought by his mum.

The Rainhill director, who attended St Helens College, is also behind the latest outing – the prequel due for release in November, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Him.

Pickle Eddie and the Bartons

Bartons Pickles products are now back on sale at Morrisons in the north west.

Kathryn Howard nominated Edmund ‘Pickle Eddie’ Barton, the director of local family pickle firm Bartons Pickles for more than half a century.

It is hard to overstate how well-loved their range of pickles are in St Helens, with many people delighted recently when Morrisons caved into local demand to put them back on sale.

Fans include former Saints star Eddie Cunningham, and comedian Johnny Vegas.

Johnny Welly

Johnny Welly may not have invented glass, but he is still among the best-known and best-loved characters in St Helens.

If you haven’t heard of Johnny – also known as Wellies, Wellyman and several other affectionate names – you obviously haven’t spent much time on the streets of St Helens.

Kerry Ashton wrote: “Johnny W was the first person I thought of.”

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