THE recently-updated Oxford Dictionary of National Biography lists the lives of many famous people and covers about 2,400 years of history. Some recent editions include Wallace Hartley from Colne, Lancs, a violinist and leader of the band on the SS Titanic, who continued to play as the ship went down.

An entry of local interest is that of Jane Harrison, the BOAC air stewardess who died rescuing passengers from a burning plane after a crash at Heathrow in 1968.

She is the only woman to receive the George Cross posthumously in peace time.

Another is local heroine Alice Ayers, (1859-1885) who lived for a time at Magdala Road, Isleworth.

Alice was employed by her brother-in-law and sister, Henry and Mary Chandler, who had an oil and paint shop in Union Street, Southwark.

Alice was nursemaid and household assistant, and lived with the family above the shop.

In the early hours of April 24, 1885 fire broke out in the shop and quickly spread, trapping the family upstairs.

Alice tried to wake her sister and her husband, but thick smoke drove her back.

However, she managed to get three of her nieces to an open window and threw down a mattress into the street, where a crowd had gathered.

Two of the children, one badly injured, were safely dropped to the bedding below.

But one child, Ellen, was terrified and hung on to her tightly. Alice threw her out, and the girl was caught by one of the men below.

Following the entreaties of the crowd to save herself, Alice turned as if to go back to look for others members of the family.

But overcome by smoke inhalation, she fell from the window, hitting the shop's sign before plunging to the pavement.

Suffering spinal injuries, she was taken to Guy's Hospital. The incident was soon taken up by the national press, and Queen Victoria sent a lady-in -waiting to the hospital to see how she was. Unfortunately, Alice died from her injuries two days later.

He sister and brother-in-law perished in the fire, with the body of Henry later found on the stairs clutching a strong box containing the shop takings and Mary found close to a window with her six-year-old son, also called Henry.

Alice was laid out in Guy's chapel, and floral tributes worth some £8,000 in today's money arrived at the chapel.

The public imagination was captured by the story of Alice, and she underwent what has been described as a secular canonisation.

A memorial service was held in St Saviour's Church, now Southwark Cathedral, and she was buried in Isleworth Cemetery, her coffin being carried by teams of firemen.

In the 1890s, social reformer George Watts campaigned for a permanent tribute to such heroic people, and in 1902 Alice's name was added to a memorial to heroic self sacrifice in Postman's Park, near St Paul's Cathedral.

In Isleworth Cemetery, a 16-foot obelisk was erected at her grave and can still be visited, a memorial to a very brave young lady.