January 30, 2017
The rather small sign, which is located on a building dating from the 1730s, is now located high up at 34-36 Tavistock Street in Covent Garden (above a blue plaque commemorating author Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), writer of Confessions of an English Opium Eater).
Another of the oldest signs can be found at the corner of Chigwell Hill and The Highway – it refers to ‘Chigwell Streate’ and bears the date 1678.
This Week in London – Emma Hamilton’s life explored; artist self-portraits; and, National Trust garnitures…
November 3, 2016
• Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Horatio Nelson – hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, is the subject of a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. One of the most famous figures of her time, Hamilton rose from obscure beginnings to the heights of celebrity and is best remembered for the scandalous affair she had with Lord Nelson for the six years prior to his death in 1805. Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity brings together more than 200 objects, many of which have never been displayed before, including paintings, letters, costumes and jewellery. Highlights include works by artists George Romney, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence, letters from Hamilton and her lovers, betrothal rings exchanged between Hamilton and Nelson, her songbooks and decorative objects. The exhibition, which runs until 17th April, is accompanied by a series of events including walking tours and late openings. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.
• The first-ever exhibition of portraits of artists in the Royal Collection opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. Portrait of the Artist features more than 150 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and decorative arts including a self-portrait by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1623) which was hung in Whitehall Palace, a portrait of his former assistant Anthony van Dyck (c1627-28), and Cristofano Allori’s work Head of Holofernes (1613) in which the artist appears as the decapitated Holofernes as well as self-portraits by everyone from Rembrandt to Lucien Freud and David Hockney. The exhibition runs until 17th April. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace.
• Sir Joseph Lyons, founder of Lyons tea shops and the ‘Corner Houses’ of London – among the first chain restaurants in England, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Hammersmith. Sir Joseph, who lived at the property in the 1890s close to the now-demolished headquarters of his catering empire at Cadby Hall, opened the doors to his first teashop at 213 Piccadilly in 1894. He was knighted by King George V in 1911. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• On Now: Garnitures: Vase sets from National Trust Houses. Being run in conjunction with the National Trust, the display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington explores the history of ‘garniture’ – sets of ornamental vases unified by their design and a specific context. A status symbol for a period between the 17th and 19th century, garnitures fell out of fashion and complete sets are now extremely rare. The display features garnitures loaned from 13 different National Trust houses as well as objects from the V&A’s collection. Highlights include a garniture made in miniature for a doll’s house, an extremely rate 17th century silver set of jars, a Rococo set and Wedgwood ceramics. The free exhibition runs until 30th April. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/garnitures.
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This Week in London – GPO’s archaeological finds on show; Flora Japonica at Kew; and, a blue plaque for Freddie Mercury…
September 15, 2016
• The most prized archaeological finds from a 1975 excavation of the General Post Office on Newgate Street, one of the largest archaeological sites ever excavated in London, are on show in a new exhibition at the Museum of London. Delivering the Past, the free display features objects from across a 3,000 year period and include everything from Roman era finds such as a dog skull, a rare amber die, a spoon and mortar with the makers’ names of Albinus, Sollus and Cassarius stamped on the side (pictured) to floor tiles and architectural fragments from the medieval parish church of St Nicholas Shambles. There’s also a 17th century Bellarmine beer bottle (these were widely imported from Germany in the 1600s), the only 19th century twisted clay tobacco pipe ever excavated in London, and a 19th/20th century ceramic fragment showing General Post Office branding. The exhibition runs until 8th January. The museum is also offering free 45 minute walks to notable excavation sites around Newgate Street every weekday until the end of October. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• Japan’s native flora comes to Kew from this weekend with a new exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. Flora Japonica features paintings from 30 of the Asian nation’s best contemporary artists as they attempt to capture the beauty of everything from camellias to cherry trees and the delicate Japanese maple. The watercolours have been produced based specimens collected from across Japan as well as, in a couple of cases, specimens found within Kew Gardens. Also on display are works never before seen outside Japan including historic drawings and paintings by revered botanists and artists such as Dr Tomitaro Makino (1863-1957), Sessai Hattori and Chikusai Kato (both Edo period artists), artefacts from Kew’s Economic Botany Collection including traditional Japanese lacquerware collected in the 1880s and wooden panels from 1874, and illustrations from Kew’s collections such as a 17th century illustrated manual of medicinal plants. Runs from Saturday until 5th March after which the exhibition will move to Japan. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.
• An English Heritage blue plaque honouring late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was unveiled at his childhood home in Feltham, in London’s west, earlier this month. Mercury’s parents bought the house in Gladstone Avenue in 1964 after the family had left Zanzibar for the UK. He was still living in the home when he met Queen band mates Brian May and Roger Taylor. The new plaque was revealed on 1st September, on what would have been the singer’s 70th birthday. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
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August 1, 2016
The Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro this week, so we thought it a good occasion to recall a Londoner intimately associated with the Olympics, though not as an athlete but as a coach.
Born in Blackheath, Scipio Africanus – ‘Sam’ – Mussabini was a pioneering athletics coach who, in early 20th century, coached 11 athletes to win medals, including five gold, over five different Olympic Games.
Mussabini, the son of a Syrian-Italian father and French mother, was educated in France and worked, like his father, in journalism, writing for sports magazines and specialising in billiards (which he also played to a high standard).
From the 1890s, he started working, first as a cycling coach and later as an athletics coach in south London, based at Herne Hill Stadium.
His first major success as the latter came when young South African sprinter, Reggie Walker, won gold in the 100 metres at the 1908 London Olympics. In 1913, he was appointed coach of the Polytechnic Harriers at the Herne Hill athletics track.
He would go on to train the likes of Albert Hill – he won gold in the 800 and 1,500 metres at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp – and his most famous student Harold Abrahams who won gold in the 100 metres and silver in the 4 x 100 metre relay at the 1924 Paris Olympics – a role which is depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire (the coach is played by Ian Holm).
Mussabini is famous for the comprehensive and systematic approach he took to training his athletes, an approach which covered the athletes’ lifestyle and diet as well as a rigorous training regime, and which saw him use techniques such as using a cine-camera t0 film his athletes in action and then analysing the footage. He is also noted for having ensured female athletes, like world record sprinter Vera Palmer-Searle, received high quality coaching.
As a paid coach in an age when most were amateurs, he was ostracised by the establishment and apparently only started to receive the recognition he deserved well after his death, particularly following his depiction in Chariots of Fire.
Mussabini, who suffered from diabetes, died in March, 1927, at the age of 60. He was buried in Hampstead Cemetery. There is an English Heritage blue plaque on the house he lived in at 84 Burbage Road (it backs onto the Herne Hill Stadium) between 1911 and 1916.
Mussabini was inducted into the English Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011 while the Mussabini Medal was awarded every year between 1998 and 2007 by Sports Coach UK to honour outstanding coaches.
July 29, 2016
One of the achievements of the short-lived reign of King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII, was the establishment of this hospital for orphans in 1552 in what were once buildings used by the Greyfriars Monastery (for more on the history of Greyfriars, see our earlier post here).
Located in Newgate Street, the hospital soon had a school attached which became known as the Blue Coat School thanks to the distinctive long blue coats the students wore (and still do, the school is now located near Horsham in West Sussex).
Many of the hospital buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 but most were later rebuilt under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren, although the actual work was apparently carried out by others.
Students at the school have included antiquarian William Camden, Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and writer Charles Lamb.
New buildings for girls were opened in Hertford in 1704 and the school moved out to Sussex in 1902 with the General Post Office built over the top of the demolished buildings.
This Week in London – Kew Gardens celebrates its herbaceous borders; the global ‘War on Terror’ at the IWM; Bobby Moore honoured; exposing the camera; and, 60 years of fanzines…
July 28, 2016
• The first of three weekends celebrating the creation of the world’s longest double herbaceous borders – known as the Great Broad Walk Borders – will be held at Kew Gardens this weekend. Made up of 30,000 plants, the borders run along 320 metres of the Broad Walk which was originally landscaped in the 1840s by William Nesfield to provide a more dramatic approach to the newly constructed Palm House (completed in 1848). The spirit of the formal colourful beds he created along either side of the walk have been recreated using a range of plants. To celebrate, Kew are holding three themed weekends, the first of which, carrying a history and gardens theme, is this Saturday and Sunday. As well as talks and drop-in events, there will be a range of family-related activities as well as craft workshops, tours, and shopping. Further weekends will be held on 13th and 14th August (around the theme of the excellence of horticulture at Kew) and the bank holiday weekend of 27th to 29th August (around the theme of a celebration of beauty). For more, head to www.kew.org.
• A new exhibition centring on the experiences of UK citizens and residents suspected but never convicted of terrorism-related activities and the role of the British Government in the ‘Global War on Terror’ opens at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth today. Edmund Clark: War on Terror, Clark’s first major solo show in the UK, looks at the measures taken by states to protect their citizens from the threat of international terrorism and their far-reaching effects, exploring issues like security, secrecy, legality and ethics. Among the photographs, films and documents on display are highlights from five series of Clark’s work including Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition, created in collaboration with counter-terrorism investigator Crofton Black, and other works including the film Section 4 Part 20: One Day on a Saturday, photographs and images from the series Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out and Letter to Omar as well as the first major display of the work Control Order House. Runs until 28th August, 2017. Admission is free. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwm-london/edmund-clark-war-of-terror.
• The only English football captain to win a World Cup, Bobby Moore, has become the first footballer to be honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque. The plaque was unveiled at the footballer’s childhood home at 43 Waverley Gardens in Barking, East London, this week. Moore is best remembered for leading England to a 4-2 win over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• The camera is the subject of a new photography display which opened at the V&A in South Kensington last weekend. The Camera Exposed features more than 120 photographs, including works by more than 57 known artists as well as unknown amateurs. Each work features at least one camera and include formal portraits, casual snapshots, still-lifes, and cityscapes. Among the images are pictures of photographers such as Bill Brandt, Paul Strand and Weegee with their cameras along with self-portraits by Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander and André Kertész in which the camera appears as a reflection or shadow. The display includes several new acquisitions including a Christmas card by portrait photographer Philippe Halsman, an image of photojournalist W Eugene Smith testing cameras and a self-portrait, taken by French photojournalist Pierre Jahan using a mirror. Runs in gallery 38A until 5th March. Free admission. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/the-camera-exposed.
• Sixty years of fanzines – from the development of zine-making back in the 1940s through to today’s – go on show at the Barbican Music Library in the City on Monday. FANZINES: a Cut-and-Paste Revolution features zines including VAGUE, Sniffing’ Glue, Bam Balam, Fatal Visions, Hysteria and Third Foundation among others. The exhibition, which runs until 31st August, is being held in conjunction with this year’s PUNK LONDON festival. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/libraries-and-archives/our-libraries/Pages/Barbican-Music-Library.aspx.
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Last week we finished our series looking at notable English Heritage blue plaques and before we move on to our next special Wednesday series, we’re turning things over to you.
Bearing in mind that the criteria for having a blue plaque includes the fact that the person must have been dead at least 20 years and that at least one building associated with the figure must survive within Greater London (but not the City of London, which isn’t covered by the scheme), who do you think should be commemorated by an English Heritage blue plaque but as yet hasn’t been?
Leave your answer in the comments section below…
Meantime, here’s a recap of the last series (and don’t forget to vote for your favourite below):
Tell us which one you found most interesting here…
We finish our series looking at notable English Heritage blue plaques with a look at a plaque which not only commemorates a prominent Londoner but, unusually, also displays there for all to see the reason (well, an important part of it, anyway) for his prominence.
Yes, we’re talking about Edward Johnston (1872-1944), a master calligrapher who was not only credited with starting the modern revival of the art but is also noted for having created the famous Johnston typeface which he developed for London Transport in the early 20th century.
In a lovely touch, the sans serif typeface he created is that used on the plaque – located at premises at 3 Hammersmith Terrace in Chiswick where he lived from 1905-1912 – itself.
The plaque, which was erected on the building in 1977 by the Greater London Council, was the first to feature the typeface but isn’t the only one: in fact there are four, all of which commemorate people related to London Transport.
The other three commemorated include Frank Pick (1878-1941), a London transport administrator who steered the development of London’s corporate identity – he’s commemorated with a plaque on his former property at 15 Wildwood Road, Hampstead Garden Suburb, with a Greater London Council plaque erected in 1981).
They also include Albert Henry Stanley, Lord Ashfield (1874-1948), the first chairman of London Transport (placed on his former home at 43 South Street, Mayfair, in 1984 by London County Council); and, the most recent plaque commemorating Harry Beck (1902-1974), designer of the London Underground map (placed by English Heritage in 2013 on his former property at 14 Wesley Road in Leyton).
PICTURE: Edwardx/CC BY-SA 4.0
July 13, 2016
The fact the properties can have many residents with the passing of the years means that there’s a select number of properties in London (18 to be exact) which bear more than one English Heritage blue plaque – among them 4 Carlton Gardens in St James’s (home to 19th century PM Lord Palmerston and where General Charles De Gaulle set up the headquarter of the free French forces in 1940).
But among that group is an even more select group – properties which bear two blue plaques with both of those people commemorated coming from the same family. The home at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (pictured above) falls into this group.
Now a museum, the home’s celebrated occupants have included psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud, who lived here briefly in the final years of his life (between 1938 and his death on 23rd September, 1939), and his daughter Anna Freud, the youngest of his six children and herself a pioneering psycho-analyst, who lived here from 1938 until her death in 1982.
Both occupants have their own blue plaques on the property: Sigmund’s original London County Council blue plaque was unveiled on the site by his daughter Anna – then still occupant in the home – in 1956, the 100th anniversary of his birth. It had deteriorated and was replaced in 2002, at the same time a plaque to Anna herself was unveiled.
When Freud had moved to London from Vienna in June, 1938 – following the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, he had initially lived in Primrose Hill before settling in the property in Maresfield Gardens along with his family and a significant collection of furniture from his Vienna consulting rooms.
In 1986, four years after Anna’s death, property was reopened as the Freud Museum and the public can still go inside and see Freud’s study, including his famed consulting couch, just as it was when he lived there.
The Freuds aren’t, of course, the only family members commemorated by English Heritage Blue Plaques – others include suffragette mother and daughters Emmeline and Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst (the first two commemorated on a single plaque at 50 Clarendon Road in Notting Hill and the latter at 120 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea), and father and son Prime Ministers William Pitt the Elder and his son William Pitt the Younger (at 10 St James’s Square in St James’s and 120 Baker Street in Marylebone respectively).
WHERE: Freud Museum London, 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Finchley Road and Swiss Cottage); WHEN: Noon to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £7 adults; £5 seniors; £4 concessions (including children 12-16); children under 12 free; WEBSITE: www.freud.org.uk.
To look at it, you wouldn’t necessarily imagine the memorial marking the former site of the ‘Tyburn Tree’ near Marble Arch was part of the English Heritage Blue Plaques scheme.
But, located on the ground on a traffic island at the junction of Edgware and Bayswater Roads, this memorial commemorating the site of the former gallows at what was once London’s execution grounds (and those who died upon it) is just that.
It’s estimated by some that as many as 60,000 people may have been executed here over the 600 years until the late 1700s
While the plaque only mentions one of the names by which the various gallows erected here were known – Tyburn being the name of the village originally here, others included ‘The Elms’, the ‘The Deadly Never Green Tree’ and the ‘Triple Tree’, the latter presumably a reference to the famous three-sided gallows set up here during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
The last gallows was removed in 1759 when executions were moved into Newgate Prison (for more on the Tyburn Tree, see our earlier post here).
The plaque was erected on the site in 1964 by the London County Council; it replaced an earlier triangular plaque the council had erected here in 1909.
The memorial was restored and rededicated in a ceremony in 2014 with the placement of three oak trees around it (this picture was taken before the restoration).
There is a green City of Westminster plaque nearby which commemorates 105 Roman Catholic martyrs who lost their lives on the gallows between 1535 and 1681 while the deaths of the more than 350 Roman Catholics who died across England and Wales during the Reformation, including those on the Tyburn Tree, are also recalled in a shrine at the nearby Tyburn Convent.
As mentioned last week, there are a number of official English Heritage blue plaques in London which commemorate events rather than people.
Alongside the blue plaque commemorating the first V1 flying bomb to hit London (the subject of last week’s entry) is a blue plaque commemorating the site where one of world’s most famous ships – the SS Great Eastern – was built.
The plaque is located at Burrells Wharf, 262 Westferry Road, on the Isle of Dogs in the Docklands, and it was there that the design of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who had previously designed the SS Great Western and the SS Great Britain, was realised under the direction of naval architect and ship builder John Scott Russell, of J Scott Russell & Co.
The ship, which had a double hull and immense paddle wheels, took some five years to build at a site in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs (if you’re interested in the etymology of the latter, see our earlier post here).
It was supposed to be launched before a crowd of thousands on 3rd November, 1857, (the Great Eastern Ship Company had sold tickets). But the launch was unsuccessful as the equipment supposed to haul the ship to the water failed (and it was during this unsuccessful attempt that the ship was apparently initially christened SS Leviathan; her name was changed to the SS Great Eastern soon after).
A couple of further unsuccessful attempts were made before, on 31st January, 1858, the 211 metre long ship – aided by an unusually high tide – was finally sent into the Thames (unusually, it was launched sideways).
The outfitting of the ship, which started in January, 1859, took six months and on 6th September, the ship made its maiden voyage from London to Weymouth, a voyage which was marred by the tragic death of a number of stokers in a boiler explosion. Sadly, Brunel himself died soon after the maiden voyage, not in the sort of triumphant circumstances he might have hoped for.
While it was originally designed to sail to India and the Far East, it was in the Atlantic where the ship took up the passenger trade. Her first voyage to North America took place in June the following year and the SS Great Eastern continued to cross the Atlantic over the next few years (including during the American Civil War when she took British troops to Canada) but, blighted by back luck (including, in 1862, running into an uncharted rock in New York harbour) and facing the competition of faster, smaller ships, she was never really a commercial success.
Sold off, the SS Great Eastern was reinvented in the mid 1860s as a cable-laying ship and did so in various parts of the world until, after being laid-up in 1874, sailing to Liverpool where she became something of a tourist attraction and a floating billboard before eventually being scrapped in 1889.
There was legend that two skeletons were found between the two hulls when the ship was broken up – that of a riveter and his ‘bash boy’ (a young lad charged with heating and putting the rivets in the hole) – and it was believed by some that it was their deaths which had brought the ship such bad luck.
The plaque was erected in 1992.
PICTURE: Spudgun67/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia
This Week in London – Engineering feats explained; Tate Modern reopens; app for blue plaques; and, the RA’s summer exhibition…
June 16, 2016
• The stories behind some of the world’s most iconic buildings – from the Sydney Opera House to the Centre Pompidou in Paris – and engineering projects like London’s Crossrail will be exposed in a new exhibition at the V&A on the work of Ove Arup – arguably the most influential engineer of the 20th century. Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design, which is being staged on conjunction with the global engineering and design company he founded – Arup, surveys the life, work and legacy of Arup (1895-1988) and features more than 150 previously unseen prototypes, models, films, drawings and photographs as well as new immersive digital displays featuring animations, simulations and virtual reality. As well as presenting information relating to a selection of Arup’s most ground-breaking projects – including collaborations with architects such as Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, the display, which is divided into several distinct sections arranged chronologically, also explores the pioneering work of Arup today on projects like Crossrail, technologies for acoustics studies like SoundLab and SolarLeaf – an experimental bio-reactive facade system that uses micro algae to generate renewable energy. The first major exhibition led by the V&A’s new Design, Architecture and Digital Department, Engineering the World runs at the South Kensington museum until 6th November. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/EngineeringSeason. PICTURE (above): Sydney Opera House under construction, 1966; © Robert Baudin for Hornibrook Ltd. Courtesy Australian Air Photos.
• The new Tate Modern opens its doors to the public tomorrow following a £260 million renovation and expansion. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron (who also designed the original conversion of the Battersea Power Station which opened in 2000), the new Switch House building increases the size of the Tate Modern by 60 per cent. As well as redisplaying the 800 works previously on show, the revamped Tate Modern – which still features the Turbine Hall at its centre – also offers a range of new experiences for visitors, from the subterranean concrete ‘Tanks’ – the first permanent museum spaces dedicated to live art, and a panoramic public viewing terrace on level 10. The museum’s reopening will be celebrated by a free programme of live performances, new commissions and other special events and the museum will stay open until 10pm each evening this weekend when events will include a specially commissioned choral work being performed by more than 500 singers from community choirs around London at 5pm on Saturday. Entry to the Tate Modern on Bankside is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern. PICTURE: © Hayes Davidson and Herzog & de Meuron/Tate
• English Heritage blue plaques were unveiled to ballet dancer Dame Margot Fonteyn and choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton earlier this month. Dame Margot’s plaque was unveiled at her former flat at 118 Long Acre in Covent Garden (conveniently close to the nearby Royal Opera House where she performed) while Sir Frederick’s plaque was unveiled at his former property at 8 Marlborough Street in Chelsea. The pair’s 25 year relationship produced many of her most celebrated performances and his greatest ballets, including Daphnis and Chloe (1951), Sylvia (1952) and Ondine (1958). The unveiling coincided with the release of a new free Blue Plaques app which, as well as helping users to find blue plaques and uncover the stories of those they commemorate, is also intended to provide an expanding series of walking tours. The first, ‘Soho’s Creatives and Visionaries’, follows a route from Oxford Circus to Tottenham Court Road Station, taking in the property where Karl Marx began writing Das Kapital, the house where Canaletto lived and the attic rooms where John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in 1926. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• The 248th ‘summer exhibition’ – featuring the work of 15 international artistic duos in a display curated by leading British sculptor Richard Wilson – opened at the Royal Academy of Arts this week. On display in the Piccadilly institution’s main galleries, the exhibition’s highlights include a new large scale, suspended kite sculpture by Heather and Ivan Morison, two hand-coloured prints from Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Human Rainbow II series, and, an atmospheric photographic installation from Jane and Louise Wilson’s seminal Chernobyl series. Turkish film-maker and artist Kutlug Ataman’s monumental multi-image video installation, THE PORTRAIT OF SAKIP SABANCI, featuring 10,000 LCD panels will also be displayed. Can be seen until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
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There’s quite a few whose London residence (or otherwise) is commemorated by more than one blue plaque. So, breaking away from our usual ‘one plaque’ format, here were listing five of those who have made the grade…
1. William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The late 18th century and early 19th century politician and anti-slavery campaigner tops our list with three English Heritage blue plaques. The first is at 111 Brookwood Road in Battersea – the site of Brookwood House where Wilberforce resided during his anti-slavery campaign. The second is on Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common, the church where Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect with whom he is associated worshipped. And the third is on a property at 44 Cadogan Place in Chelsea where Wilberforce died.
2. Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Like Wilberforce, the 18th century lexicographer Dr Johnson has three English Heritage blue plaques to his name. The first, on his famous Gough Square property in the City of London we’ve already mentioned (see our earlier post here), while the second is on a property at 8 Russell Street, Covent Garden, then occupied by bookseller Thomas Davies, which was where Dr Johnson famously first met James Boswell in 1763. The third time Dr Johnson’s name appears, more unusually, is on a plaque commemorating Essex Street – Dr Johnson is among a number of names listed on it for his role in establishing an “evening club” at the pub, the Essex Head, in the street in 1783.
3. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703): The 17th century diarist seems to pop-up everywhere in central London so it’s not surprising there are two plaques in the English Heritage blue plaques scheme dedicated to him (although both are located in the same street – one he apparently liked very much). The plaques are located at number 12 and number 14 Buckingham Street in Covent Garden and both mark the site of a Pepys residence.
4. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): The writer, publisher and literary critic’s name appears on two properties – at 29 Fitzroy Square in Fitzrovia where Woolf lived between 1907-1911 and on Hogarth House at 34 Paradise Road in Richmond where she and Leonard Woolf lived between 1915-1924 (and also where they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917).
5. William Morris (1834-1896): The poet and artist has two English Heritage blue plaques to his credit – the first on 17 Red Lion Square in Holborn where Morris lived in a flat from 1856-1859 with Sir Edward C Burne-Jones, and the second on Red House in Bexleyheath where he and his wife Jane Burden lived from 1860-1865.
June 8, 2016
Much has been made about the dearth of women featured on blue plaques in this 150th year of the scheme – according to English Heritage, only 13 per cent of the 900 odd blue plaques in London commemorate a woman.
The oldest surviving blue plaque commemorating a woman, however, is that commemorating what is today a less well-known name, that of Fanny Burney.
Burney (1752-1840), who was known as Madame D’Arblay after she married, was a widely applauded novelist who was also noted for her diaries which record her involvement in the literary circles around Samuel Johnson and the Bluestocking Group.
The blue plaque commemorating her residence at 11 Bolton Street in Mayfair was erected in 1885 by the Society of Arts (which means that like others erected by the society, later the Royal Society of Arts, it’s brown not blue).
Burney, whose most profitable work, Camilla, was published in 1796 after she had spent five years as Second Keeper of the Robs to Queen Charlotte, lived in the house following the death of her husband, the Frenchman Alexandre D’Arblay.
She spent 10 years here – from 1818 until 1828 – and had apparently thought it would be her last residence but she went on to move into three further properties after this one.
10 notable blue plaques of London – 3. The City of London’s only ‘blue plaque’ (and it’s not even blue)…
June 1, 2016
There is only one official blue plaque in the square miles of the City of London – that which marks the property of lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson in Gough Square (he always did like to stand out from the crowd) – and, like many of the plaques in the scheme, it’s not even blue.
The plaque was among the 35 erected in the first 35 years of the scheme – this one in 1876 – and was done so by the Society of Arts which then ran the scheme (later the Royal Society of Arts). In common with most of the first 35 plaques, it is brown in colour.
In 1879, just three years after this plaque was erected, the Society of Arts came to an agreement with the Corporation of the City of London that the corporation – the governing body of the square mile – would commemorate sites of historic significance within its boundaries and the agreement has stood ever since.
The hundreds of “blue plaques” since erected by the City of London Corporation are rectangular in nature and commemorate everything from structures like the long-gone historic gate of Aldgate (88 Aldgate High Street) to homes of the notable such as martyred Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas á Becket (86 Cheapside).
There’s a searchable database of all the City of London plaques which can be found here.
And, of course, Dr Johnson’s house, which he lived in from 1748-59 which compiling his famous A Dictionary of the English Language (the first comprehensive English language dictionary), is now a museum – for details of that, see our earlier post here.
The concept of a scheme involving placing commemorative plaques on what was once the homes of notable people was first raised by MP William Ewart in 1863 in Parliament.
Three years later, in 1866, the idea was adopted by the then Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts) and in 1867 it erected two blue plaques, the first being one commemorating the birthplace of Lord Byron at 24 Holles Street just south of Cavendish Square in Marylebone and the second being that erected to Emperor Napoleon III in King Street (see last week’s post).
But the Byron plaque had the honour of being the first and it remained on the property until it was demolished in 1889 and the plaque, presumably, lost.
It has, however, been replaced several times on subsequent buildings on the site – the latest incarnation, is a “green plaque” erected by Westminster City Council on what is now a John Lewis store and was unveiled on National Poetry Day in 2012 (it replaced a non-standard, rectangular-shaped plaque – pictured above – which was installed after the building was bombed during World War II).
The current plaque describes Lord Byron as “one of the greatest British poets” and quotes him: “Always laugh when you can. It is a cheap medicine.”
Byron is said to have been born at the property on 22nd January, 1788 and was baptised George Gordon Byron at the nearby St Marylebone Parish Church. Interestingly, English Heritage says that recent research has shown there is no clear evidence for which house in Holles Street Lord Byron actually lived in meaning none of the plaques may have actually marked the correct site.
During the first 35 years of the scheme’s existence it erected on some 35 plaques (there are now some 900 in existence, so the pace has quickened since).
Less than half of them now survive but among those that do are plaques to poet John Keats (erected in 1896 on Keats’ House in Hampstead), novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (erected in 1887 on 2 Palace Green in Kensington) and politician and author Edmund Burke (erected in 1876 on 37 Gerrard Street in Soho.
This Week in London – Commemorating the Battle of Jutland; ‘lost’ Egyptian cities; and, new Blue Plaques…
May 19, 2016
• The largest naval conflict of World War I – the Battle of Jutland – is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Marking the centenary of the battle, Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle explores the battle itself (which claimed the lives of more than 8,500 as the British Grand Fleet met the German High Seas Fleet in what neither side could claim as a decisive victory) as well as its lead-up, aftermath and the experience of those serving on British and German warships through paintings and newspaper clippings, photographs, ship models and plans, sailor-made craft work and medals. Among the objects on display is a 14 foot long shipbuilder’s model of the HMS Queen Mary, which, one of the largest battle cruisers involved,was destroyed with only 18 survivors of the 1,266 crew. Among the personal stories told in the exhibition, meanwhile, is that of boy bugler William Robert Walker, of Kennington, who served on the HMS Calliope and, severely wounded during the battle, was later visited by King George V
and presented with a silver bugle by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe (the bugle, pictured, is on display). A series of events will accompany the exhibition which runs until November. Admission is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum. PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London
• Two ‘lost’ Egyptian cities and their watery fate are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the British Museum today. Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds is the museum’s first exhibition of underwater discoveries and focuses on the recent discoveries of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus – submerged at the mouth of the Nile for more than 1,000 years. Among the 300 objects on display are more than than 200 artefacts excavated between 1996 and 2012. Highlights include a 5.4 metre statue of Hapy, a sculpture excavated from Canopus representing Arsine II (the eldest daughter of the Ptolemaic dynasty founder Ptolemy I) who became a goddess after her death, and a stela from Thonis-Heracleion which advertises a royal decree of Pharaoh Nectanebo I concerning taxes. The exhibition runs until 27th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• New English Heritage Blue Plaques marking the homes of comedian Tommy Cooper and food writer Elizabeth David have been unveiled this month as part of the 150th anniversary of the scheme. Tommy Cooper lived at his former home at 51 Barrowgate Road in Chiswick between 1955 to 1984 and while there entertained fellow comedians such as Roy Hudd, Eric Sykes and Jimmy Tarbuck. Elizabeth David, meanwhile, is the first food writer to ever be commemorated with a Blue Plaque. She lived at the property at 24 Halsey Street in Chelsea for some 45 years until her death in 1992. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
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English Heritage are celebrating 150 years of the blue plaque scheme this year – the oldest of its kind in the world – and so to celebrate we’re looking at 10 of the most notable among them.
First up, it’s the oldest surviving blue plaque. Located in King Street in Mayfair, just off St James’s Square, it commemorates the last French Emperor, Napoleon III, who lived at the property while a prince in 1848.
It was only a brief stay for the then soon-to-be emperor. The nephew and heir of Emperor Napoleon I, he , like other members of his family was exiled from France after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and spent the following years in various other countries in Europe as well as, finally, London where he lived firstly at Carlton Gardens and then at the King Street property.
He took the lease on this newly built house in February, 1847, and created what English Heritage has called a “shrine to the Bonapartes” inside, displaying such relics as Napoleon I’s uniforms and a portrait of his famous uncle by the celebrated French artist Paul Delaroche.
The prince was something of a society favourite during his time in London and was invited to join various of St James’s clubs and apparently even enrolled as a special constable during the Chartist riots of 1848.
When the Bourbon monarchy – in the person of King Louis Philippe – was overthrown in France in September that year, the prince abandoned the house to rush back to France (apparently in such a hurry that the story goes that he left his bed unmade and his bath still full of water).
The prince was elected first President of the Second Republic on his return to Paris and in 1852 took his place as Emperor Napoleon III on the restoration of the empire (incidentally, he ended up returning to England in exile following his defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and died in Kent in 1873).
The plaque, installed in 1867, also has the distinction of being the only one installed while the person it commemorates was still alive. The rule now is that those commemorated by a blue plaque need to have been dead for at least 20 years before the honour can be bestowed.
The plaque, which is rather more elaborate than modern versions, was put up by the Society of Arts (they’re mentioned on it) and the design features a French imperial eagle. It was manufactured by Minton Hollins & Co.
For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
This Week in London – Of Empress Catherine the Great and Capability Brown; a blue plaque double; and, the British graphic novel on show…
April 28, 2016
• A once forgotten collection of watercolour paintings and drawings owned by Empress Catherine the Great of Russia has gone on show at Hampton Court Palace as part of commemorations marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The Empress and the Gardener exhibition features almost 60 intricately detailed views of the palace and its park and gardens during the time when Brown worked there as chief gardener to King George III between 1764 and 1783. The works came to be in the collection of the Empress – a renowned fan of English gardens – after Brown’s assistant, John Spyers, sold two albums of his drawings of the palace to the her for the considerable sum of 1,000 roubles. The albums disappeared into her collection at the Hermitage (now the State Hermitage Museum) and lay forgotten for more than 200 years before they were rediscovered by curator Mikhail Dedinkin in 2002. As well as the collection – on public show for the first time, the exhibition features portraits of Brown and the Empress, previously unseen drawings of her ‘English Palace’ in the grounds of the Peterhof near St Petersburg, and several pieces from the ‘Green Frog’ dinner service, created for the Empress by Wedgwood, which is decorated with some of the landscapes the prolific Brown created across England. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.
• A house in Chelsea has become only one of 19 homes in London to bear two official blue plaques. Number 48 Paultons Square has the honour of having been home to two Nobel prize winners (albeit in different fields) – dramatist Samuel Beckett, who lived there for seven months in 1934 while writing his first novel, Murphy, and physicist Patrick Blackett, noted for his revolutionary work in U-boat detection during World War II, who lived there from 1953 to 1969. Other ‘doubles’ include 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (home to Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud) and 29 Fitzroy Street in Fitzrovia (home to George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf). This year marks the 150th anniversary of the blue plaques scheme. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• The rise of the British graphic novel is the subject of a new exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. The Great British Graphic Novel features works by 18th century artist William Hogarth as well as Kate Charlesworth, Dave Gibbons (one of the creators of the ground-breaking Watchmen), Martin Row, Posy Simmonds (creator of the Tamara Drewe comic strip) and Bryan and Mary Talbot. It runs until 24th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
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