Another of the places Jane Austen stayed when visiting London, the terraced house at 23 Hans Place was the address her brother Henry moved to from his flat in Covent Garden (see last week’s entry)

Jane stayed at the premises for almost two years over 1814 and 1815 (it was her last known visit to London). Austen, who stayed in a bedchamber at the front of the house on the top floor (a plaque commemorating Jane’s occupancy is located on the building), described the home as “delightful” and expressed her love of the garden.

The house has been considerably altered since although the original property still is said to lie underneath the brick skin now upon it.

It was while Jane was staying there that she was invited by the Prince Regent (later King George IV) – a fan of her writing – to Carlton House on 13th November, 1815, where she was permitted to dedicate one of her future works to him (Emma was duly dedicated the following year).

Henry, meanwhile, lived here until 1816 – the complete collapse of the bank in which he was partner had come in March of that year after which Henry was declared bankrupt. Following the financial disaster, he took up a post as curate at Chawton in Hampshire where the family were based.

While we’re in the area, we should also mention another property around the corner – 64 Sloane Street. It was here that Henry lived before moving to Covent Garden and here that, in April and May 1813, Jane stayed with Henry as his wife Eliza was dying (she passed away on 25th April).

Henry and Eliza had moved into the the Sloane Street property in 1809 (from Brompton) and Jane had visited several times (among the books she worked on while there was Sense and Sensibility).

Both properties were part of the Hans Town development which dated from the late 1770s.

PICTURE: Gwynhafyr/CC BY-NC 2.0

 

As you may have realised (the new £10 banknote anyone?), this month marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen in Winchester on 18th July, 1817, so to mark the occasion, we’re looking at 10 sites of interest from Jane Austen’s London. To kick off our new Wednesday series, we’re looking at one of the locations where she is known to have resided while in London – number 10 Henrietta Street.

Number 10 in those days was the location of a bank – Austen, Maunde and Tilson – in which Jane’s older (and favourite) brother Henry was a partner. Above the bank’s offices was a flat Henry moved into after the death of his wife Eliza in 1813. It was also where Jane stayed when visiting publishers in the summer of 1813 and again in March, 1814, the latter when she was working on the proofs of Mansfield Park.

As well as a dining room at the front on the first floor, it had a sitting parlour, small drawing room and bedchambers (Jane is known to have stayed in one on the second floor). She described the property as “all dirt & confusion, but in a very promising way”.

Austen is known to have visited nearby theatres including the Lyceum and the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane while staying in London and during 1813 also visited the “blockbuster” exhibition of Sir Joshua Reynold’s paintings at the British Institute in Pall Mall ( a fascinating reconstruction of which can be found here).

A City of Westminster Green Plaque (erected in partnership with the Jane Austen Society) commemorates Jane’s stay here.

PICTURE: Diane Griffiths/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

This week we pay tribute to author Michael Bond, who died last week at the age of 91, with a look at the life of his most famous literary creation – and an iconic London character – Paddington Bear.

Paddington came to life in the late 1950s after, on Christmas Eve, 1956, Bond, then working as a BBC cameraman, famously purchased a teddy bear as a present for his wife, Brenda. He named it Paddington thanks to the fact that they were living near Paddington Station at the time.

The first book featuring Paddington – A Bear Called Paddington – apparently only took 10 days to write and was published on 13th October, 1958, by William Collins & Son.

Paddington, the story goes, arrived in London’s Paddington Station as a stowaway sent from “deepest, darkest Peru” by his Aunt Lucy who had gone to live at a Home for Retired Bears in Lima (his aunt had taken him in after he was orphaned in an earthquake).

The bear – who is based on the Spectacled Bear, South America’s only native bear species – was found at the station near the lost property office by Mr and Mrs Brown, wearing an old bush hat and sitting on his suitcase with a label around his neck which read “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” (The label, Bond later revealed, was inspired by memories he had of evacuees fleeing the Blitz in London).

The Browns named the bear Paddington after he told them they wouldn’t be able to pronounce his real name (it’s actually Pastuso) and took him to their home at 32 Windsor Gardens (for more on that location, see our earlier post here) where he subsequently lived with them, their children Judy and Jonathan and housekeeper Mrs Bird. The family learn that he had made the journey from Peru in a lifeboat and had been sustained by marmalade along the way – his favourite food.

The subsequent stories – Bond wrote 13 novels as well as picture books and, thanks to the success of the early books, he was able to retire from the BBC to concentrate on writing in 1965 – focused on Paddington’s adventures in London. As well as the books – which have sold millions of copies around the world, there’s also been several TV series and a 2014 film, Paddington, with a sequel, Paddington 2, to be released later this year.

Among other interesting facts about Paddington, who commonly is seen wearing a blue duffel coat (with a hood and wooden toggles) and Wellington boots, is that he has two birthdays – the Browns weren’t sure how old he was so they started at age one and agreed he would have two birthdays each year – one on Christmas Day and the other on 25th June. He also often carries a marmalade sandwich under his hat “in case of emergencies”.

There’s a life-sized statue of Paddington at Paddington Station (the work of Marcus Cornish, it was unveiled by Bond in 2000, three years after the author had received an OBE for his services to children’s literature – a CBE followed in 2015 ), and in a touching tribute after Bond’s death, people have been leaving marmalade jars alongside it. There’s also an artwork depicting Bond with his creation at the southern end of St Mary’s Terrace, one of a series of works depicting famous local people (pictured).

Vale Michael Bond.

For more on Paddington, check out the official site www.paddington.com.

PICTURE: Loz Pycock/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped)

A nickname for a section of Paddington (or is it Maida Vale?) centred on the junction of Regent’s Canal and the Grand Union Canal (which links through to Paddington Basin), the origins of the term Little Venice are somewhat mysterious.

Some claim the area owes its moniker to the 19th century poet Robert Browning who moved back to London from Italy after his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, died in 1861 and settled in the area until 1887 (before returning to Italy – Venice – where he died in 1889).

It was while living in the area that some say he apparently coined the name (his residence there, meanwhile, is also noted in the naming of Browning’s Pool, located at the junction of the two canals).

Others, however, give credit to another iconic 19th century literary figure – Lord Byron – but suggest the context wasn’t so much praise but rather a wishful statement noting that London could have had its own Venice if the canals weren’t so filthy.

Either way, the name apparently didn’t gain much currency until after World War II (and the ‘Little’ was apparently a late addition – the area was first simply known as London’s Venice).

These days, Little Venice is a sought-after residential district and hosts some great cafes as well as pubs and theatres – including the Puppet Theatre Barge. It also serves as a terminus for various canal boat companies and hosts the annual IWA Canalway Cavalcade, which has been taking place since 1983 (pictured above).

As well as boasting its own island, Browning’s Pool, meanwhile, is also home to Rembrandt Gardens, named so in 1975 in honour of the 700th anniversary of the founding of Amsterdam.

Robert Browning aside, others who have lived in the area reportedly include artist Lucian Freud, singer Robbie Williams, entrepreneur Richard Branson and Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear.

PICTURE: Paul Hudson/CC BY 2.0

We’ve come to the end of our latest series on fictional character addresses in London. So here’s a recap (ahead of the launch of our new series next week)…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 1. Fetter Lane, Old Jewry and Wapping…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 2. 27a Wimpole Street…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 3. 32 Brett Street, Soho…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 4. 138 Piccadilly…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 5. 27b Canonbury Square…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 6. 9 Bywater Street, Chelsea…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 7. Outer Circle, The Regent’s Park…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 8. A square in Soho?…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 9. Holland Park or Borough Market?…

10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 10. 30 Wellington Square, Chelsea…

We finish this series on fictional London with the home of another of London’s most famous fictional spies – James Bond.

In Ian Fleming’s books about the adventures of 007, he has the spy living in a ground-floor flat in a “converted Regency house” in a “plane tree’d square” off the King’s Road.

While several possibilities have been identified over the years (including in  Markham Square), it was Fleming’s former assistant to The Sunday Times, biographer and friend, John Pearson, who is credited with having identified this terrace in Wellington Square as the property Fleming probably had in mind (Pearson apparently had a friend from his college days who lived there at some point).

The five storey terrace, which dates from the early 1830s, was actually close by the address where Fleming lived – number 24 Cheyne Walk – when he commenced writing the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1952.

The property was on the market not that long ago for a reported asking price of £6.35 million.

PICTURE: The terraces where James Bond is said to have lived in Wellington Square.

 

Helen Fielding’s creation, the thirty-something singleton Bridget Jones, lives in a small flat in London.

Jones started off life in a column published in The Independent newspaper which was later turned into a book, Bridget Jones’s Diary, followed by a sequel called Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason.

While in the original column, Jones’ home was given as Holland Park, a subsequent movie adaptation of the book (and sequels) shifted it to a flat above The Globe Tavern in Borough.

Located at 8 Bedale Street, the property – now rather squashed due to the proximity of railway viaducts – is located in the heart of the famous Borough Market.

A short distance away, at 5 Bedale Street, is where, Daniel Cleaver (played by Hugh Grant) and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) battled it out over Bridget (played, of course, by Renee Zellweger) in the original film.

The Gothic-styled Globe, incidentally, dates from 1872 and was designed by renowned Victorian architect Henry Jarvis. As well as starring in the Bridget Jones books, it also featured in the Michael Caine thriller, Blue Ice.

PICTURE:  Ian Taylor/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped and lightened)

 

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,the address of the home of Dr Henry Jekyll (and his alter-ego Mr Edward Hyde) is simply given as a square in Soho – then a rather seedy district.

Dr Jekyll is said to have bought the property from the heirs of a “celebrated surgeon”. Like the man himself, the house has two characters and features a “blistered and distained” rear entrance used by the dastardly Mr Hyde.

In a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast several years ago, author Ian Rankin identified the house in which Jekyll and Hyde lived as being based on that which pioneering Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793) lived in on the east side of Leicester Square.

Hunter leased both the property at 28 Leicester Square (the present number 28 – the ground floor of which is a pub – is pictured) and another behind it (it fronted onto what was then Castle Street) in the 1780s. He then spent a good deal of money joining the two properties together, creating a complex of rooms which included space for his thousands of specimens (now in the Hunterian Museum) as well as an anatomy theatre. It was at the rear Castle Street entrance that he apparently received human cadavers, brought by so-called “resurrection men” for dissection.

The dualistic nature of the property fits with that of Jekyll and Hyde and while Leicester Square isn’t usually considered part of Soho, it’s at the least very close by.

“In the book, Stevenson gives a detailed description of the layout of Dr Jekyll’s home,” Rankin said in the documentary. “It is identical to John Hunter’s.”

He added that, despite Hunter’s “fame and respectability” – he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III and was one of London’s most sought-after doctors, “Hunter still demanded a constant supply of cadavers for his growing anatomy collection and teaching”.

“Naturally Hunter’s new home, in Leicester Square, was purpose-built for a surgeon’s double life.” Or for the respectable Dr Jekyll and brutish Mr Hyde.

Interestingly, the previous owner of Dr Jekyll’s home us said to have been a Dr Denman – there was a Dr Thomas Denman who was a contemporary of John Hunter who was a pioneering obstetrician.

The Leicester Square property later became the site of the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming Lost London post).

PICTURE: Top – Number 28 Leicester Square as it is today/Google Maps; Below – A ground floor plan of John Hunter’s residence made in 1792 (drawn in 1832) © Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0

 

Fictional British spy George Smiley featured in some eight books written by acclaimed author John Le Carré (sometimes as the main protagonist, sometimes as a side character) and is about to appear in a ninth, A Legacy of Spies, which comes out in September.

And that’s not to mention his appearance on small screens and large where he’s been portrayed by everyone from James Mason and Sir Alec Guinness to Denholm Elliott and Gary Oldman.

In the books, Smiley and his wife, Lady Ann, lived at a number 9 Bywater Street in Chelsea – which is an actual address, just off King’s Road (pictured with the red door). The Georgian townhouse was appropriately used to depict his home in the 1979 BBC series of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy although, interestingly, while number nine’s exterior was used, it was apparently number 10, next door – pictured here with the blue door – which provided the interiors.

Le Carré, who was living just over the Thames in Battersea at the time of Smiley’s creation, has reportedly said he chose the location because his literary agent lived nearby (although there is apparently a little fuzziness on whether this is the case) and the mother of one his pupils from Eton (Le Carré – actually David John Moore Cornwell – taught at Eton for two years before he joined MI5 in 1958) lived in the street.

But perhaps the best literary reason is the fact that Bywater Street, despite the name, is actually a cul-de-sac which adds to the difficulty of anyone trying to spy on Smiley. A wise choice for a spy’s residence, in other words.

Other locations associated with George Smiley in London include The Circus, the secret London intelligence HQ where Smiley and his fellow intelligence operatives worked, which was located in an office block in Cambridge Circus, on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

PICTURE: Google Maps

canonbury_squareOK, I know the plaque on the front says this was the actual home of author George Orwell – who moved here in 1944 with his family. But the property was also apparently partly the inspiration for Victory Mansions, the home of  Winston Smith, the protagonist of his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) moved to the property at 27b Canonbury Square with his wife Eileen and their young adopted son Richard in 1944 after their flat in Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn, was hit by a V-1 flying bomb.

But Eileen sadly died unexpectedly during surgery only a few months later in early 1945 while Orwell was off working as a war correspondent.

Despite this, Orwell retained the property until 1947 – the same year his allegorical story Animal Farm was published – but had left the property when Nineteen Eighty Four, which he had largely written while on the Scottish island of Jura in 1947 and 1948, was published in June, 1949 – only a few months before he died in January, 1950.

His was apparently the basement flat – rather unlike Smith’s home which Orwell wrote was located “seven flights up” in a rather large block. The architectural differences aside, however, Orwell’s flat apparently served as something of a model for Smith’s “bleak tenement in a down-at-heel area” which was, like the rest of the flats Victory Mansions, was “falling to pieces” and filled with the smell of boiled cabbage.

A plaque erected by the London Borough of Islington has long adorned the building although last year Orwell’s son Richard attended the unveiling of a new plaque which amended the dates Orwell lived here, changing  it from 1945 to 1944-47.

Of course, London is replete with other locations mentioned in Orwell’s book – Trafalgar Square becomes Victory Square (Big Brother stands atop the column in place of Admiral Lord Nelson), the Ministry of Truth where Smith works is modelled on the University of London’s Senate House in Bloomsbury, and the cells in the Ministry of Love are apparently based on those at Bethnel Green Police Station where Orwell has been incarcerated (although only for a few hours) after being arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour in 1931.

Orwell, meanwhile, is commemorated with numerous plaques located around London, including an English Heritage Blue Plaque at a property in Lawford Road, Kentish Town.

Canonbury Square – Orwell’s former residence is in the foreground (with the old plaque). PICTURE: 14wesley/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

eon-house2This address would have been one to avoid. In Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, Dracula, the evil Count Dracula owns a mansion on Piccadilly, one of numerous homes he purchases in London.

The address believed to be that of the mansion, based on information and architectural details given in the book, has apparently been identified – by people reportedly including Bernard Davies, co-founder of The Dracula Society, no less – as a property at number 138.

After arriving in England – landing at Whitby, Dracula had first moved into a property called Carfax House located at Purfleet on the River Thames, just to the east of London.

But after he was spotted in London, it is discovered that he has a property in Piccadilly (identified, though never named in the book, as 138). Those hunting him – including the unfortunate Jonathan Harker and vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing – break in to the property with the intent of destroying some of the many boxes filled with earth Dracula brought to England with him from Transylvania (he needs them to keep alive). They do so and there find keys to numerous other properties in the city as well, dispatching two of their number to go and destroy any boxes they find there.

They then wait in ambush for the Count at the “vile smelling” Piccadilly property but he manages to elude their attack and escape. Their chase then leads them to leave London and to pursue Dracula across Europe before he is finally defeated back at his home in Transylvania.

The Grade II-listed, three storey property at 138 Piccadilly, located opposite Green Park, is now known as Eon House and is located next door to the Hard Rock Cafe. It originally dates from the late 18th century and was remodelled in the early 1890s – just before the book was written.

The book, Dracula, is, of course, also associated with other London locations – including the London Zoo and Hampstead Heath.  And Stoker himself lived in London for much of his life, spending 27 years as an acting manager and business manager at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End. An urn containing his ashes is at the Golders Green Crematorium.

PICTURE: Google Maps

 

irving-street

The rather grim Adolf Verloc, the smut purveyor-come-spy and main protagonist of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (recently made into a BBC series starring Toby Jones), lives in a residence attached to a small shop in Soho.

sir-henry-irvingThe residence, where he lived with his wife Winnie, her mother and young, mentally affected brother Stevie, and shop, where he sold scandalous publications, photographs and other bric-a-brac, was located at 32 Brett Street in Soho.

Except there is no Brett Street in Soho.

While it has been suggested Conrad may have taken the name Brett Street from Brett Road in Hackney – near where Conrad had lodgings at one stage, it’s also been put forward that Conrad based the streetscape on Irving Street (previously apparently known as Green Street) which runs between Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road (pictured above).

The street itself was named after actor Sir Henry Irving, whose statue stands at the junction with Charing Cross Road (pictured, it’s located at the rear of The National Gallery), and is these days filled with eateries and cheap theatre ticket box offices aimed at tourists.

Conrad’s book, which was set in 1886 but published in 1907, was loosely based around a bombing which took place in Greenwich in 1894.

wimpole-streetThis notable Marylebone Street contains the home of Henry Higgins, the professor of phonetics who attempts to help Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle pass for a duchess as part of a bet in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.

Written in 1912, the play which gives Professor Higgins’ address as 27A Wimpole Street was in 1964 adapted into the film, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

The choice of Wimpole Street as the address of Professor Higgins – both for his home and “laboratory” – was apparently not co-incidental. Articles in The Telegraph and Daily Mail last year talk about the fact that 27a lies not far from a grand Georgian (Grade II-listed) townhouse (then on the market for £15 million) in Upper Wimpole Street which was formerly the home of a Professor Horace Hayman Wilson, a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University in the early 19th century.

The articles say that while the “real-life academic ‘model'” for Higgins was Henry Sweet – an early 20th century Oxford professor of phonetics who is named in the preface to the play, the basis for Professor Higgins’ rather grand lifestyle was that of Professor Wilson.

They also suggest that the connection between Professor Higgins and Professor Wilson makes sense considering one of the mysteries of Pygmalion – how a humble phonetics professor could afford consulting rooms on a street known for wealthy private medical practices.

The answer lies in the Professor Wilson’s history – his father, a doctor, bought a house in the street in 1806 and subsequently bought a neighbouring property for his son who initially pursued a medical career before moving into academia where he specialised in languages. Splitting his time between Wimpole Street, Oxford and Calcutta in India, Professor Wilson’s lifestyle, straddling high society and academia, formed a prototype for that of Professor Higgins. Or so the story goes.

PICTURE: Looking down Wimpole Street; number 27 is second on the left. PICTURE: Google Maps.

Lemuel Gulliver, the ‘hero’ of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 book, Gulliver’s Travels, wasn’t a native Londoner but moved to the city for work and lived in several different locations before embarking on his famous voyage to the land of Lilliput.

lemuel-gulliverAccording to the book, the Nottinghamshire-born Gulliver studied at Emanuel College (sic) in Cambridge before he was apprenticed to London surgeon known as James Bates after which he spent a couple of years studying in the Dutch town of Leiden (spelt Leydon in the book).

Returning to England briefly, he spent the next few years voyaging to the “Levant” before returning to London where he “took part of a small house in Old Jewry” (Old Jewry lies in the City of London runs between Poultry and Gresham Street) and married Mary Burton, daughter of a Newgate Street hosier.

His master Bates dying, however, a couple of years later and with a failing business, he took up the position of surgeon on two different ships and it was when he eventually returned to London that he moved to Fetter Lane – which runs north from Fleet Street – and then from there to Wapping where hoping to retire from the sea and “get business (presumably he meant medical cases) among the sailors”.

But it was not to be and so, in 1699, Mr Gulliver set off on the voyage accounted in the famous book.

The name Fetter Lane, incidentally, has nothing to do with fetters (ie chains) – see our earlier post for more. And it’s also worth noting that the author, Jonathan Swift, also visited and lived in London at various times of his career – we’ll take a more in depth look at his experiences in a later post.

PICTURE: Lemuel Gulliver, depicted in a first edition of Gulliver’s Travels/Wikipedia.

st-dunstans-clock

We reintroduce an old favourite this month with our first ‘Where’s London’s oldest’ in a few years. And to kick it off, we’re looking at one of London’s oldest public clocks.

Hanging off the facade of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street is a clock which is believed to have been the first public clock to be erected in London which bears a minute hand.

The work of clockmaker Thomas Harris, the clock was first installed on the medieval church in 1671 – it has been suggested it was commissioned to celebrate the church’s survival during the Great Fire of London and was installed to replace an earlier clock which had been scorched in the fire. Its design was apparently inspired by a clock which had once been on Old St Paul’s Cathedral and was destroyed in the fire.

Like the clock it replaced, this clock sat in brackets and projected out into Fleet Street which meant it was able to be seen from a fair distance away (and being double-sided meant the black dials could be seen from both the east and the west). Like the Roman numerals that decorate it, the two hands, including the famous minute hand, are gold.

To the rear and above the clock dials are located the bells and striking mechanism. The bells are struck on the hours and the quarters by ‘automata’ – Herculean figures, perhaps representing Gog and Magog (although to most they were traditionally simply known as the ‘Giants of St Dunstan’s’), who do so using clubs and turn their heads.

Such was the attention these figures attracted that when the clock was first installed the area became notorious for pick-pockets who apparently went to work on unsuspecting passersby who had stopped to watch the giants at work.

This church was demolished in the early 1800s to allow the widening of Fleet Street and when it was rebuilt in 1830, the clock was absent. Having decided it couldn’t be accommodated in the new design, it had been auctioned off with the art collector, Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, the successful bidder.

He had it installed on his Decimus Burton-designed villa in Regent’s Park and there it remained until 1935 when Lord Rothermere, who had bought the villa in 1930, returned it to the church to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

There are numerous literary references to the clock including in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield and a William Cowper poem.

really-good-by-david-shrigley-c-gautier-deblondeA giant hand giving a thumbs-up, the latest commission to grace Trafalgar Square’s famous Fourth Plinth, was unveiled late last month. Really Good, by UK artist David Shrigley stands seven metres high and features a disproportionately long thumb arising from a closed fist. The sculpture is the latest in a string of artworks to have graced the plinth which was built in 1841 and originally designed to hold a statue of King William IV but, thanks to a lack of money, remained empty until recent times. Speaking at the launch of the new work last month, the artist said the work was about “making the world a better place or it purports to actually make the world a better place”. “Obviously, this is a ridiculous proposition, but I think it’s a good proposition,” The Independent reports him saying. “Artworks on their own are inanimate objects so they can’t make the world a better place. It is us, so I guess we have to ask ourselves how we can do this.” For more on the Fourth Plinth program, see www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/arts-and-culture/art-and-design/fourth-plinth-2016

PICTURE: © Gautier Deblonde

Little-BritainThis central – and rather unassuming – London street owes its name to the French – not British – who apparently once lived in the area which lies just south of Smithfield.

Originally named Little Brittany, it was settlers from Brittany in the east of modern France that inhabited the area where the street can be found after the Norman Conquest. Foremost among them apparently was the Duke of Brittany who apparently had a house here prior to the 1500s.

Between the late 15th century and early 18th century, the street was known as a location for booksellers (it was here that Britain’s first daily newspaper, the early 18th century Daily Courant, was printed in the area after moving from Fleet Street).

Famous residents over the years have included the 17th century poet John Milton (there’s also a much-repeated anecdote that has a Little Britain-based bookseller trying to convince the Earl of Dorset to buy as many copies of the apparently immoveable Paradise Lost as he could carry) , a very young Samuel Johnson (the then three-year-old and his mother lodged with a bookseller when she brought him to be touched by Queen Anne as a cure for his scrofula), and Benjamin Franklin who stayed here in 1724.

Literary references included a mention in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations – the office of the lawyer Mr Jaggers were placed here.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital now occupies many of the buildings in the street.

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…

William-Wilberforce-blue-plaque1. 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.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0 (image cropped)

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.

Fanny-Burney-plaqueAmong them are ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn, suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, socialite Nancy Astor, and, in recent times, cookery writer Elizabeth David.

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.

PICTURE: Simon Harriyott/CC BY 2.0

Samuel-Johnson-plaqueThere 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.

Samuel-Johnson-plaque2The 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.