This Grade II*-listed building is the former site of the offices of publisher, John Murray, who published four of Jane Austen’s six novels including Emma (1815), Mansfield Park (1814), Persuasion (1818) and Northanger Abbey (1818) (the last two after Austen’s death on 18th July, 1817).

Murray, whose offices were located here from 1812 onwards, published, along with Austen, many of the great literary names of the age including everyone from Lord Byron to Sir Walter Scott and Washington Irving (the company also later published the likes of Herman Melville and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

The John Murray with whom Austen dealt (and it seems her brother Henry must have played a considerable part in getting Murray to publish his sister’s works given Murray had already won considerable fame with the publication of Byron’s epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1811) was actually John Murray II, of whom Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra: “He is a rogue, of course, but a civil one”.

His father John Murray I had founded the business in Fleet Street in 1768 and his son, John Murray III, continued it after his father (in fact, there were a succession of John Murrays down to John Murray VII).

The business was acquired in 2002 by Hodder Headline, itself then acquired by the French Lagardère Group. John Murray is now an imprint of Hachette UK.

PICTURE: Google Maps

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.

Byron-plaqueThree 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.

PICTURE:  Wikimedia

Stories abound about this historic Hampstead pub – one of London’s oldest, not the least about the origins of its name.

Spaniards-InnTheories about the name include that it was named for a Spanish ambassador attending the court of King James I who sought shelter here during an outbreak of plaque. Others suggest it was named for a Spanish landlord – Francisco Perrero – or for two brothers who once owned it (that is, until one of them died in a duel they fought over a woman).

Whatever the truth, the atmospheric pub, located on the edge of Hampstead Heath, has apparently been around since 1585 and the stories about its connections with the famous (and infamous) number even more than those about its origins.

Highwayman Dick Turpin is associated with the pub (some stories suggest he was born here, although this seems unlikely) and the establishment  is known to have played an important role in sparing nearby Kenwood House, then the home of Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice, during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 – apparently it was the action of the landlord, Giles Thomas, in throwing open the cellars which diverted the attention of would-be rioters from the task at hand to one perhaps more enjoyable.

The pub also features in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and in Bram Stoker’s Dracula while among those who frequented it were painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lord Byron as well as John Keats who, the story goes, wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the rather extensive garden.

Located in Spaniards Road, this Grade II-listed pub, as well as the main building, features an old toll house on the other side of the road which contains a horse trough (it has been suggested that Turpin stabled Black Bess there but take such claims with a grain of salt!).

Well worth a visit for refreshments after a stroll on the heath. For more, see www.thespaniardshampstead.co.uk.

PICTURE: Philip Halling/Wikipedia 

This district in west London – located to the south-west of St Johns Wood – takes its name from the Italian town of Maida in Calabria where, in 1806, the British won a victory over Napoleon.

Led by Sir John Stuart (later Count of Maida), about 5,000 British troops defeated a larger number of French in a battle in what was a much-needed boost to the British after the defeat at Austerlitz in December the previous year.

Regent's-Canal-looking-toward-Little-VeniceThere was apparently a pub located in the area named, in the wake of the victory, ‘The Hero of Maida’ in reference to Stuart and his role in the battle. The pub has since gone but its name lives on in the street and the district which still carries it.

Landmarks in Maida Vale include the basin – complete with houseboats and the puppet theatre barge – known as Little Venice (some say this name was coined by poet Robert Browning; others attribute it to Lord Byron) where Regent’s Canal meets with the Paddington arm of the Grand Junction Canal (pictured is Regent’s Canal looking toward Little Venice).

Maida Vale is also home to the BBC Maida Vale Studios (on Delaware Road) while notable residents have included computer science pioneer Alan Turing who was born at 2 Warrington Crescent in 1912 and David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel, who lived at 75 Warrington Crescent.

The area to the south-west is unofficially known as Maida Hill and this was apparently initially the name used for the entire area until the more romantic Maida Vale came into usage in the mid 19th century. Maida Vale also gives its name to a Tube station – it opened in 1915.


The late Poet-Laureate Ted Hughes was honored in a ceremony in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner last week with the dedication of a hand-carved memorial slab. 
The memorial includes a quotation from his work That Morning: “So we found the end of our journey, So we stood alive in the river of light, Among the creatures of light, creatures of light…”. The memorial to Hughes, who died in 1998 at the age of 68, was placed at the foot of that of TS Eliot, who was a mentor to Hughes. Among those who attended the commemoration were Hughes’ widow Carol and his daughter Frieda as well as literary figures including Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, Sir Andrew Motion, Michael Morpurgo and Graham Swift. Other literary luminaries commemorated in Poets’ Corner (only some of whom are buried here) include Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Lord Byron and John Keats as well as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling. For more on Poets’ Corner, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

PICTURE: Carol Hughes lays a bouquet of flowers and herbs from the garden of the Hughes’ Devon home at the memorial. (Copyright Dean and Chapter of Westminster).

Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair (now officially the Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel) is generally awarded the accolade of being London’s oldest hotel. 

The hotel, which initially fronted on to Dover Street, was founded in a series of former Georgian townhouses in 1837 by James and Sarah Brown, formerly valet and maid to Lord and Lady Byron.

After being sold to the Ford family in 1859, the hotel was extensively modernised with electricity, the installation of permanent bath tubs, lifts, and in first for London hotels, an on-site restaurant. The building itself underwent a major expansion in the late 1890s when the family bought the St George’s Hotel which backed onto Brown’s and fronted onto Albemarle Street. The two buildings were merged into one, an extra floor added, and a new facade built for the hotel facing out onto Albemarle Street (pictured right). Three further townhouses were incorporated into the building in the early 1900s.

Possibly the most notable event to take place at the hotel was in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call there. Other visitors included authors Rudyard Kipling (who wrote The Jungle Book while resident) and Agatha Christie (At Bertram’s Hotel is said to be based on Brown’s), royalty such as Queen Victoria and the French Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugenie (they stayed in 1871), and world leaders like US Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (said to count the bar among his favorities), Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia, and Emperor Haile Selassie, who took refuge there in 1936 after the Italians invaded Ethiopia.

The hotel, which now features 117 guestrooms, underwent a multi-million pound refurbishment in the mid-Noughties after becoming part of the Rocco Forte Collection of hotels. As well as The Albemarle restaurant and The Donovan Bar, it also serves award-winning afternoon teas at The English Tea Room.

For more about Brown’s Hotel, see www.brownshotel.com.

A Jacobean mansion located in Kensington’s Holland Park, Holland House was first built in 1605 for Sir Walter Cope, Chancellor of the Exchequer for King James I. 

Sir Walter apparently entertained the king and his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, at the property – then named Cope Castle – on numerous occasions at the property and reportedly hosted the king the night after his son, Henry Frederick, the Prince of Wales, died in 1612.

Its name came with a later owner – the ill-fated Henry Rich, Cope’s son-in-law, who was made the 1st Earl of Holland in 1624 and was later executed for his role in supporting the Royalist cause during the Civil War during which the house was occupied by parliamentary troops.

The home was later used by various family members – among luminaries associated with the property are the essayist Joseph Addison who died there in 1719 as well as, in later years, the likes of Lord Byron, Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott, all of whom visited the property during the property’s golden age in the 19th century when it was an important social gathering place.

The house was largely destroyed in a bombing raid in September 1940 and passed into ownership of the local authority. A youth hostel is now housed inside the restored east wing of the building while other buildings are used for a restaurant and function centre – all set within the 22 hectare (55 acre) Holland Park. Some of the ruins provide a backdrop for open-air theatre performances and concerts in summer.

WHERE: Holland Park (nearest tube stations are Holland Park, Kensington High Street and Notting Hill); WHEN: 7.30am to 30 minutes before dusk (check signs by entrance); COST: Park entrance is free (house is not open to the public); WEBSITE: www.rbkc.gov.uk/leisureandlibraries/parksandgardens/yourlocalpark/hollandpark.aspx

Hatchards on Piccadilly (right next to Fortnum & Mason) is generally accepted as being London’s oldest surviving bookshop.

It was founded in 1797 by John Hatchard in Piccadilly (there seems some dispute over whether it still stands on exactly the same site).

The shop currently holds three royal warrants for the supply of books to the Royal Household.

Among high profile past customers have been Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III), former PMs Benjamin Disraeli and  Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and literary figures such as Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron.

It remains popular with lovers of literature and is noted for hosting book-signings by prominent authors with many signed book on the shelves.

For more, see www.hatchards.co.uk.