Post-war playwright John Osborne (1929-1994) was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque last week at his former Hammersmith home. The announcement came 65 years after his seminal play, Look Back in Anger, was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre on 8th May, 1956. The terraced red brick property at 53 Caithness Road was his London base when he wrote Look Back in Anger, arguably his best known work. Playwright and director Sir David Hare said Osborne “had the most sensational London debut of any playwright in the English language in the 20th century”. “It was John’s brilliance and originality which led so many to help relocate the theatre at the centre of Britain’s cultural and intellectual life. Everyone who followed owes him a debt.” For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.
Royal Court Theatre
What’s in a name?…Sloane Square
This upmarket square in west London is named in honor of Sir Hans Sloane, the physician come botanist who bought the manor of Chelsea in 1712 and, in doing so, provided grounds for the Chelsea Physic Garden.
Sloane Square was developed by architect Henry Holland Sr and his son Henry Holland Jr in 1771 as part of a residential development they called Hans Town (also named after Sir Hans, it’s still a ward in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea). For more on Sir Hans Sloane, see our earlier post here.
The square, pictured above as it looks decorated for Christmas, initially consisted of a village green bordered with posts and chains and the surrounding buildings were all residential. Apparently the square initially failed to attract the right sort of residents (it was a little too far from Mayfair) but despite this initial setback, it gradually became the centre of a desirable residential precinct.
Private houses began making way for other buildings in the square in the nineteenth century – in 1810, the New Chelsea Theatre opened, subsequently renamed the Royal Court Theatre (this was later moved to another site still on the square and remains there today), and in 1812, the Chelsea, Brompton and Belgrave Dispensary was established for the relief of the sick and the poor.
The Sloane Square Underground station opened in 1868 and rebuilt after it was damaged by bombs in World War II (it’s interesting to note that the River Westbourne actually runs through some iron conduit over the top of the platforms on its way to the River Thames).
Other notable buildings in the square today include the Peter Jones department store which first arrived in the square in the late nineteenth century.
The square itself was redesigned in the 1930s when the war memorial was put in its current position. The Venus Fountain (pictured above) which now stands there – the work of Gilbert Ledward – was erected in 1953.