Blue Plaques of London
No need to be alarmed – those little blue dots you see all over the streets of London aren’t an outbreak of smurf measles. No, these blue plaques are there to commemorate the nearest and dearest of London, those famed individuals who made their mark on the streets of the capital, and placed in the spots where they lived, stayed and worked. There are blue plaque schemes all over the world, but the English Heritage one is the oldest – dating back to 1866.
1. The first plaque was dedicated at the birthplace of Lord Byron at 24 Holles Street in
Cavendish Square, but demolished just over 20 years later. The earliest surviving plaque that you can see is the one dedicated to Napolean III on King Street, St. James’s.
2. Since the English Heritage ceased to be the only awarding body the criteria for assessing
nominations has widened a little, but one of their initial conditions was that the individuals proposed ‘should be understood to have made some important positive contribution to human welfare or happiness.’ Not everyone agrees on what this might mean though. In 1967 a plaque marking one of Marx’s early lodgings in Dean Street, Soho, was unveiled, but the owner of a restaurant on the ground floor was not too happy, remarking that ‘My clientele is the very best … rich people … nobility and royalty – and Marx was the person who wanted to get rid of them all!’ There was also a plaque put up in 1937 at his final address in Chalk Farm, but this was vandalised multiple times, and the owner declined a third attempt at replacing it. Other controversial figures include Prince Pete Kropotkin, a nineteenth century theorist of anarchasim, whose plaque erected in 1989 by English Heritage can be seen in Bromley.
3. Just 13 percent of London’s 902 blue plaques are dedicated to women, with 13 of the
boroughs having none at all. Walking through Wandsworth you might spot a familiar name – George Eliot 1819-1880 – Novelist. But the author of Middlemarch, Silas Marner and Daniel Deronda, amongst other classics had to take on a male name in order to be considered by publishers. Her real name was Mary Anne Evans.
4. The newest plaque was unveiled on 4 th November 2016. All hail Ava Gardner, who came to London to enjoy a quiet life and walk her dogs apparently. The Hollywood star’s former
home was 34 Ennismore Gardens in Knightsbridge – fitting for a celeb.
5. Jimi Hendrix and George Frederick Handel share the honour neighbouring blue plaques in Brook Street, Mayfair, where they both lived (at different times, obviously. Apparently
Hendrix wasn’t a huge fan of the former resident, reportedly commenting that ‘To tell you
the God’s honest truth, I haven’t heard much of the fella’s stuff.’