London is home to so many of our national treasures – The Queen, Joanna Lumley, the Beckhams, Richard Attenborough. Even our cousins across the pond can’t get enough of the Old Smoke – Madonna, Gillian Anderson, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth, to name just a few, have called it home at some point in their lives. LA might be where dreams are made, but London is just smashing, ok?
And in true British style we’ve come up with a way of celebrating our most influential London inhabitants: the Blue Plaques.
Run by the English Heritage, there are a whopping 900 of the things scattered across the capital and honour everyone from poets to scientists, MPs to actors – there’s even a clown. Weird.
So how do you get your name on one of the things? Well, most importantly you have to be dead, for at least 20 years. This proves that you’re still as influential and culturally relevant from when you were alive. Ruthless. But it does explain why, in 2016 (the year ALL the celebrities died), there was absolute uproar that Bowie didn’t have a plaque outside the Brixton home he grew up in. Give it another 15 years.
You also need to have had a significant connection to the place the plaque is going to sit – lived there, written your seminal work there and so on. Although that seems to be quite a loose rule given that outside of London in Norwich there is a plaque marking the day in 1971 when Muhammad Ali visited a supermarket to promote Ovaltine.
Anyway, we love those little blue plaques that make up one of London’s many idiosyncrasies, so we want to take you on a tour of some of our favourites. Sit back, buckle up and don’t forget to look up…
Who: Lord Byron, Poet
Where: 24 Holles Street, W1
Lord Byron was the country’s first blue plaque and marked the birthplace of the revolutionary poet. Sadly the plaque no longer exists after the building was ripped down in 1889 to make way for a shopping centre.
Who: Alfred Hitchcock, Film Director
Where: 153 Cromwell Road, SW5
The “Master of Suspense” was born in Leytonstone but lived in this Kensington house between 1926-1939. From The Birds to Psycho, Rear Window to Vertigo, even if you haven’t seen a Hitchcock film you’ll have seen work heavily influenced by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
Who: Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel: rock musician and composer
Where: 23 Brook Street, Mayfair, W1
We’ve got a double plaquer here for you. In a twist of fate, somewhat musical love story, both classical composer Handel and rockstar Hendrix lived in the same house, albeit over 200 years apart.
The building has now been made into the Handel & Hendrix in London museum, celebrating two of the men who changed the face of London music.
Image: Jimi at home on 23 Brook Street © Barrie Wentzell
Who: Agatha Christie, Author
Where: 58 Sheffield Terrace, Holland Park W8
From Murder on the Orient Express to Death on the Nile, there are few who have not read or at least seen an adaptation of one of Christie’s books and it was here that she wrote those two famous novels.
Who: Vincent Van Gogh, Painter
Where: 87 Hackford Road, Lambeth, SW9
The man who famously cut off his ear and painted sunflowers only lived in this London dwelling for a year (1873-1874) but clearly made an impact on the city. It is thought that Van Gogh was quite taken by London and the city inspired his work throughout his life.
Who: Freddie Mercury
Where: 22 Gladstone Avenue, Feltham TW14
This understated two-up two-down in Hounslow was the Queen frontman’s family home. If you’ve seen the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody you can imagine what it was like living here for Mercury and his family before the icon hit the big time.
Who: Virginia Woolf, Novelist and Critic
Where: 29 Fitzroy Square, Fitzrovia, London, W1T 5LP
The novelist and critic, Virginia Woolf was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. In addition to writing ground-breaking novels such as Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Orlando, she was a prolific essayist and diarist, and a prominent figure in London’s literary society. Fun fact: the same house has another blue plaque for playwright George Bernard Shaw.
Who: Wolfgang Mozart, Composer
Where: 180 Ebury Street, Belgravia SW1W
Mozart needs little introduction on why he deserves the Blue Plaque accolade but who knew the Austrian composer spent time in the English capital? In 1764 the then eight-year-old prodigy composed his first symphony at 180 Ebury Street, Belgravia, where he and his family stayed for several weeks. Way to make us feel inadequate, Wolfgang.
Who: Charlie Chaplin, Actor & Film-maker
Where: 15 Glenshaw Mansions, Brixton Road SW9
We’ll let this English Heritage video explain…
Who: Emmeline Pankhurst and Dame Christabel Pankhurst, Suffragette leaders
Where: 50 Clarendon Road, Notting Hill, London, W11
The mother and daughter Suffragettes who led the campaign for women’s right to vote lived here during the First World War.
Who: Charles Darwin, Naturalist and Geologist
Where: Biological Sciences Building, University College, Gower Street, Bloomsbury WC1E
Darwin lived here between 1838-1842, 17 years later he would publish the most famous scientific literature of all time, Origin of Species.
We could go one (there are 900 of the things) but once you start to delve deep into who has a Blue Plaque it can become kind of addictive. There are so many we’ve missed off the list, from George Eliot to Florence Nightingale, Francis Bacon to Sigmund Freud,
If you fancy getting out there and seeing them for yourselves, this English Heritage map highlights exactly where they are.