Apart from an interesting passenger or occasional celebrity much of your day can be tedious. One way to brighten your day is to spot blue plaques and try to identify the person to whom they were dedicated.
Take Beaumont Street and Westmoreland Street, the only time you are likely to encounter this little thoroughfare is when a member of the Royal Family is in King Edward Hospital. But as you reach the junction with New Cavendish Street there facing you is a blue plaque dedicated to ‘Vicky’, who it turns out was Victor Weisz a cartoonist. Or who would have thought the Royal dress designer Norman Hartnall lived three stories up in a small block of flats in Sussex Gardens.
Each plaque costs £965 to manufacture and erect and I read (although I can’t see how it could be) English Heritage claims they can save £240,000 over 2 years by disbanding the quango consisting of 13 members who decide who gets their name up in blue.
The blue plaques were designed by an unnamed student from the Central School of Arts and Crafts and due to the design its surface is self-cleaning.
I like the fact that areas of London whose politics are not middle-of-the-road erect their own plaques in defiance of the blue plaque quango, commemorating some left wing politicians.
The doyen of leftwing politics – Carl Marx had a blue plaque erected in Kentish Town; twice it was defaced before the resident of the property begged for it to be taken down. The Labour run GLC eventually erected another one in 1967 at 28 Dean Street.
Many commemorate less serious persons – another favourite of mine is on the corner of Englefield Street and Essex Road the home of Champagne Charlie, musical hall entertainer George Leybourne.
The plaques only commemorate the building, if that is demolished then the plaque goes too. This has saved some property from re-development. J. M. Barrie’s home at the north side of Kensington Gardens was saved. Whenever I see it you can imagine Peter Pan and Tinkerbell flying out of its bedroom window.
Many houses deserve blue plaques; they apparently don’t add value to your property, just kudos. But one street off the Strand has seen a remarkable number of persons living there deserving of blue plaques. Buckingham Street has had living there David Hume, father of the Enlightenment; Henri Rousseau, postimpressionist painter; Robert Harley, Queen Anne’s Lord Treasurer; Jonathan Swift; William Penn; painters William Etty and Clarkson Stanfield; Humphrey Davey, of miner’s lamp fame; Peg Woffington, actress (see the book I am reading); Russian Peter the Great; writer Henry Fielding; Charles Dickens; Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, believe it or not, Napoleon Bonaparte.