Friday, 11 February 2011

Famous former inhabitants: London's blue plaques

As I roam the streets of London, I am often struck by the wonderful eccentricity of its architecture.  Solid square buildings many hundreds of years old stand huggermugger with brand new edifices, all angles and aerodynamic curves.  Glass cosies up to ancient brick which abuts shiny steel.  A city is an organism; it is dynamic.  Bits of it live, die and are reborn every second of the day.  Materials and land are constantly recycled.  Offices move into shops, and warehouses are reborn as penthouse apartments.  Owners pass on much loved homes to others, others who move in and change everything the previous owners adored.  And in London, as in any metropolitan city, many of these former owners were not your average Londoners.  Former inhabitants could be actors, writers, playwrights, architects, designers, artists, pioneering scientists and explorers.

In London, and across the rest of the UK, buildings which were once home to some pretty remarkable people are sometimes distinguished from their neighbours.  A small, unobtrusive blue plaque appears bearing a legend describing who lived there, when they lived there and what was particularly remarkable about them.  Professions celebrated include everything from chefs to astronomers, and from cryptologists to fraudsters.  Even fictional characters are commemorated, as a plaque appears on the Baker Street address where Sherlock Holmes supposedly consulted with those who sought his crime-solving wisdom.

Jason Dunne, the app developer behind the clever Toiluxe app (which locates your nearest, and often most glamorous public convenience) has even devised a tool to help plaque-hunters with smartphones.  Using the GPS functions on iPhones and other smartphones the app will show you where your nearest blue plaques are; which famous names have lived near you at one time or another?  Although (little note to Jason!) the keenest blue plaque nerds might appreciate a check-list function to see the extent of their hunting.
English Heritage is the current organiser of the blue plaques scheme, although the system of commemoration has been ongoing since 1866.  Earlier awarders of plaques have included numerous London Councils, whose names appear on the plaques they awarded.  The plaque displayed in 1867 at the birthplace of Lord Byron was the first to take its place on one of London's walls.  I'm sure, at English Heritage's head offices, they are, as I write, finalising the lettering on the blue plaque shortly to be mounted above my front door: "In this house lived the Accidental Londoner, from 2010 to whenever I finally leave.  Office slave, aspiring writer, blogger and wishful thinker."


  1. I look forward to seeing your blue plaque, Accidental Londoner. From the way you write I am pretty sure that success is not very far...


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