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Top five things to do in London: Blue Plaque hunting

11 December 2012 | Emma Wright

It was an unnamed student who designed the blue plaque as we know it today, back in 1938. Luckily their work means that you lovely Londoners and visitors can appreciate the feats of other great figures of the past.

London is one of the most historically rich cities in the world. I won’t pretend I’ve prepared factual proof to support that statement; but the fact that the world's first blue plaque was erected in London (Lord Byron, 1867) and there are currently around 850 plaques in London - is surely an indicator. In case you’ve come to our fine city from beneath a rock, a blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event. Plaques vary from Charlie Chaplin, to Churchill, to Dickens, to Karl Marx. In selecting a top five for you however, Londoners and London visitors; this London Calling reporter has identified five lesser-known figures/ events, that you should know.

1. Swami Vivekananda is the most influential figure in modern Hinduism. He revitalised the religion within and outside India, raising interfaith awareness and bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion in the late 19th century. He contributed to the notion of nationalism in colonial India and as a wandering monk, extensively toured the Indian subcontinent, acquiring first-hand knowledge of conditions. His guru, Ramakrishna, taught him that all religions are true and that service to man was the most effective worship of God and Vivekananda conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes in America, England and Europe teaching this, as well as Yoga. His plaque is at 63 St George's Drive in Pimlico, SW1.

2. Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, GBE was president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies between 1890 and 1919. She is considered instrumental in gaining the vote for six million British women over 30-years-old in 1918. As a suffragist, as opposed to a suffragette, she took a moderate line. She focused on improving women's opportunities for higher education, was appointed to lead the Government's commission to South Africa to investigate conditions in the concentration camps created in the wake of the Second Boer War, and she also campaigned successfully for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, which required that prostitutes be examined for sexually transmitted diseases and imprisoned if positive - where male customers were not. Her plaque is at 2 Gower Street in Bloomsbury, WC1.

3. The Cato Street Conspiracy was an attempt to murder all the British cabinet ministers and Prime Minister Lord Liverpool in 1820. The name comes from the meeting place near Edgware Road in London. The Cato Street Conspiracy is notable due to dissenting public opinions regarding the punishment of the conspirators. While some supported the high-ended attempts to ensure that the Spencean Philanthropists were found guilty, others remained conflicted due to the demand of parliamentary reform. Find the plaque at 1a Cato Street in Marylebone, W1.

4. Sir George Frederic Still, KCVO was an English paediatrician and is frequently referenced as the ‘father of British paediatrics.’ He is the author of numerous medical textbooks and articles, and first described Still's murmur, Still's rash, and ADHD. Fluent in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic; his choice of profession was medicine and he devoted his life to paediatrics, writing prolifically about childhood diseases and serving as Secretary of the Children's Clinical Club and particularly helping patients at Great Ormond Street Hospital. His plaque is at 28 Queen Anne Street in Marylebone, W1.

5. Frank Pick Hon. RIBA was chief executive officer and vice-chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board from its creation in 1933 until 1940. He commissioned commercial art, graphic design and architecture for the underground, to establish a recognisable brand, including the roundel and typeface still used today. He also expanded the Underground network and bus services considerably, reaching into new areas and stimulating the growth of London's suburbs. Pick also prepared for the government, the transport plan for the mass evacuation of civilians from London at the outbreak of war. His plaque is at 15 Wildwood Road in Golders Green, NW11.

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