The Blue Plaque scheme was set up in London in 1866, and was initially run by the Royal College of Arts. Originally it was hoped that the existence of a plaque might help to ensure the preservation of a property but this hope has only been partly successful. In 1901 London County Council took over and by 1954 the criteria for acceptance were formalised and when English Heritage took charge in 1986 they continued to abide by these principles. The first Blue Plaque erected by English Heritage was in St John’s Wood. There are now 21, and each plaque identifies the home or workplace of a famous person (or persons in two instances) connected with the Wood. Candidates must have been dead for 20 years or born more than 100 years ago (and now dead), their worth must be recognised in their own sphere and the plaque should be visible from the thoroughfare.
Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema OM 1836 – 1912 44 Grove End Rd NW8 9NE Painter lived here 1886 – 1912
Sir Lawrence was born in the Netherlands and trained as an artist in Antwerp, where he found fame as a painter of scenes of life in ancient Egypt. Discovered by the London art publisher Gambart, who arranged an exhibition of his work in London in 1865, he moved to London in 1870 , met the Pre Raphaelites, (who brightened his palette,) was made a Royal Academician in 1870 and became one of the most successful Victorian artists, painting classical scenes with amazing detail. After visiting Pompeii he painted scenes of daily Roman life and his meticulous archaeological research meant that every building featured on his canvasses could have been built using Roman tools, and became source material for many Hollywood films. He taught at the St John’s Wood Art School and was a member of the St John’s Wood clique.
In 1883 he moved from Townshend House to Grove End Road, where he lived in what had been Tissot’s house and became obsessed with designing its interior, spending £70,000 to create a classical interior.
Gilbert Bayes R.A. 1872 – 1953 4 Greville Place NW6 5JW Sculptor lived here 1931 – 1953
Bayes studied under Sir George Frampton and was a follower of New Sculpture, focussing often on architectural sculpture and with an interest in colour. His Queen of Time at the Oxford Street entrance of Selfridges is worked in bronze. He made the processional cross for the church of St Mark’s Hamilton Terrace and was commissioned by the St John’s Wood Art School to design the Orchardson medal. At Lord’s cricket ground in 1933 he carved a frieze at the entrance in Portland Stone to represent sportsmen and women dressed for different games like tennis, golf, cricket, swimming, rowing and football under the carved quotation “ Play up, play up and play the game”
Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819 – 1891) 17 Hamilton Terrace NW8 9RE Civil engineer lived here
Sir Joseph Bazalgette was the civil engineer responsible for designing London’s sewers. After working on projects in N Ireland he set up in 1842 as a consulting engineer in Westminster. In 1849 he joined the London Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, becoming chief engineer by 1852 and in 1855 to its successor the Metropolitan Board of Works, which had control of the building of a new London sewer system. 83 miles of intercepting sewers were finally completed in 1884. Bazalgette was also responsible for the design and construction of the Victoria Embankment, under which the new sewers were to lie. A bust of Sir Joseph by the sculptor George Simmonds still exists on the Embankment near Charing Cross.
Sir Thomas Beecham Bt, CH (1879-1961) 31 Grove End Road NW8 9NG Conductor and impresario lived here
Beecham was an English conductor and impresario, best known for his founding of and association with the London Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic orchestras. From the early 20th century until his death Beecham was a major influence on the musical life of Britain. He lived with his first wife at 32 Upper Hamilton Terrace (1910-1911) and used his access to the family fortune to finance opera from the 1910s until the start of WW2, staging seasons at Covent Garden, Drury Lane and His Majesty’s Theatre. From 1946-48 he lived at 39 Circus Road and later (1950-54) at 31 Grove End Road with his second wife, Betty Humby.
Emily Davies 1830 – 1921 17 Cunningham Place NW8 8JT
Founder of Girton College lived here
Emily Davies was a feminist, suffragist and pioneering campaigner for women’s right to a university education. In 1862 she moved to Cunningham Place with her mother (and remained there until 1886) when she became editor of the Englishwoman’s Journal and set up a womens discussion group with , among others, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Dorothea Beale and Francis Mary Buss. In 1889 Girton College was established in Hitchin, Herts and moved to Girton outside Cambridge in 1873. Emily Davies was the co-founder and first Mistress of the college. In 1901 she was awarded an honorary DLl from Glasgow University.
Sir William Reid Dick1878 – 1961 Clifton Hill Studios 95a Clifton Hill NW8 0JP Sculptor worked here in Studio 3 1910 – 1914
Sir William was a Scottish sculptor who had been apprenticed to a stonemason and attended drawing classes at night. In 1907 he graduated from the Glasgow School of Art and having become acquainted with Sir George Frampton’s sculptures decided to go to London to perfect his craft and originally lived at 1 St Johns Wood Studios in Queens Terrace. He served in the RAMC throughout the First World War and afterwards created many War Memorials for example to the RAF on the Embankments; he also sculpted the memorial to Roosevelt in Grosvenor Square and Lady Godiva in Coventry. He also lived at 31 Grove End Road, which later became the home of Sir Thomas Beecham.
Sir George Frampton R.A. 1860 – 1928 32 Queens Grove NW8 6HJ
Sculptor lived and worked here 1894-1908
Sir George was a leading member of the New Sculpture school. He trained at the Royal Academy schools and in Paris and taught at the Slade in 1893. He preferred polychromatic sculpture to “white” sculpture – for example his Lamia had an ivory head and bronze clothing. His studio was at 32 Queens Grove from1893-1908 when he built a new studio at 90 Carlton Hill in order to have a beautiful garden. His sculpture of Peter Pan was created there and the studio remains a sculpture studio belonging to Joy Fleischmann.
William Powell Frith 1819 – 1909 114 Clifton Hill NW8 0JS Painter lived and died here
William Powell Frith was born in Yorkshire and was encouraged by his father to go to London and join the Sass Academy, a preparatory training ground for the Royal Academy to which he managed to gain entry. In 1840 he had his first picture exhibited at the RA. He was influenced by his friends, painter David Wilkie and Charles Dickens, to branch out into large composite pictures, where he often used friends and relations as models as well as professionals.
His first great success was Ramsgate Sands, which was bought by Queen Victoria for 1000 guineas. Derby Day came a few years later, where he made use of photographs for his characters, and Paddington Station in 1862.
He had 12 children with his wife, to whom he was devoted, as well as seven more children by his mistress living a mile away. After his wife’s death he married his mistress and all became public. His popularity faded in the 1880s, which he blamed on the new impressionist movement.
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson V.C., D.S.O and Bar., D.F.C and bar 1918 – 1944 32 Aberdeen Place NW8 8JR Pilot leader of the Dambusters Raid lived here
Guy Gibson was a bomber pilot with 83 Squadron and by the age of 24 he had completed over 170 operations and been awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Bar and the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar. In 1943, he was selected to lead 617 Squadron, known as the ‘Dambusters’, in their attack on the Ruhr Dams, when they had to fly low over mountains at night carrying Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bombs. It took five attempts to breach the Moehne Dam and then Gibson led three of the remaining planes to attack the Eder Dam. Only 11 Lancasters returned of the 19 that set out, and 53 men were killed.
Gibson received the Victoria Cross, and subsequently embarked on a lecture tour of America.Then came a spell at the Air Ministry – this was when he was able to have a home in Aberdeen Place with his wife, the actress Evelyn Moore whom he had married in 1940 but had rarely seen. In September 1944 he was killed in a raid over Germany. For many years it was assumed he had been shot down, and later that he had run out of fuel. He is now thought to have been killed by friendly fire, when an English plane mistook his plane for a German one. After his death Barnes Wallis said “he had pushed his luck beyond all limits and he knew it. But that was the kind of man he was – a man born for war but born to fall in war.”
Benjamin Haydon 1786 – 1846 116 Lisson Grove NW1 6UL Painter lived here
An artist who specialised in grand historical pictures, Haydon was plagued by financial problems throughout his life, which involved various spells in a debtor’s prison. His tactless dealings with patrons and wanting to work on an enormous scale – for example his Raising of Lazarus measured 14 ft by 22 ft – did not help his career.
The “Immortal dinner” was held in Haydon’s house on 28 December 1817 when his young friend John Keats, aged 23, met William Wordsworth the poet, who was down in London on a visit, together with Charles Lamb and Thomas Monkhouse who was a friend of Keats. Haydon’s diary says :
On December 28th the immortal dinner came off in my painting room. Wordsworth was in fine cue and we had a glorious set-to, on Homer, Milton and Virgil. Lamb got exceedingly merry and exquisitely witty; and his fun in the midst of Wordsworth’s solemn intonations of oratory was like the sarcasm and wit of the fool in the interval of Lear’s passion
In the morning of this delightful day, a gentleman, a perfect stranger, had called on me. He said he knew my friends, had an enthusiasm for Wordsworth, and begged I would procure him the happiness of an introduction. He told me he was a comptroller of stamps and often had correspondence with the poet. (W was Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland) I thought it a liberty but still as he seemed a gentleman, I told him he might come. When we retired to tea we found the comptroller In introducing him to Wordsworth I forgot to say who he was. it was an immortal evening and that in my life I never passed a more delightful time.
In 1835 he conducted lecture tours through the country, trying to convince the public that public buildings should have history paintings showing the glories of the nation’s past, but although the cause was won after the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament and historical paintings were included, Haydon’s paintings were not among the ones chosen. He shot himself but this failed to kill him so he cut his own throat.
Thomas Hood 1799 – 1845 28 Finchley Road NW8 6ES Poet lived and died here
An editor, publisher, poet, and humourist, Thomas Hood was born in London, the son of a bookseller. After his father died in 1811, Hood worked in a counting house until an illness forced him to move to Dundee, Scotland, to stay with relatives. In 1818 he returned to London to work as an engraver and then had some success with his poems which included Eugene Aram and the Song of the Shirt, which he wrote while living at 17 Elm Tree Road from 1841 – 44; he then moved to 28 Finchley Road, jokingly calling himself “Hood of the Wood” Having survived years of poverty he was at last earning £300 p.a. as editor of the New Monthly magazine. He was a much loved husband, father and friend and the public subscription after his death raised £1386 15s 6d for the benefit of his family.
Thomas Henry Huxley PC FRS FLS 1825 – 1895 38 Marlborough Place NW8 0PJ Biologist lived here
Huxley was an English biologist (in fact he invented the term biology) and comparative anatomist, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Huxley’s famous debate with Samuel Wilberforce was a key moment in the wider acceptance of evolution and and his own career.
Huxley was undecided about natural selection, but despite this he was wholehearted in his public support of Darwin. His fine anatomical work to be overshadowed by his energetic and controversial activity in favour of evolution, and by his extensive public work on scientific education, both of which had significant effects on society in Britain and elsewhere. He was noted for his happy home life, with seven lovely children, and their home in Marborough Place was open to all comers on Sunday evenings.
Melanie Klein 1882 – 1960 42 Clifton Hill NW8 0QG Psychoanalyst and pioneer of Child Analysis lived here
Born to Jewish parents in Vienna, by 1919 Melanie Klein had begun work on analysis of children, the first person to work in this area, publishing The Development of a Child in 1921. She came to London in 1925 and became a leading light of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, where her play techniques attracted attention. and she published The Psychoanalysis of Children in 1932 . She moved to Clifton Hill and although she was a professional rival of psychoanalyst Anna Freud, she gave her brother Ernest Freud his first commission in England when she asked him to rework the interior of no 42 in Bauhaus style.
Dame Laura Knight 1877 – 1970
Harold Knight 1874 – 1961 16 Langford Place NW8 Painters lived here
Laura Knight was a painter in the figurative realist tradition, working in oils, water colours and etching. She specialised in paintings of the theatrical and ballet world, and of marginalised communities like gypsies and circus performers, and was a war artist in the Second World war, notably painting the Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg trial which showed a ruined city in flames behind the court scene. As she wrote, “In that ruined city death and destruction are ever present. They had to come into the picture, without them, it would not be the Nuremberg as it now is during the trial, when the death of millions and utter devastation are the sole topics of conversation wherever one goes – whatever one is doing”.
She met Harold Knight when they were both at art school; they married in 1903 and became central figures in the artists’ colony at Newlyn in Cornwall. In 1915 she painted a self- portrait with a nude figure which was a challenge to the ban on women students attending life classes. In 1923 they began living in Langford Place, purchasing their house (and two others next door) in 1937. In 1929 she was created a Dame and in 1936 became the first woman elected to the Royal Academy since 1769.
Harold Knight was a professional portrait painter and was a conscientious objector in the First War when his work as a farm labourer took a toll on his health. He too became a Royal Academician. In 1937 they purchased their house (and two others beside it) in Langford Place.
Oscar Kokoschka 1886 – 1980 Eyre Court NW8 9TX Painter lived here
Oscar Kokoschka was an Austrian artist, poet and playwright, particularly noted for his expressionistic portraits and landscapes. He studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna where he developed an original style of innovative oil painting anchored by earlier traditions, and in 1926 visited London where he painted the Thames and the Zoo in Regents Park. He had an affair with Alma Mahler and although they broke up after a few years he never stopped loving her. Having fled to Prague to escape the Nazis he then had to flee to England with his girl friend Olda, thirty years younger than himself. They lived in Boundary Road and in 1941 married in an air raid shelter that was being used as a makeshift registrars office because of the air raids. He taught at the Anglo French Art Centre in St John’s Wood and received the CBEin 1959. He lived at Eyre Court from 1946-1953.
Charles Rossi 1762 – 1839 116 Lisson Grove NW1 6UL Sculptor lived here
Rossi was the pupil of sculptor Giovanni Battista Locatelli and worked with him for eighteen shillings a week until he joined the Coade stone works at Lambeth. He entered the Royal Academy School in 1781 and won the gold medal in 1784, then travelled to Rome for three years. Back in London he leased premises in Marylebone where he made statues and follies of artificial stone, He became a Royal Academician in 1802 and won commissions for military and naval heroes in St Pauls Cathedral, and terracotta architectural decorations for St Pancras New church (1819 – 22). The decorations included two sets of caryatids, builtup in sections cemented around structural cast iron columns.
Rossi owned a large house in Lisson Grove which he had acquired in the early 1820s when that part of the Eyre estate was really rural and he had wanted land for a house, a gallery to exhibit his work and a building shop. He rented part of it to artists like Charles Leslie (1794 – 1859) and Benjamin Haydon, who remained his tenant until imprisoned for debt in 1823. He retired from the Royal Academy with a pension shortly before his death in 1839 leaving his family “nothing but his fame”, perhaps not surprisingly as he married twice and had eight children by each wife.
Sir Charles Santley 1834 – 1922 13 Blenheim Road NW8 0LU Singer lived and died here
Sir Charles was a distinguished baritone opera and oratorio singer with a bravura technique who had a long and versatile vocal career. He led the cast in the first Wagner opera, the Flying Dutchman, to be performed in London in 1870. He retired from opera during the 1870s in order to concentrate on the concert circuit and lived at Blenheim Road until his death, having spent many years in St John’s Wood, in Upper Hamilton terrace, Carlton Hill and Grove End Road.
Sir Bernard Spilsbury 1877 – 1947 31 Marlborough Hill NW8 0NG Forensic pathologist lived here 1912 – 1940
Sir Bernard Spilsbury was a forensic pathologist who was involved in many notorious murder trials. He became famous after the trial of Dr Crippen in 1910 and consolidated his position after the Brides in the Bath trial in 1915. His cases included the trial of Herbert Rowse Armstrong, the solicitor convicted of poisoning his wife with arsenic, and the Brighton Trunk murder. He was responsible for devising the Murder bag, the kit used by detectives attending the scene of a suspicious death. He also played a crucial role in the development of Operation Mincemeat, a deception operation during the Second World War which saved the lives of thousands of Allied service personnel by persuading the Germans that the Allies were going to land in the Balkans rather than Sicily (and which featured in the film The Man Who Never Was) by choosing the body for the imaginary man. He lived at 31 Marlborough Hill from 1912 – 1940 and died by committing suicide at his laboratory at University College, London.
William Strang 1859-1921 20 Hamilton Terrace NW8 9UG Painter and etcher lived here 1900 – 1921
Scottish painter and etcher William Strang worked for eighteen months in the counting house of a firm of shipbuilders before going to London in 1875 when he was sixteen. There he studied art under Alphonse Legros at the Slade School for six years. Strang became assistant master in the etching class, and had great success as an etcher. He was one of the original member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers, and his work was a part of their first exhibition in 1881. Some of his early plates were published in Portfolio and other art magazines. Some of his best etchings were done as series – for example illustrating Kipling’s stories – and many distinguished people sat for him, most notably Vita Sackville-West entitled Lady with a Red Hat which is in the Glasgow Museum. The Tate Gallery has one of his best-known paintings, Bank Holiday, later used for the book cover of E.M.Forster. He lived at no 20 from 1900 until his death.
Marie Tussaud 1761 – 1850 24 Wellington Rd NW8 9SP Artist in wax lived here 1838 -1839
Marie Tussaud was born in Alsace Lorraine and her widowed mother was employed by Dr Philippe Curtius, a physician and wax sculptor who taught Marie the art of wax modelling. She created her first figure, Voltaire, in 1777. Until the French Revolution in 1789 she created famous portraits of celebrities and was on good terms with the French royal family. She was arrested during the Terror and only saved from being guillotined at the last moment. She was then employed to make death masks of the victims such as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Marat and Robespierre. In 1802 she left for London and travelled with her collection throughout Gt Britain and Ireland. Her catalogues were really informative with details of the lives of the wax figures and her admission prices appealed to the expanding middle class – 6d for the exhibition, 6d for the catalogue and 6d for the Chamber of Horrors. She was helped by her two sons and In 1835 she established her first permanent exhibition in Baker Street; her fortune was made when Napoleon’s Waterloo carriage was shipped over from France and exhibited there in 1841.
Charles Voysey 1857 – 1941 6 Carlton Hill NW8 0JY Architect and designer lived here
Charles Voysey was an English architect and furniture and textile designer in the Arts and Crafts style and was one of the first to understand the significance of industrial design. In 1891 he ran his practice from his home in 11 Melina Place, next door to the influential architect Edward Schroeder Prior who was Slade Professor of Art and founder of the Cambridge School of Architecture, and moved to Carlton Hill in 1894.His domestic architecture drew heavily on the vernacular tradition and he had many commissions for complete house s between 1900- 1910 where he not only designed the house but all the fixtures and carpets, wall papers and fabrics.
John Waterhouse 1849 – 1917 10 Hall Road NW8 9PD Painter lived here 1900 – 1917
John Waterhouse was born in Italy, the son of two English painters who soon returned to England ; he studied at the Royal Academy and began exhibiting large works depicting scenes of life in Ancient Greece and Rome. At first he painted in the style of Alma Tadema and Leighton but gradually adopted the Pre Raphaelite style, though the Brotherhood had broken up many decades before. His paintings often showed the psychological division between a single figure and a group, and he was fascinated by enchantresses.
He taught at the St Johns Wood Art School and shared 5 Primrose Hill Studios with painter Collier Twentyman Smithers, the grandson of Albert Twentyman who developed St John’s Wood Park.