Some buildings in London are lucky enough to have blue plaques to famous former residents; a select few are adorned by two of the famous roundels. The recent double blue plaque unveiling in Chelsea – to the alluringly alliterative duo of Samuel Beckett and Patrick Blackett – prompts the question: just how often do these plaque pairings occur?
Across Greater London there are now nineteen houses with dual claims to fame proclaimed on their facades. Some of the figures commemorated actually lived together; others in the same building at different times. Either way, many of them had much more in common that just the same place of residence.
Literary pursuits united George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf, as well as the fact that they both lived at 29 Fitzroy Square, Fitzrovia. Virginia Stephen – as she then was – furnished the place with ‘bright green carpets and … old furniture’ when she moved there, with her brother Adrian, in 1907. For Shaw, who had moved out a little less than a decade before, the bohemian look just came naturally; his future wife wrote that his study was in a ‘perpetual state of dirt and disorder’.
Not far away – at 58 Grafton Way, Fitzrovia – another writerly duo are commemorated: Andres Bello and Francisco de Miranda. They were also brothers-in-arms in the struggle for self-determination in South America, and in Venezuela in particular. Bello was de Miranda’s long-term house guest, way back in 1810.
A political pairing
The wartime Free French leader Charles de Gaulle and nineteenth century Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (4 Carlton Gardens, Westminster) shared politics and statecraft as an occupation. Apart from that, they are a somewhat uneasy combination, given that Palmerston’s chief architectural relics are a series of forts along the south coast of England, built at considerable expense in order to repel … the French.
Despite now having plaques on the same building, Palmerston – once nicknamed ‘Lord Pumicestone’ thanks to the abrasiveness of his foreign policy – actually lived in an earlier house at 4 Carlton Gardens. After this was demolished, the plaque was re-erected in 1936 on the new structure – at that time sites of former residences were sometimes marked, but this has not been done for over half a century.
The father and daughter pairing of Anna Freud and Sigmund Freud were, as you might expect, co-habitees – both of them, of course, were psychoanalysts too. They were sprung from Vienna and the clutches of the Nazis in 1938, settling at 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead. Sigmund died there the following year, while daughter Anna, a leading pioneer of child psychoanalysis, lived at the house right up until her own demise in 1982.
Other plaque double-headers are more remarkable for the sharply differing lives and interests of the figures commemorated. A good example of this is at 18 Melbury Road, Kensington, where the elegant London County Council plaque to the Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman-Hunt (1827-1910) was joined in 2006 by an English Heritage plaque to Cetshwayo, the King of the Zulus.
Cetshwayo stayed at the house in the summer 1882, during which time he met the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, and Queen Victoria, before returning to South Africa in the vain hope of recovering his kingdom. Holman Hunt – despite being first to be commemorated – moved in over twenty years later, in time to finish his last work The Lady of Shalott (not to be confused with the John Waterhouse painting of the same title) in 1905.
Composer George Frideric Handel and guitarist Jimi Hendrix form perhaps the most famous blue plaque duo – even though they lived not in the same house, but in adjacent ones: 23 and 25 Brook Street, Mayfair. Both are part of the Handel Museum, which features a recently-opened reconstruction of Hendrix’s sixties ‘pad’. ‘To tell you the God’s honest truth’ – Hendrix said of his distinguished historical neighbour – ‘I haven’t heard much of the fella’s stuff’. What Handel would have made of Hendrix we can only guess at!
Future blue plaques in London
Since it was founded 150 years ago, the London blue plaques scheme has been driven mainly by suggestions from the public. We welcome proposals for consideration by the English Heritage team. To find out more information on the criteria and procedure for nominations, please see our guidance on proposing a plaque.[ssba]