How it all began

In 2009 the Marchmont Association established its own independent commemorative plaques scheme, with a view to raising awareness of the area’s rich social history. This was inspired by research that began in 2006 and culminated in an exhibition, first displayed in Mary Ward House, Tavistock Place, and then Camden’s Local Studies and Archives Centre, which illustrated the development of Marchmont Street from 1790 to the present day (with the support of an Awards for All/Heritage Lottery Fund grant).

Our early research revealed a number of notable former residents of Marchmont Street, including Kenneth Williams, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), Richard Greene, who played Robin Hood in the long-running TV series, William Henry ‘Bird’s Nest’ Hunt and John Skinner Prout, both 19th century watercolour painters. This led to the launch of the Marchmont Association Commemorative Plaque Scheme.

The expansion of the Marchmont Association’s ‘Area of Benefit’ in 2010 and 2013 provided the opportunity to commemorate former residents of other nearby streets. Several MA Committee members formed a sub-group to research and identify suitable blue plaque recipients. These were selected on the basis of distinction, reputation or notoriety. Some individuals are more famous than others, but all are worthy of recognition.

We thank our dependable plaque maker Ned Heywood and his talented ceramicist, Julia, for manufacturing and installing such high-quality plaques and to all our generous donors who have helped to fund the plaques. We would like to acknowledge, with gratitude, the immense amount of hard work that Ricci de Freitas, former Chair of MA, contributed to the instigation, organisation and success of this project.

The unveiling of a Marchmont Association blue plaque is an opportunity for short speeches about the individual concerned and provides an excuse for local people to come together with invited guests and passersby. The plaque is usually unveiled by the current Mayor of Camden, along with a family member or academic whose work is connected with the person being commemorated.

Historical Publications

In 2008 the Marchmont Association published a book called The Story of Marchmont Street – Bloomsbury’s original high street, based on the initial research for the exhibition that was displayed in 2006. There have been four revised editions of this book, with the most recent one being published in 2012.

In 2014 we published our second local history book, titled Tales of Brunswick Square – Bloomsbury’s untold past which, as the name suggests, is about the history of Brunswick Square, based on the lives of notable former residents and the events which have shaped the development of the square since it was created by James Burton between 1795-1804. From Fields to Fountains – The Story of Bloomsbury’s Russell Square followed in 2016. The fourth book was published in 2018: Three Men and a Field – Bloomsbury North of Tavistock Place. This focused on the development of land that was originally owned by the Worshipful Company of Skinners, who retain the freehold of many local properties today. The Skinners’ Company is one of the ‘Great Twelve’ livery companies of London.  It developed from the medieval trade guild of furriers and was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1327.  

All four books were written by Ricci de Freitas, former Chair of the Marchmont Association, whose research skills and personal enthusiasm for local history provided the impetus for the Association’s History Project.

History Boards

On 25th April 2015 our first history board was revealed at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), with whom we worked to provide an historic overview of 15-17 Tavistock Place. This is currently in safe storage during the redevelopment of the site.

We have also supported the Friends of Brunswick Square by securing funds to pay for the installation of three interpretive boards in Brunswick Square Gardens containing detailed references to the rich history of this Georgian square.

Blue Plaques

Our first commemorative blue plaque was unveiled at 57 Marchmont Street on 11th October 2009, to honour Kenneth Williams – Comic Actor and star of 26 ‘Carry On’ films.  The plaque was sponsored by The Heritage Foundation and unveiled by the actor Tom Pertwee and radio presenter Nicholas Parsons.  Kenneth Williams (1926-1988) spent his whole life in the Kings Cross / Bloomsbury neighbourhood. From 1935 to 1956 he lived with his parents in a flat above his father’s barber shop in Marchmont Street. He also lived close by in Cromer Street and in Queen Alexander Mansions, Judd Street.

William Henry Hunt (1790-1864) and John Skinner Prout (1805-1876) were accomplished nineteenth century artists who lived at 41 and 43 Marchmont Street, respectively. Plaques were unveiled to them on 30th November 2009..

On 19th December 2009, Ann Wroe, the acclaimed author of “Being Shelley”, unveiled a plaque to two of our most significant former residents – Percy Bysshe Shelley (poet and radical thinker) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) – who lived in a house on the site of 87 Marchmont Street.

On 27th April 2011, Griff Rhys Jones unveiled a plaque at 60 Marchmont Street to (George) Emlyn Williams – the iconic Welshman, Actor and Playwright, who is credited with giving Sir Richard Burton his first break in films. The plaque was sponsored by One Housing Group.

On 1st June 2011 a plaque was unveiled at 65 Marchmont Street to Sir William Empson – Poet and Literary Critic, by his sons Jake and Mogador, in the presence of three generations of the Empson family, writers, academics and literary critics.  The plaque was substantially funded by Miki Fukayama of Tokyo, Japan and Professor John Haffenden, Empson’s acclaimed biographer.

On 18th November 2011, a plaque was unveiled to Sir John (Giovanni Battista) Barbirolli – world renowned cellist and classical music conductor – by Cecilie, the only surviving member of the Barbirolli family. English Heritage objected to the plaque being fixed to the front of a Grade II listed building [The Brunswick] so the plaque was fixed to a plinth, on the site of Sir John’s home from 1913 to 1929.  The plaque was substantially funded by Dame Janet Smith and Skoob Books.

On 30th November 2012, a plaque to commemorate Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s stay at 36 Tavistock Place during 1908 was unveiled by Professor Bill Bowring, the president for the Society of Cooperation in Russian and Soviet Studies, and Heather Johnson, Mayor of Camden. The decision to install a blue plaque to the former Bolshevik leader provoked some interesting ‘differences of opinion’ in the local press!

A less controversial plaque to Alexander Herzen’s Free Russian Press was unveiled at 61 Judd Street on 26th June 2013 by Dr Sarah J. Young and Cllr Jonathan Simpson, Mayor of Camden at the time.

On 10th July 2013, we unveiled what is possibly our most unusual plaque, to the celebrated Victorian cross-dressers, Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, aka ‘Stella & Fanny’, who stayed at 13 Wakefield Street from 1868 to 1870, now the UK headquarters of the United Reformed Church. The plaque was unveiled by Neil McKenna, author of “Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England”.

A plaque was unveiled on 16th May 2014, at what was formerly 48 Bernard Street, to Roger Fry, Artist, Art critic and member of the Bloomsbury Group, by his cousin Roger and Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery. The Morton Hotel kindly funded this plaque and provided a post-unveiling reception.

On 21st May 2014, a plaque to Jerome K. Jerome was unveiled at 32 Tavistock Place, with special guests Griff Rhys Jones & Rory McGrath, two of the original cast members of the BBC 2 comedy / documentary series ‘Three Men in a Boat,’ which was broadcast in 2006. Frank Dobson, Camden’s MP was also present. The plaque was funded by Imperial London Hotels Ltd and the Jerome K Jerome Society.

On 30th May 2014, the focus was on William Reeve, prolific 18th century composer for Covent Garden and Sadler’s Wells Theatres, who lived and died at 56 Marchmont Street. The plaque was unveiled by Cllr Jonathan Simpson, Mayor of Camden, and Ed Reeve, William’s great-great-great great grandson.

On 28th March 2015 the Mayor of Camden, Cllr Lazzaro Pietragnoli, unveiled a replacement plaque to Charles Fort, founder of ‘Forteanism’, the study of anomalous phenomena, who lived at 39 Marchmont Street in the 1920s. We are grateful to Bloomsbury Building Supplies, whose shop premises is in this building, for their generous donation.

On 22nd April 2015, surviving relatives of George Orwell, Sir Stephen Spender and Cyril Connolly, unveiled a plaque commemorating Horizon Magazine, which was based at 2 Lansdowne Terrace in the 1940s.  The plaque was funded by the University of London, owners of the building, which is today part of International Hall’s student accommodation.

On 25th April 2015, the Deputy Mayor of Camden, Cllr Larraine Revah, and Dr Ros Stanwell-Smith of LSHTM jointly unveiled a plaque to Mary Anne Clarke, Mistress of Prince Frederick, Duke of York, who lived at former 31 Tavistock Place. Thanks to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine for funding this plaque and for hosting the reception.

On 15th May 2015 a plaque to Dorothy Richardson, Writer, was unveiled by Professor Laura Marcus at 6 Woburn Walk in the presence of a large number of Richardson enthusiasts and scholars.  We are grateful to the University of Ulster TGA (Transgender Archive) for funding this plaque.

A plaque to Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant and Adrian Stephen, was unveiled on 23rd October 2015 by Simon Keynes, the great-great-nephew of JMK. They all lived at 38 Brunswick Square (1911-12), where they were visited by other members of the famed Bloomsbury Group. The site is now occupied by UCL School of Pharmacy (opened 1960) who kindly sponsored this plaque and the ‘tea & cakes’ reception afterwards.

A plaque to J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, was unveiled by Barrie’s great, great nephew, David Ogilvy Barrie at the site of JMB’s former home, 8 Grenville Street, on 30th November 2015. We are grateful to 12 individual donors for making this possible and to the Curzon Cinema, Bloomsbury, for hosting the informal reception for our guests.

A plaque commemorating Robert Owen, founder of the Co-operative Movement, was unveiled at his former home, 4 Burton Place on 5th September 2016. The plaque was unveiled by the Mayor of Camden, Nadia Shah, Secretary General of Co-operatives UJ, Ed Mayo, and Professor Greg Claeys. Pat Brandwood made the journey from Wales, where she is the Curator of the Robert Owen Museum, and Iain MacDonald from New Lanark in Scotland, where Own tried to build a progressive, egalitarian society. The plaque was sponsored by One Housing, and the reception kindly hosted by Wallacespace in Duke’s Road.

On 23rd September 2016 a plaque was unveiled at 91 Judd Street, in memory of Dr Alphonse Normandy (1809-1864) who lived and worked there in the 1850s as an analytical chemist, teacher and inventor (‘hard’ soap and indelible ink). The ceremony took place in the presence of the Mayor of Camden, Nadia Shah, VIPs from the International Desalination Association (Dr Jim Birkett and Dr Emilio Gabrielli, former and current President), the President of the European Desalination Association (Ursula Annunziata), John Nicholson from the Royal Society of Chemistry and Dr Normandy’s great great-great-great grandson, Niki Panourgias. The plaque (and reception afterwards) was sponsored by the International Desalination Association, to honour Dr Normandy, who was the first person to apply multi-effect distillation to sea water desalination, a technical process still in use today.

We installed a replacement plaque in September 2016 for Sir Rowland Hill, founder of the modern postal service, who lived at 2 Burton Crescent, later re-named Cartwright Gardens. The new plaque was sponsored by the University of London and can be seen on the west façade of the Garden Halls student accommodation. The original plaque (lost when the building was demolished) was erected by Camden LBC.

A plaque commemorating the poet Charlotte Mew was unveiled on Saturday 22nd October 2016, at 30 Doughty Street, where she was born and lived from 1865 to 1890. The plaque was unveiled by Mew’s biographer, Julia Copus in conjunction with Mew’s surviving relative, 84 year old Heather Greetham, whose great-grandmother was Charlotte Mew’s sister. Poems were read by Julia and Michele Roberts. We are grateful to Goodenough College for graciously hosting the VIP reception.

A plaque to James Burton, prolific builder and developer of the Foundling, Bedford and Skinners’ Company Estates, was unveiled on 6th June 2018, by his surviving relative, Guy Fearon, in the presence of the Mayor of Camden, Councillor Jenny Headlam-Wells, at Burton’s first Bloomsbury home, 92 Guilford Street. We are grateful to the University of London for sponsoring this plaque.

A plaque to Richard D’Oyly Carte, theatre impresario, was jointly unveiled on 7th August 2018 at the site of his former home, 71 Russell Square (now the President Hotel) by Ian Martin, General Manager of the D’Oyly Carte Theatre Company, Jane Thorne, Executive Director of the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust, and the Deputy Mayor of Camden, Councillor Maryam Eslamdoust. We are grateful to Imperial London Hotels Ltd for sponsoring this plaque and hosting a reception at their President Hotel.

A plaque to George Jacob Holyoake, Secularist and Co-operator, was unveiled on 17th August 2018 by Stephen Evans, CEO of the National Secular Society, at Holyoake’s former home, 4 Woburn Walk (formerly 1 Woburn Buildings). The Deputy Mayor of Camden, Councillor Maryam Eslamdoust was also present at the event. We are grateful to the National Secular Society for sponsoring this plaque.

The unveiling on 19th October 2018 (part of the Bloomsbury Festival) by Dr Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline’s great-great granddaughter, was possibly of our most important plaque to date. This commemorated Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, who lived at 8 Russell Square – replaced by the Hotel Russell, now known as Kimpton Fitzroy London. The plaque was generously sponsored by the Principal London, owners of the hotel in 2018.

Plaques Research Subgroup (2013-2018)

The MA Committee Plaques subgroup (2013-2018) included Ricci de Freitas, Richard Ekins, Len Phillips and Debbie Radcliffe, all of whom contributed research on specific individuals to be commemorated by a Marchmont Association blue plaque. We are also grateful for additional information kindly provided by the local historian and author, David Hayes.

Illustrations: Sources/links

Open Plaques,

London Remembers: 

Camden New Journal; Dorothy Richardson Society; Bloomsbury Squares & Gardens

Photographs by MA committee members

Overview of the MA History Project compiled and edited for the Marchmont Association website, 2020

by Richard Ekins and Debbie Radcliffe

Plaques Research – future

The Marchmont Association is happy to accept suggestions for commemorative plaques from members of the public, and local history enthusiasts are welcome to join the research team.