Top 10+ Famous Blue Plaques in South West London
Top 10+ Famous Blue Plaques in South West London
Time for a historic local road trip to learn more about these 10+ famous figures. By Anize Keers.
Images © English Heritage
London’s famous blue plaques scheme was started back in 1866, with the mission to connect the people of the past with the buildings of the present. Across the capital, nearly 1,000 plaques on all sorts of buildings honour the notable figures who have lived or worked in them.
We have compiled a list of ten blue plaque commemorations of the biggest icons who took up residency in south west London for you to plan a local road trip and learn more about these famous figures.
Location: Flat 60, Coleherne Court, Old Brompton Road, SW5 0EF
One of the most iconic figures in history, the beloved Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, was recognised outside her personal life for her extensive charity and humanitarian work. Her blue plaque marks the flat she was living in before and during her courtship with the Prince of Wales. The flat was bought with a bequest from her maternal great-grandmother in July 1979 and cost £50,000. It was said she furnished the flat ‘in a warm but simple Habitat style’.
According to English Heritage, she lived at Coleherne Court for 18 months with three flatmates. Each flatmate was charged £18 a week and Diana’s status as landlady was emphasised by a sign reading ‘chief chick’ on her bedroom door.
Speaking at the launch of the plaque, Diana’s former flatmate, Virginia Clarke said: “Those were happy days for all of us and the flat was always full of laughter. Diana went off to become so much to so many. It’s wonderful that her legacy will be remembered in this way.”
Dame Margaret Rutherford
Location: 4 Berkeley Place, Wimbledon, SW19 4NN
A remarkable comedy actress Dame Margaret Rutherford is commemorated by a blue plaque at Berkeley Palace where she lived from 1895-1920 with her aunt. In 1933 the actress made her West End debut and in 1939 she played Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde’s, The Importance of Being Earnest.
Margaret went on to become a successful actress playing eccentric middle-aged women with a quick wit and sharp mind. She achieved notable success in films such as Passport to Pimlico (1949) and The VIPs (1963), which won her an Oscar for best supporting actress. She was also famous for her portrayal of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in films including Murder She Said (1962) and Murder Ahoy (1964).
Location: Donovan Court, 107 Drayton Gardens, Chelsea, SW10 9QS
Pioneering the study of molecular structures, her research would later help Watson and Crick identify the structure of DNA in 1953. The work would later win a Nobel Prize in 1962. She spent seven years living at Donovan Court until her death in 1958. While she lived here, she took up a fellowship at King’s College London where she discovered DNA molecules had two forms that she suggested probably made a helix structure.
Location: 120 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, SW10 0ES
Famous for her efforts and political activism during the women’s suffrage movement, Sylvia Pankhurst is remembered for her use of brave militant tactics. As well as her fight for suffrage, she was an early opponent of Italian fascism. She started the New Times and Ethiopia Times in 1935, which became the main source written in English on Ethiopian affairs. In 1956 she moved to Addis Ababa to live out the rest of her life.
The commemoration of Sylvia was met with some opposition when in 1980 her case was rejected by the Greater London Council’s Historic Buildings Committee after a vote. It was approved then two years later.
Location: 34 Tite Street, Chelsea, SW3 4JA
It was living in Chelsea’s fashionable artist quarter at Tite Street where Oscar Wilde would reach the height of his fame and write his biggest titles, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde mainly wrote in the library but also was known to work in the outlandish smoking room at the rear of the house. He left this residency in 1895 to serve his jail time for ‘gross indecency’. The entire contents of his home were sold.
Vincent Van Gogh
Location: 87 Hackford Road, South Lambeth, SW9 0RE
A world-famous post-Impressionist artist, Van Gogh stayed at 87 Hackford Road in 1873-1875. Arriving in London to work for his employers, he found cheap lodgings in Hackford Road, home to Mrs Sarah Loyer and her daughter Eugenie. It was reported that Van Gogh fell for Eugenie however the love was unrequited as she was engaged to another. He then moved to new lodgings in Kensington. It is said Van Gogh was greatly inspired by his time in London through his later development as an artist. He marvelled at John Constable’s, The Cornfield (1826), and would later paint several cornfields himself.
Location: Holly Lodge, 31 Wimbledon Park Road, SW18 5SJ
The first blue plaque awarded in South London, George Eliot is commemorated at the house where she wrote ‘The Mill on the Floss’ in 1860. She lived at Holly Lodge from 1859-1860. She described it as “a tall cake with a low garnish of holly and laurel”. She moved as she felt the house allowed for ‘too many eyes’, so she left and moved to The Priory, a grand house near Regents Park, where she would host guests such as Charles Darwin.
Kathleen ‘Kitty’ Godfree
Location: 55 York Avenue, Richmond, SW14 7LQ
One of the best tennis players in the world, Kitty Godfree is renowned for winning five medals over two Olympic Games, a record which has only recently been met by Venus Williams and has yet to be beaten.
55 York Avenue was home to Kathleen and Leslie Godfree for over 50 years. After her husband’s passing in 1971, Kitty lived with her son and grandchildren in a separate flat on the ground floor of the house which was created for her. Kitty was said to have taken care of the gardens of the house herself. She continued to play competitive tennis into her nineties, and in 1988 she won a mixed double game against Jean Borotra in an International Club match between Britain and France.
Location: 15 Glenshaw Mansions, Brixton Road, SW9 0DS
One of the greatest stars of early cinema, Charlie Chaplin is known worldwide for his iconic productions and performances. After an impoverished childhood, Chaplin could finally afford to rent his own home at 15 Glenshaw Mansions after a big break with Fred Karno Company in 1908. He lived here with his brother Sydney and later referred to it as a ‘cherished haven’. According to English Heritage, the brothers carpeted the front room, put lino everywhere else and spent a grand sum of £40 on furniture from a second-hand shop in Newington Butts including their sofa and two armchairs, a fretwork Moorish screen and a tasteful female nude portrait. Chaplin left the flat in 1910 for America.
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh
Location: Faraday House, 37 Hampton Court Road, KT8 9BW
A suffragette, Red Cross nurse, and critic of British rule in India, who used her royal connections to further the women’s suffrage movement, is commemorated by her blue plaque at the house she lived in for over five decades.
Sophia joined the Women’s Tax Resistance League in 1911, its members followed the slogan ‘no taxation without representation’ and Sophia was among those who refused to pay taxes. Faraday House was raided by bailiffs seeking redress for Sophia’s unpaid taxes, making the house a key part of the wider story of the women’s suffrage movement.
Dame Ellen Terry
Location: 22 Barkston Gardens, Earls Court, SW5 0ER
By the young age of 12, Ellen Terry was a seasoned theatrical performer. Whilst living at Barkston Gardens her career would really kick off, with her leading roles with distinction including most of the Shakespearean canon, mostly performed at the Lyceum. While at Earls Court she also conducted her famous affectionate correspondence with George Bernard Shaw. Terry lived with her friend Mrs Rumball, affectionately known as ‘Boo’, and singing bullfinch, Prince. During their residence, the exterior was recognised for beautiful floral displays on the balcony and windowsills.
Location: 14 Clapham Common North Side, SW4 0RF
Henry Graham Greene was the fourth of six children and had a horrid school life. After a relentless course of bullying in boarding school, he tried to take his own life and at 16 he ran away from school and was sent by his parents to London for psychiatric treatment. Graham returned to school six months later where he found his love of writing. After losing hope due to bad reviews of his first volume of verse, Greene turned towards a career in journalism. It wasn’t until 1929 that his first novel was published, The Man Within, which sold 13,000 copies, but sadly his next two novels did not succeed as much. In 1932 his literary career was revived and his promising career took off leading to him creating beloved titles such as ‘The Power and The Glory’ (1940), ‘The End of The Affair’ (1951) and ‘The Quiet American’ (1955).
The Blue Plaque commemoration for Greene is at his home where he lived with his family from 1935 until 1940 when it was unfortunately hit by a bombing raid. The house was luckily empty that night as his wife and children had been evacuated earlier and he was staying with his lover – an event which would later inspire the plot of ‘The End of The Affair’. The exterior of the house remained intact allowing it to be rebuilt after the war.
Sir Noël Coward
Location: 131 Waldegrave, Teddington, Richmond, TW11 8BB
Known for his flamboyance and wit, this talented actor, playwright, director and songwriter wrote more than 50 plays and composed hundreds of songs. His legacy lives on through his work with his best-known comedies of manners still having regular performances today.
His plaque marks the late Victorian semi-detached villa h he was born in 1899. It was known as Helmsdale back then and Coward wrote about it many years later referring to it as ‘an unpretentious abode’.
He would go on to establish himself as an internationally renowned playwright. His play, Hay Fever, was the first play by a living author to be produced at the National Theatre in 1964.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown
Location: Wilderness House, Moat Lane, Hampton Court Palace, KT8 9AR
The gardens of Brown have come to characterise the landscape of the English Country Estate. Brown had a flair for creating idyllic gardens and lawns, which still to this day complement some of England’s grandest country houses. He is credited with designing over 250 landscapes.
In 1764 Brown was appointed by George III as Chief Gardner at Hampton Court Palace, leading to his move to the official home of the palace’s head gardeners since 1700, Wilderness House. He is known for planting a Black Hamburg vine in 1768, the Great Vine, which remains the world’s largest grapevine today.
Location: Garrick’s Villa, Hampton Court Road, TW12 2EJ
This 18th-century star was famous for his moving portrayals of tragic heroes such as King Lear and Macbeth. His villa in Richmond-upon-Thames features a temple to Shakespeare which was worked on by Capability Brown and remains open to the public today. Garrick’s Villa, then named Full House, was Garrick’s summer retreat, which included a central portico facing the Thames, designed by Robert Adam.
Location: 40 Sandycombe Road, Twickenham, Richmond, TW1 2LR
One of Britain’s most famous painters doted on as the ‘painter of light’ known for his beautifully rendered scenes, JMW Turner designed and built 40 Sandycombe as his own country retreat. It was formerly known as Sandycombe Lodge. A blue plaque commemorates the time he spent there between 1813-1826.
Born in Covent Garden, it was at just age 14 Joseph Mallord William Turner was discovered to be a talented artist. In 1807, he produced acclaimed works such as ‘The Shipwreck’, which afforded him to buy a plot of land for £400. It took him five years to design and turn this plot into 40 Sandycombe. The finished house featured a large sitting room overlooking the garden to create Turner’s own base of solitude and peace. He would sketch the Thames and fish and later turn his sketches into watercolours and oil paintings. Sandycoombe is now open to the public.
Photo Credit: Lucinda MacPherson