Who Lived Where? The London Blue Plaque Scheme

With over 9000 plaques on buildings scattered throughout London, the Blue Plaque scheme is well known and in some central London streets the majority of buildings display a plaque (or plaques). What you may not be aware of is the “antiquity” of the scheme.

William Ewart, a Liberal MP, suggested that the government should start this scheme to honour significant London residents in 1863. This was rejected due to cost, but three years later the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts) took the scheme on. It erected the first two plaques in 1867. The first commemorated the poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street off Cavendish Square, in 1867. Unfortunately the plaque was destroyed with the demolition of the house. The second plaque in Kings Street St James was erected to commemorate the exiled French emperor Napoleon III London residence.  This has survived.

Image copyright English Heritage (http://bit.ly/248TLrP)


William Ewart is in the select group who are commemorated with more than one plaque. English Heritage, the current custodians of the scheme, now restrict plaques to one per person, however many addresses that individual resided at. William Ewart is commemorated in central London but also his former house which is now Hampton Public Library in SW London. This is particularly fitting commemoration as, whilst an MP, William Ewart introduced a bill that became Britain’s first Public Library Act: setting up our network of free public libraries.

I think it is fair to say that for many years this scheme has favoured establishment figures and there is a large bias towards males. Recognising this, English Heritage is making concentrated efforts to get proposals from the public for female candidates. Currently only 13% of the total commemorate women.

Kensington & Chelsea have two blue plaques commemorating two significant female figures: Emmeline Pankhurst and Christobel Pankhurst, mother and daughter suffragette leaders, who lived at 50 Clarendon Road, Notting Hill, London, W11; and Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960), campaigner for Women’s Rights, who lived at 120 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, SW10.

Image copyright English Heritage (http://bit.ly/1XyToH1)


Biographical details for these and other blue plaque entries can be found on the English Heritage website. However, for a more comprehensive detail biography, why not use your library membership to consult the Oxford Dictionary of  National Biography online. We subscribe to this title as part of own Online Reference Resources available remotely via the library website (take a look here for a previous post about this fantastic resource).

Kensington Central Library also includes a Biographies special collection of approximately 80,000 books to which annually over 1,000 new titles are added to.

Finally, don’t forget our catalogue: you’ll find plenty of Blue Plaque guides to aid your research!  


Francis Sarjeant


Celebrating Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte was born on 21 April 1816. The eldest of the Bronte siblings to reach adulthood, she was the last to die. She wrote Jane Eyre, Shirley and Villette, and died on 31 March 1855, aged 38. Her bicentenary is celebrated this year, and those of Branwell Brontë in 2017,  Emily Brontë in 2018 and Anne Brontë in 2020.

This post is a quick reminder of some of the resources we have available in the library for Bronte students…look out for more Bronte posts in the future.


The library holds a wealth of Charlotte Bronte resources for everyone, from students to simply curious browsers: Charlotte Bronte’s entry in the DNB (Dictionary of National Biography) gives a concise but detailed account of the life of this shy, complex and talented writer, with links to additional resources.


The online Encyclopaedia Britannica’s topic pages  also gives extensive lists of useful sources of further reading.  Britannica Library for students gives an excellent and well-written article about the Bronte family’s difficult and intriguing life.

Don’t forget, with both these resources you are offered links to carefully chosen, credible sites on the internet, as well as primary sources, pictures, and library catalogue entries. You are also able to highlight particular words in the article for a more detailed explanation of their meaning if unsure.





And for further reading, the Times Digital Archive gives us a review of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte, an insight into the thoughts and attitudes of her contemporaries.


Searching the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Francis Serjeant, librarian, writes:

Warning! Searching the online resource the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) can be addictive as “all human life is here”. Most people use this dictionary to search for a specific individual. However you may not be aware that using the advanced search options and selecting other search criteria will create lists of names of the great and the good… and also, it must be said, the not so good.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - home page
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

To use the advanced search facility, click on one of the “More Search Options” displayed beneath the main search box.

Curiosity led me to check how many people there were with Kensington and Chelsea links by using these terms in the ‘place search’ category option. The result was over 3000! However this figure is misleading, as a casual check of a few entries revealed that the connection was often limited either to their unfortunate death in one of the borough’s hospitals or attendance at one of the borough’s schools.

I whittled down the 1975 Kensington entries to 122 by selecting the “Law and Crime” category from the drop down list of occupations (found in the “Fields of Interest” search category). Amongst the list of lawyers and judges I found John Christie, the Notting Hill mass murderer.

You may wonder why he is included. The DNB does not only include the great and the good. To quote the website “the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century”. In the case of Christie, the miscarriage of justice leading to the hanging of the innocent Timothy Evans, to quote Christie’s DNB entry, “played a significant part to the subsequent abolition of the death penalty in Britain”.

For further details of the case and posthumous pardon of Evans read the Ludovic Kennedy book 10 Rillington Place which can be found at Kensington Central Library, or borrow the DVD feature film version of the book, staring Richard Attenborough as John Christie.

10 Rillington Place, by Ludovic Kennedy
10 Rillington Place, by Ludovic Kennedy

Finally it is also worth investigating the “Themes” tab to display the large number of collective biographies brought together under such topics as climbers of Everest, British monarchs, First World War poets and significant military and political leaders involved in that conflict. Other lists include a number of founder members of institutions and other significant groups.

How England handed Brazil the World Cup

Our Reference Librarian, Owen Grey, writes:

With Brazil hosting the World Cup for the first time since 1950, what better time to look at just how Brazilians became addicted to their most popular sport…

We can go down the boring route of looking at socio-economic and cultural reasons, height of the Empire political reasons, British naval power in the late 19th and early 20th century… but why do this when we can read into the legend of Englishman Charles William Miller?

Charles William Miller
Charles William Miller

(Image from Southampton’s Daily Echo)

Firstly, though, let’s not call him English: his father was from Scotland, his mother was from Brazil and he was himself born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1874 (140 years before this world cup). Nevertheless, he did go to the home of association football in 1884: he was educated in Southampton and fell in love with football (and other team games), and as every Southampton fan knows, he played for them when they were called St. Mary’s.

And he returned to Brazil in 1894 with a passion for the beautiful game and two footballs- and the rest, as they say, is history. Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the whole story for you, so why not finish reading about it on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: www.oxforddnb.com?

So there’s my argument about how England handed Brazil the World Cup! Would the Brazilians have had the same passion and enthusiasm for football (which has earned them the trophy and the honour of hosting the tournament on two occasions!) if Mr Miller had not stepped off the quay at Santos with footballing passion in his heart  and two footballs in his arms?

We will never know for sure (although I think they probably could’ve got hold of the footballs) but the story is definitely intriguing- let’s hope it will inspire the England team to do better in the next game…




Dictionary of National Biography: May’s online resource of the month

Sandeep Dhaliwal, our Tri-borough Reference Librarian, writes:

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century. It is free for library members and now includes biographies of 59,003 men and women who died in or before the year 2010 — plus 504 ‘Theme’ articles for reference and research.

If you’re into lists, try Chiefs of the Secret Intelligence Service or Captains of the England Cricket Team– how about a list of Musical chart-toppersAngry young men, or Viking and Scandinavian kings and leaders?

Want to know more about the DNB?

  • No living person is included in the DNB; it currently covers those who died in or before the year 2010.
  • To have an entry in the Dictionary is not an ‘honour;’ rather it’s an acknowledgement that an individual has shaped an aspect of national life (for good or ill), and is duly recorded for today’s, and future readers and researchers with an interest in the British past.
  • Includes over 11,500 portraits covering 2000 years of British history, the portraits include a wide range of forms—busts, medals, statues, effigies, death masks, and silhouettes, as well as more ‘conventional’ paintings and photographs.
  • Accessibility: Free to use and available 24/7!

Below is an example of a typical entry which includes wealth at death, sources and referencing at the very bottom;

Sir Robert William Robson
Sir Robert William Robson

In case you’re interested, Sir Bobby Robson’s wealth at death was £3,552,430!

A full list of online resources which the library service currently offers is available here: http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/leisureandlibraries/libraries/onlinedatabases.aspx
For a demonstration of a particular resource at Kensington Reference Library please e-mail information@rbkc.gov.uk. A member of staff will be delighted to help and set you off on your own journey of discovery.

June’s blog entry will feature Learning Nexus.