We can chart part of the lives of some of history’s most notable men and women through the blue plaques that adorn the walls of local buildings.
There are many blue plaques hung on the walls of buildings around the borough. While the most famous plaques are put up by English Heritage, in fact others have been erected by the former GLC – such as the plaque at Sandycombe Lodge, commemorating Turner – as well as a large number of unofficial plaques, for instance, the one commemorating Pissarro’s stay in Gloucester Road, Kew, in 1892.
The English Heritage scheme has existed for 150 years and anyone can recommend a person who they think deserves commemorating with a plaque. However, there are very strict criteria. The principal ones are that the person nominated has to be someone of importance, to have died at least 20 years earlier and to have had a definite connection with the building, where it is intended to install the plaque.
Richmond Borough has 21 English Heritage blue plaques and the names represent quite a cross-section of the community. One of the first was for Christopher Wren, but the plaque is at his home, Court House in Hampton, not nearby Hampton Court Palace, which he partially rebuilt in the grand Baroque style.
Nearby there is a plaque to Launcelot (Capability) Brown at Wilderness House, who was responsible for creating romantic landscapes. In creating these landscapes, he would often demolish whole villages if he thought that the village spoilt the view. This was the fate of West Shene, when he redesigned the landscape of Kew for George III.
David Garrick, the great theatre manager, whose roles are celebrated in paintings by Johan Zoffany, has a blue plaque on his house, Garrick’s Villa – a Grade 1 listed house on the banks of the river in Hampton.
Literature is well represented. There is a plaque on Hogarth House, Richmond commemorating Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard Woolf as joint founders of the Hogarth Press and a plaque on South End House, Montpelier Row in Twickenham, where the poet Walter de la Mere lived in 1939.
One of the most unusual persons to be honoured with a blue plaque is Bernardo O’Higgins (1778-1842), a wealthy landowner of Spanish and Irish ancestry, who came to Richmond to study and lived at 2 The Vineyard. He helped to free Chile from Spanish rule and is seen as one of Chile’s founding fathers.
(c) John Moses