Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Missing Plaques of Old London Town No.2

We all know and love London’s plaques – blue or otherwise. They pop up on our London Walks like cultural buttons waiting to be pressed by our London Walks guides.

Regular Daily Constitutionalists will know that we have already rounded up 100 of ‘em for our Plaque of the Week series (search “Plaque of the Week” in the top left corner of this window).

London Walkers often ask about them. Why are some blue and some green? How do property owners feel about them? How can one “qualify” for a plaque?

Our mission in this, or occasional series, is to extend this conversation… by issuing our own plaques to those who have been left out. You may have a thing or two to say on such matters. As usual, get in touch via email or on Twitter @londonwalks.

Our next plaque where no plaque has gone before is in Fitzrovia…

Albert Richard Smith
The Quintessential Victorian Lived Here

Why quintessential? Because he did it all. Had incredible energy and drive and curiosity and self-confidence.

Consider… Take stock…

He was a surgeon.  He was a journalist. He was an editor. He was an author* (his output ran to nearly 30 books). He was a public lecturer. He was a mountaineer – he was one of the founding members of the Alpine Club. He was a balloonist. He was a “spin off merchandiser” in advance of his time. He was a parachutist (of sorts). He was a Londoner. He had the luck of the Irish. And, yes, he was a guide! He guided the Prince of Wales at Chamonix.

Let’s draw a bead on that parenthetical. He was a parachutist (of sorts).

In 1847 he made several balloon ascents from Vauxhall Gardens. On one of them – a mile and a half above London – the balloon burst. Oops. Euston, we have a problem.  But – his l of the I in the hell of the high – the deflated balloon was trapped in its own netting and acted as a crude parachute. Down. He. Came. Gently. Safely.

And there’s a general, guiding, London Walks point here. Most people don’t see this street. The few who do see it maybe “clock” its handsome 18th and 19th century houses. And its two or three blue plaques. The “official blue plaques” not the London Walks blue plaques – you have to come to London Walks for them. 

So, yes, they see some old houses and clock a bluebie or two and that’s it.

Different story if you’re London Walks guide David sharking through those waters.

When I’m in that neighbourhood I’m like Dorothy in Kansas, feeling the breeze stirring, sensing that I’m about to be “airlifted” – ballooned, reverse parachuted – out of b/w Kansas to a land that’s eye popping with technicolour and wonder.

That’s what this Fitzrovia Street does for me. Not least because it should be  could be called Artists’ Street.**

But that’s for another time, another post, another ascent.

Let’s make do with the house of the The Quintessential Victorian for this ride on the London alley oop.

*His  The Natural History of a Gent was a best-seller.

**Both of these matters – Artists’ Street and Albert Richard’s Smith’s living here – are “quintessential” (there, that adjective twice in a couple of hundred words) London Walks matters. By that I mean, we want our guides to know things that nobody – make that NOBODY – else knows.  There. The gauntlet’s down. Go on. Pick it up. Google it.


A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

Bookmark and Share

No comments:

Post a Comment