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, our 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.
David's been throwing plaques around again…
THE HOUSE AT THE HUB OF THE UNIVERSE
Ok, you asked for one, Monica. Here it is. Compliments of London Walks.
Monica is Monica Dickens, Charles Dickens’ great granddaughter and a very fine novelist in her own right.
She was born in this house in 1915. (She died, on Christmas Day, in 1992.)
And, yes, she really did want a plaque on it. She said as much back in the 1970s.
There’s one over the way, commemorating Louis Kossuth, a Hungarian patriot.
“Who he?” said Ms. Dickens, “if he’s got one, I can have one, too.”
Well now you do, Monica.
The house figures in our Notting Hill & Portobello Market walk. Built just over two centuries ago, it’s had a parade of distinguished residents. Starting with a Bonaparte. Yes, one of those Bonapartes – a relative of Napoleon. Then of course the Dickens tribe. And then, a generation ago, the “oodles of money” Barings. As Monica put it, “they own a bank.”
Respectability cheek by jowl with the London equivalent of San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Haight-Ashbury districts.
The latter is, In a word, colourful.
Has been for a long time.
As Monica Dickens recalled, “the streets began to be a centre for all kinds of strange occult sects, with weird signs on the doors; failures and revolutionaries and penniless students and odd, potty people.”
Her description’s stood the test of time. “Notting Hill Gate [and Portobello Road] is the navel of the world.” The navel of the world and – bears repeating – colourful in the extreme.
People, what goes down, the vibe, even the houses.
Another recollection: Ms. Dickens said there was a pink house over the road that “used to be a brothel.”
Now I don’t know if it’s the same pink house, but isn’t it pretty to think so, as Jake said toward the end of The Sun Also Rises.
Anything else? Of course. There’s always something else. This is Notting Hill Gate. And that’s by way of saying, it’s neat to know that there was an air-raid shelter in the garden and the Dickenses dined in it night after night during the Blitz. There were still traces of it there in the 1970s.
No more. There’s a swimming pool there now. You can’t see it from the street but trust me it’s there.*
Win some, lose some. The air raid shelter’s gone. But you’ve got your plaque, Monica.
*Personal knowledge – I’ve been back there, have seen it.
POST UPDATED 4/4/16
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 www.walks.com.