John Sturgis

The joy of blue plaques

  • From Spectator Life
Image: Getty

This week saw the unveiling of the latest English Heritage blue plaque.

It marks one Caroline Norton, a 19th century writer celebrated for her pioneering legal battles against her drunk and violent wastrel of a husband which resulted in some of the first legislation to enshrine women’s rights.

The plaque is at Chesterfield Street, Mayfair, where, in 1877, the always-unlucky-in-love Norton died just three months after marrying again.

It’s a riveting story that deserves to be told yet, relatively, Mayfair doesn’t really need any more plaques – like Chelsea, Bloomsbury, Hampstead and the like, it’s already dotted with them. You can go on blue plaque walks there.  But Southgate, where I live, has none.

There’s a plaque to Ho Chi Minh on the Haymarket, for example – sublimely placed next to an Americanised sports bar – but no one gets cross about it. It’s simply there to mark the connection.

Whitehouse Way is a small, fairly unremarkable street in the north London suburbs, close to the outer reaches of the Piccadilly Line. The houses are slightly poky, cheaply-built circa-1930 semis with some deco touches. There’s nothing outwardly noteworthy about it, no plaques, no markers of any kind to suggest anything ever happened here worth recording. And yet I’ve lately learned that there have been one or two residents or episodes of interest.

Number 45, for example, was Amy Winehouse’s childhood home. Older residents still remember her playing in the street and, yes, singing in their back garden. They also recall her hanging around the house at number 87 one summer in the mid-nineties.

That was because number 87 was, briefly, a film set, the main location in Mike Leigh’s Palme D’Or-winning Secrets and Lies. If you remember the film, it was the house where the Timothy Spall photographer character hosted his excruciating climactic family reunion. A

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