Archive for January, 2015

Primrose Hill – Take 1

Friday is Project Awesome day so at 5.20am, off I headed to Primrose Hill for crazy running around and sit-ups with this fabulous view.

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From this highest point in the park, but with a little more light than this, I ran off in search of Blue Plaque joy. I was not disappointed.

Down to the bottom of the park and just a few houses along, I found my first plaque.

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This is the house where Roger Fenton, photographer, lived. Born in 1819 and educated at Oxford, he originally planned to become a painter and even had work displayed at the Royal Academy. Photography being new on the scene, he decided to dedicate his energies to that instead and in 1854, he went to photograph images of the Crimean War, which he was invited to show Napoleon III and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on his return. He was instrumental in creating the organisation that later became the Royal Photographic Society. Thank you, Sir. You done good.

A little further down the main road, I went looking for another blue plaque and was treated with extras, all next to each other. Hurrah!

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Number 2 – William Roberts, born in 1895, was a war painter in both world wars. He was featured in a magazine dedicated to Vorticism, the only movement in the art world at the time to originate in Britain, although he classed his work as Cubism. He was shown in the Royal Academy and the Tate Gallery and used his surroundings (the house backs onto Regent’s Canal) to inspire the urban scenes in his later work. I have looked at your paintings, Mr. Roberts, and they are wonderful.

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Number 3 – AJP Taylor, historian specialising in 19th and 20th century European diplomacy. During the wars, he often befriended emigre statesmen, which helped him develop the opinions later seen in his political and historic writings. As a broadcaster, he became well known for his television lectures and was involved with (co-editing, editing or authoring) 49 books. Impressive, to say the least.

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Number 4 – the 19th century poet, Arthur Hugh Clough, a native of my own hometown, Liverpool. His plaque is one I wasn’t expecting so it was a nice surprise to discover him. He was assistant to Florence Nightingale and, ironically, died in Florence. After spending time living in London at this address, he travelled round much of Italy, writing poetry during his visits to Rome and Venice.

Anyone seeing similarities? From Liverpool to London to Italy….? Sound like someone you know?

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*please excuse my filthy hand, the 6.30am workout left me muddied, soggy and frozen*

Number 5 – After running the wrong way up the road for a little while (thank GOODNESS I finally learned to take the book out with me!) I found my final plaque, Walter Sickert. Born in Germany, he later came to England and was a pupil and etching assistant to Whistler (as in Whistler’s Mother, you know the one). Despite being an eccentric, his paintings deal with ordinary people and situations and, strangely enough, recent theories have suggested that he was Jack The Ripper (he believed he stayed in a room where Jack the Ripper had once stayed and one of his paintings was entitled ‘Jack The Ripper’s Bedroom’.)

Now that I was done with my blue plaques, I headed off to the station and passed this amazing art deco building that I believe was a cigarette factory once upon a time.

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It’s another one of those places that I had no idea existed and would never have come across if it weren’t for blue plaque searching. There are a ton more plaques in the area and I only ticked off a few today so watch this space, I’ll be back to run some more.

STATS

TOTAL MILES RUN – 11.1

BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 18

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Life lessons from the Blue Plaques

Who was it who said ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy doing something else?’ Today was a prime example of that.

After work, I broke with traditional yet again by running in the afternoon. Cause I’m just crazy that way. I wanted to go to Kew Green to track down the blue plaque for pre-Raphaelite painter, Arthur Hughes, that I had wanted to see on my first run. I had seen another blue plaque and been distracted by taking a Blue Plaque Selfie with it. When I got home and looked in my book, I realised that the plaque I had seen was not the one I had been looking for. Dammit. Shoulda taken the book with me then I would have seen that I was at the wrong one. O well.

When I left work today in my unflattering stretchy running pants, I was determined to right this wrong that the sneaky blue plaque had played on me. I ran to Kew Green and started looking around for house no.23. Along the way, I saw this lovely little pond that I’ve never spotted before.

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I stopped for a moment and thought about how pretty it will look in the summer. As I ran around looking at the houses around the pond, they were all even numbers. I was looking for number 23 so I couldn’t work out what was going on. I crossed the Green to one of the other sides and found the house…..

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You see what my problem is? Where’s the blue plaque!? I looked and looked, up and down the street. Nothing!

Off I ran, a little confused and on the way, came across this fabulous plaque on a house, which is in a whole different category of awesome.

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It’s like the bonus ball of the plaque world! Boom! Score!

When I got home, I decided to try and solve the Kew Green mystery so got my book out and looked up Arthur Hughes and…. he lived at NUMBER 22! 22… not 23…. Ah. Yes. Um. That thing I said earlier about taking the book out with me. I really need to listen to my own brain.

Life lessons the blue plaques taught me today =

1. take the bloody book out with you.

2. if you look around while you run, you might spot some cool stuff, even if you don’t find what you were aiming for.

STATS

TOTAL MILES RUN – 9.78

BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 13

Sneaky post-workout Blue Plaque run

Good morning everyone! I have very little to report but as every plaque counts, I’m going to blog it anyway. I also covered barely any ground running to this one but here it is.

Alarm went off at 5.20am and I was on a tube by 5.45am heading to Piccadilly for a workout with the Project Awesome gang. With my Blue Plaque book in my hand (as it seems to always be these days!), I knew there must be one close enough to the workout to sneak in somehow. Obviously there was so after 45 minutes of squatting, burpeeing and running stairs, off I ran to find a pub on Panton Street….

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See that circle in the top right corner? Immediately to the left of the railing? Yep, that’s the best I could do unfortunately. My phone apparently cannot zoom when it is in forward-facing mode. Ridiculous. So I couldn’t do any better than that, sorry.

Anyway, the plaque commemorates Tom Cribb (1781 – 1848), a bare knuckle boxer who beat Tom Molyneux (the best American boxer at the time) twice and would often go for up to 76 bouts when fighting. After his retirement from boxing, he ran the pub on which this plaque is fixed, for many years. The pub, simply named Tom Cribb, was not open when I got there so my plan to go in at 7.30am and get smashed in his honour was ruined…..

Never mind. Off to work it is, then.

STATS

TOTAL MILES RUN – 6.76

BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 13

6 for the price of 2

Everyone loves a freebie, right? Well, I was in Freebie Central just a few hours ago. Having bailed out on a morning run in favour of a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea….

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….my work colleague suggested I do an after-work run to make up for it. What. On. Earth. But I never run after work. I do it in the morning. Always in the morning. Not after work. Not in the evening. Never. And I’ll tell you why.

Because I just don’t, alright?!

It didn’t take a master interrogator for this defence to rapidly fall apart when questioned. Reluctantly, I got my stretchy running pants on when work finished, put my backpack on and grumbled my way out of the building. It made sense because there are SO MANY blue plaques around the Hyde Park area and I comforted myself with the thought that I wouldn’t even have to go that far to see some. Obviously, I then went into a daydream while running on the horse track bit and missed the one I’d been intending to see so kept going as I knew the next ones weren’t too far away.

It was so worth it. As if passing by the huge gold Albert statue and the Royal Albert Hall weren’t enough of an amazing setting to be running in, as I turned down Hyde Park Gate to see two blue plaques I knew would be there, I was greeted by a sea of blue blobs on houses down the road. Awesome! I got snapping.

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Number 1 today was pretty impressive – Chief Scout of the World! Of the WORLD! That’s a title and a half, isn’t it? So there he is, Mr. Baden-Powell. I’m trusting most of you know who he is already so I won’t explain him.

As I headed down the road to find my next blue plaque, I saw a ridiculously luxurious house, different from all the other houses for it’s size and the huge white pillars either side of the door. This has got to be the one I’m looking for, I thought.

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It turns out that it was not! It is, instead, the house of Enid Bagnold……

Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of her either. Google has shamed me into realising that I certainly should have heard of her. She was an author and playwright who wrote 21 works during her life, mostly referring to WWI, when she served as a nurse and driver. Elizabeth Taylor played the lead in the film adaption of her novel, National Velvet, the story for which she is most well-known. She is also, as an aside, the great-grandmother of Samantha Cameron (the PM’s wife).

That’s what I’m enjoying about the Blue Plaque Runs I’ve done so far (all two of them!), that it teaches me about interesting historic figures who I would never have heard of otherwise and see the places where they spent their time. It also helps me to appreciate the historic context of the spaces I move around in every day.

Anyway, next up, the second big name I had originally come to see.

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Sir Winston Churchill! Boom! He’s a biggie, in terms of Blue Plaques. Nice house, Sir. Nice house.

Then I went off to see what the other blue blobs were about and found this little trio.

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Let’s get a closer look at this lot.

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These are the numerous famous names associated with one family who lived here. Sir Leslie Stephen was the father of this family, a writer and scholar of the Eton and Cambridge variety. He first married the daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray but she died and it is from his second marriage that Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf resulted. Vanessa Bell, a member of the ‘Bloomsbury set’ (which also included Aldous Huxley) was a painter and interior designer. And Virginia Woolf needs little explanation but if you do want some, head over to the post about my first Blue Plaque Run, as it included another of her houses in Richmond!

So now a total of the runs I’ve so far done –

TOTAL DISTANCE – 6.56 miles

NO. OF BLUE PLAQUES VISITED – 12

4 miles, 6 plaques

Do you remember that running thing I mentioned a few times when I last wrote? Well, it’s going quite well. So well that, in a fit of confidence, I signed up to 10k which is happening next Sunday (!) on Wimbledon Common… and maybe also a half marathon in March…. wooooOOOooops!
And then, because I work for English Heritage, I thought about running from one English Heritage property to another, as a little training challenge. Then I realised that there aren’t that many properties within reach so I would run out of running fun in a few weeks. THEN (brain ticking over) I remembered that English Heritage take care of the all Blue Plaques in London….
Bingo! Challenge set!
(Heads-up to any non-Londoners, Blue Plaques are put on buildings to indicate that someone important is associated with that place.)
As I was in work at the time, I found myself a book called The London Blue Plaque Guide and started looking through it. There are over 800 so I don’t imagine I’ll get to all of them, or if I do, it’ll take me ages. But what the hell? I’ll give it a shot.
Never one to wait around, I got stuck straight in and on my run to work this morning (yes, I run to work these days, hilarious!) I diverted around to as many as I could take in.
Here’s what happened.
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This one indicates that Sir Edwin Chadwick lived here. Chadwick lived during the 1800s and wrote Survey into the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Classes in Great Britain which led to laws that implemented public health reform. This is very exciting as almost dying three years ago has led me to appreciate in the extreme the value of the NHS. Thank you, Mr Chadwick. Thank you indeed.
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Next stop, the house where Dame Celia Johnson was born. She mainly did stage acting but was also in Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve and, more importantly for me, she played Laura in Brief Encounter, a film I loooove. Randomly, she was also married to James Bond creator, Ian Fleming’s, brother.
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Third stop, Bernardo O’Higgins, liberator and, effectively, dictator of Chile in the early 1800s. He was instrumental in freeing Chile from Spanish rule and organising the country’s new government.
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Fourth stop, the house where writers Leonard and Virginia Woolf lived for nine years and set up the Hogarth Press, which published their own works and also those of Katherine Mansfield and T.S. Eliot.
At this point in the run, I’d only gone a mile or so and was thinking that this Blue Plaque Run malarky was quite good fun and not too hard. Then came the Kew section.
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Number five was a stop at Richmond Royal Hospital to see a plaque for James Thomson, poet during the 1700s and, most significantly, author of Rule Britannia. I stood for a moment humming the tune and feeling patriotic, before realising I had a bit of a trek ahead.
As I had a bag containing my clothes for work on my back, my upper body started feeling a little slouchy and tired but it was all mental. I pulled my shoulders up, kept pushing my feet forward and checked my mileage, which didn’t help cause I wasn’t even half way.
There was a looooong road to the last stop, the whole way past Kew Gardens (you’ll have to trust me that Kew Gardens is big!) and past the road that my workplace is on. Everyone who runs knows that running is a mental thing. I ran six miles on Monday so I know full well that I can cover the distance but the mental challenge of wanting to nip down the road to work and miss off the last stop was tough. It was freezing and, although I warm up loads when I run, for some reason, just a few parts of my body stay ice cold. The last stop felt like miiiiles away.
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But I plodded on and arrived at what I now realise was a different blue plaque than the one I was looking for! This was where Camille Pisarro lived, a French Impressionist of the Monet era, who painted Kew Green during his stay here.
With running being a mental thing, I went from lethargic to grinning like an idiot in seconds and realised that it had been fun. It was definitely a more interesting way to get to work. It was nice to think about the significance of the people and things that have happened within a few miles of each other.
Watch this space for more Blue Plaque runs. I’m going to try and do a few a week.