Take a stroll around London and you’ll soon become familiar with the famous blue plaques, which commemorate the noteworthy and historical characters who’ve lived and worked in the city. With over 900 plaques adorning buildings throughout the capital, you never know who you’re going to spot.
Take it one step further and set out on a blue plaque-spotting mission of your own. Download the official Blue Plaques app, and search for your favourite notable figures, or follow one of the pre-loaded guided walks. You’ll be led down fascinating side streets and interesting mews, in some little-known areas of London. You’ll see beautiful and unusual properties. Some are grand, some remarkably humble. You’ll come away wiser, having walked in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest inventors, politicians, military heroes, scientists, artists, engineers and performers. It’s a great way to discover some of the more residential parts of London, and best of all, it’s free.
Blue plaque hunting
Summer in London is the perfect time to go blue plaque hunting so we set out early one morning to find a couple that are particularly close to our heart:
Sir George Cayley is often overlooked when people talk about the beginnings of aviation. Yet this pioneering man is known as the Father of Flight and was the first to develop the concept of the heavier than air machine. In 1853, years before the first powered flight was made at Kitty Hawk, Cayley’s glider carried his coachman 275 metres across Brompton Dale in the north of England; the first flight by an adult in an aircraft. In 2003, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the flight, Richard Branson helped the Royal Aeronautical Society re-enact it using a reproduction of the Cayley Flyer in the original field in Brompton Dale.
Cayley’s house at 20 Hertford Street, Mayfair, is where he lived between 1800 and 1840. It’s tucked behind the distinctive Hilton Hotel, and despite being just yards from the hustle and bustle of Park Lane it’s surprisingly peaceful and uncrowded.
Our second blue plaque is also in Mayfair and a much more familiar name. Number 14-15 Conduit Street used to be the showroom for Rolls Royce cars and is where Charles Rolls used to work between 1905 and 1910. Unlike Cayley’s house, this is right in the middle of the West End’s most popular shopping area. Rolls was, of course, a forefather of aviation and started talking about developing aircraft engines around the same time as his first car went into production. His first aero engine was called ‘The Eagle’ and was produced to satisfy demand during the first world war. The Eagle went on to power one of the most significant flights in history when Alcock and Brown crossed the Atlantic for the first time in a Vickers Vimy aircraft. The Rolls Royce name and logo has since become one of the most enduring symbols of travel and can be seen on a huge variety of aircraft including many of our own.
Other aviation blue plaques in London commemorate:
Aircraft manufacturers Alliott Verdon Roe (founder of AVRO), Sir Geoffrey De Havilland, , Sir Frederick Handley, Sir Thomas Sopwith and the Short brothers as well as aviator Amy Johnson
About the Blue Plaques
London’s blue plaques are owned and run by English Heritage. With more than 900 in the city there’s something of interest whether you’re into music or medicine, architecture or zoology, and everything in between.
The official English Heritage Blue Plaques are only awarded to people who have been dead for at least 20 years, a rule that didn’t apply when the very first plaque was installed in 1867. This can be found in the City of Westminster at 1c King Street and marks the house where Napoleon III lived, even though he was still ruling France at the time.
Visit English Heritage for more detail on the scheme and details of how you can nominate someone to receive one.Then put on your walking shoes and set off to explore one of London’s most absorbing quirks.