diamond geezer

 Saturday, February 11, 2017

4 Paddington/St Marylebone
After the Ace and Three of Diamonds I've dealt the Four, which corresponds to an adjacent non-existent central London borough. The Metropolitan boroughs of Paddington and St Marylebone found themselves part of a city in 1965, and covered (approximately) all of Westminster to the north of the Central line. Westminster actually spreads a lot further north than most tourists realise, so for this excursion I thought I'd head up to the extremes of St John's Wood, Maida Vale and Queen's Park.

Specifically I've been hunting for blue plaques, of which there are tons in the other half of Westminster, but rather fewer in this. I used English Heritage's website to track them down at home, and their excellent (free) Blue Plaques app in the field. This shows all the blue plaques near you, assuming there are any, plus details of the commemorated individual and their address. I'd say it's a good urban winter activity, given it's mud-free and there are always cafes nearby. Here are six plaques I tracked down in the northern half of Paddington and St Marylebone.

BEECHAM, Sir Thomas, C.H. (1879-1961)
Conductor, Impresario
31 Grove End Road, St John's Wood [more info]
Estimated property value: £4,788,000

A lot of music fans flock past Sir Thomas Beecham's house every day, but they don't stop. They're on their way to the zebra crossing at the end of the road, the one outside Abbey Road Studios made famous by The Beatles, where they stop the traffic and take photos of themselves striding across the road. Close neighbour Sir Tom used his musical talent and family fortune to achieve prominence in classical circles, and lived at a number of London addresses before ending up in this Georgian villa in 1950. By this time he was living with his second wife, a concert pianist 29 years his junior, and both were regular visitors to the recording studio up the road. The six-bedroomed house behind the high brick wall is currently the base for a registered osteopath and bioresonance therapist, according to another plaque on the gatepost, which might make you think twice about popping inside for an appointment.

TUSSAUD, Madame Marie (1761-1850)
24 Wellington Road, St John's Wood [more info]
Estimated property value: £5,485,000

Artist in Wax is a fantastic title, don't you think? The famous French sculptor lived here only briefly, three years after her first permanent exhibition opened not so far away on Baker Street. The precise location of her home is just to the north of Lord's Cricket Ground, on the main road out of town, immediately opposite the Wellington Hospital. Specifically it's opposite the BP garage, which isn't necessarily the kind of thing you expect to find squashed underneath the largest private hospital in the UK, or maybe it is. 24 Wellington Road looks like small fry compared to the villas squashed on either side, but a massive luxury overhaul has taken place behind the period facade, including 1000 square feet of open plan living space on the ground floor, and a gym and swimming pool in the basement. The now-unhistoric property sold for five and a half million pounds at the end of last year, which is almost as expensive as a ticket to Madame Tussauds these days, or feels like it.

BAZALGETTE, Sir Joseph William (1819-1891)
Civil Engineer
17 Hamilton Terrace, St John's Wood [more info]
Estimated property value: £1,931,000 + £920,000

Joseph William Bazalgette is the great man responsible for the Victoria Embankment and London's intricate network of sewers. As chief engineer to the Metropolitan Board of Works his endeavours banished the 'Great Stink', and helped make our capital sufficiently sanitary to expand. 17 Hamilton Terrace is the only one of his homes that survives, an elegant townhouse in yellow brick with three elliptical-arched recesses adjacent to a square porch. The family moved in when Joseph was about 12, at which point the "very excellent gentleman’s residence" was new, and they moved out in 1847. Hamilton Terrace remains a gorgeous street, a broad thoroughfare of eternally aspirational villas arrayed with tightly pollarded trees and enough space down the centre of the road to park an additional line of cars. What's more the drainage system is sorted - Bazalgette made sure his Middle Level intercepting sewer ran directly underneath St John's Wood Road at the end of the street.

TURING, Alan (1912-1954)
Mathematician, Computer Scientist
2 Warrington Crescent, Maida Vale [more info]
Now the Colonnade Hotel

I will confess to being surprised when I saw what I took to be Alan Turing's childhood home. A white stucco residence over five floors isn't the kind of place I'd expect Britain's greatest computer scientist to have grown up, and indeed it turns out he didn't. Instead this one-time Victorian home was knocked together with the house nextdoor to create a boarding school in 1880, and a few years later became the Warrington Lodge Medical and Surgery Home for Ladies. Ethel Turing checked in briefly in June 1912, while her husband was on leave from his position with the Indian Civil Service, and it was here that baby Alan Mathison was born. The building became a hotel in 1938, first the Esplanade, now the Colonnade, and now offers 43 rooms to mostly Middle Eastern guests, which is why there's a posh Persian restaurant on the ground floor. And Alan it turns out grew up in St Leonard's-on-Sea while his father's Indian commission continued, spending his pre-boarding years in the care of a retired army colonel. The blue plaque on Baston Lodge is far better deserved.

LOWE, Arthur (1915-1982)
Comedy Actor
2 Maida Avenue, Maida Vale [more info]
Estimated property value: £1,138,000 + £3,339,000

OK, so this isn't a 'real' blue plaque, but I couldn't resist stopping by this tribute to one of Britain's best-loved comic actors. Arthur Lowe was born in the Peak District, where Derbyshire council have erected their own blue plaque, and made his stage debut in Manchester in 1945. A key role in the early years of Coronation Street brought him to national attention, and taking on the role of Captain Mainwairing in Dad's Army cemented his fame. He moved into this grandly symmetrical house the year after the sitcom first aired, and it remained his base until a heart attack cut short his life at the age of 66. His former home is now two flats, and is located overlooking the mouth of the Maida Hill Tunnel on the Regent's Canal, at the start of the final stretch down to Little Venice. Arthur enjoyed a watery vista, and spent a lot of time on his steam yacht Amazon, which he bought as a houseboat but later made seaworthy - there's no way it would have fitted on the canal. This plaque is one of ten installed in London by the Dead Comics Society, now the less macabre British Comedy Society, still celebrating a run of mirthsome stars from Peter Sellers to Richard Briers.

ARDIZZONE, Edward (1900-1979)
Artist, Illustrator
130 Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale [more info]
Estimated property value: £2,200,000

At last, here's a house the name on the plaque spent most of his life living inside. Edward Ardizzone was a British painter and illustrator of many talents, including that of official war artist, but is best known for his children's books. If you went to school in the 70s or 80s, your copy of Stig of the Dump was liberally illustrated by him, and his penmanship will be innately familiar. Ardizzone grew up in Ipswich, but the family moved into Elgin Avenue in 1920 when he was working as an office clerk, and Edward was still there in 1972 after retiring as a tutor with the Royal College of Art. Alas these days his home at number 130 is another hollowed-out sham, a four bedroom split level luxury apartment with a minimum of interior walls, not that you'd ever guess from out front.

There are no blue plaques in Queen's Park.

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