Which London boroughs have the best gender balance in their blue plaques?

Ballerina Darcey Bussell unveils a blue plaque to Dame Margot Fonteyn in 2016. Image: Getty.

Wandering the streets London, especially the more artistic boroughs, you’ve probably seen the blue plaques on the walls of some buildings. These honour the notable men and women who have lived or worked in them. But mostly the men.

This week, English Heritage asked the public for help on improving the percentage dedicated to women. At present, this stands at a woeful 14 per cent, even after a two year push to improve it. I asked for a list of the women already commemorated – but the response was to suggest using their app to find specific women.

So I turned to Wikipedia. As that lists the plaques by borough, and I know Citymetric readers love a list with some stats in it, here is a summary of what I found there. If you want to improve the chances of your suggestion making it to a wall, this may help you target your efforts.

Good effort, needs work

First up, the boroughs that seem to be trying.

Kingston-upon-Thames – 40 per cent of plaques dedicated to women

There are only five plaques in total, though, so it’s an area worth punting a suggestion in on. The two women were Enid Blyton and Dame Nellie Melba, but sadly their residencies did not overlap, so there were no lashings of peach desserts.

Enfield – 37 per cent, Merton – 37 per cent

Only four plaques in total in Enfield, so the result here is down to Mary Lamb having to share her plaque with her brother Charles. This seems a little unfair, given he has his own solo plaque over in Islington.

Bromley – 33.3 per cent, Hackney – 28 per cent, Islington – 24 per cent

One of the plaques in Bromley is for two women who lived together, but as we were only counting plaques, that only counted as one. This is not the only time cohabiting ladies appear.

Barnet – 19 per cent, Ealing – 17 per cent, Tower Hamlets – 14 per cent

There are 21 plaques in total for Tower Hamlets, but only three are for women. The site where the first flying bomb landed does get its own plaque, which seems to be stretching the selection criteria quite a long way.

Richmond-upon-Thames – 14 per cent

This borough should look to its neighbour to up its game. More overall, but a lower percentage for women. Virginia Woolf gets half a plaque, sharing with her husband. In fairness, she does have her own plaque over in Camden.

Kensington & Chelsea – 14 per cent

With the early focus of the plaques being on artists, it’s not surprising that K&C has the second highest number with 176 in total. Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst have to share, whist Sylvia gets to go alone. George Eliot makes her first appearance here – one of two women to appear twice in the list without having to share with someone.

City of Westminster – 12 per cent

And here’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Eliot’s contemporary, who also gets two solo plaques. This time they are both in the same borough, so the poet makes up 5 per cent of the 38 women listed. With 309 plaques, the most of any part of London, this a borough that is dripping in blue.

Camden - 12 per cent

Here’s Virginia Woolf with a plaque of her own, out of the 169 in the borough. Six women get to share plaques with their husbands. It may be worth a punt, if you can find a building Dante Gabriel Rossetti hasn’t already been in.

Must Try Harder

After the bulge or the arts crowds, we’re back into the boroughs where the number of plaques is in the tens, if that. Any of the following would be a good place to suggest someone.

Haringey – 10 per cent, Lewisham – 9per cent

Haringey has just one woman. But it did pop one on Alexandra Palace for being where the BBC started television in the UK.

Lambeth – 8 per cent

Two of Lambeth’s are for organisations, and two are for women. One of the women was Violette Szabo, the Special Operations Executive agent commemorated in the film ‘Carve Her Name’ and whose bust features on the SOE memorial close to Lambeth Palace.

Southwark 6 per cent, Hammersmith & Fulham 5 per cent, Wandsworth 4 per cent

Wandsworth has 27 plaques, only one of which is for a woman. And it’s that George Eliot again.


Not Even Trying

The following boroughs have no women featured on their blue plaques at all. None. Nada. In some cases, they have very few plaques, so a good pitch here could send them to the top of the leader board.

Barking & Dagenham

Given the role the Dagenham machinists – and their sisters up in Liverpool – had in the push for the Equal Pay Act of 1974, it’s startling to see the lone plaque is to Bobby Moore. The plant the women worked in is being demolished so it may be too late to mark it in the way other places have marked a historic moment.

Greenwich

Despite the borough’s history as a locus of power and scientific thinking, not a single woman of note has been born, died or lived in Greenwich. Not one. The GPO film unit gets a plaque though.

Newham

Two plaques, but none for women. An obvious choice would be Joan Littlewood, who lived and worked in the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Due to the rule about waiting 20 years after someone’s death to nominate them, this will have to wait until 2022 to be considered. 

Havering

Contains one blue plaque. To an anti-tank weapon.

Bexley, Brent, Croydon, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Redbridge, Sutton, Waltham Forest.

I. Can’t. Even.

If you’d like to nominate a woman for a blue plaque, there are some criteria. Which things like bombs and Ally Pally did not meet, but whatever.

Just 6 per cent of the plaques dedicated to scientists are for women at present, so that could be an area to focus on. Click here to get started.

Moira Paul helps run @CarveHerName, a project to write women back into history one day at a time.

 
 
 
 

Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.

 

Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 


“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL