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.

 
 
 
 

Mayor Marvin Rees' hope for Bristol: A more equitable city that can 'live with difference'

“I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city," Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

When the statue of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn from its plinth and dumped in Bristol’s harbour during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests on 7 June, mayor Marvin Rees was thrust into the spotlight. 

Refraining from direct support of the statue’s removal, the city’s first black mayor shared a different perspective on what UK home secretary Priti Patel called “sheer vandalism”:

“It is important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity,” he said in a statement at the time. “I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”

48 year-old Rees, who grew up in the city, has since expanded on his approach to the issue in an interview with CityMetric, saying “wherever you stand on that spectrum, the city needs to be a home for all of those people with all of those perspectives, even if you disagree with them.”

“We need to have the ability to live with difference, and that is the ethnic difference, racial difference, gender difference, but also different political perspectives,” he added. “I have been making that point repeatedly – and I hope that by making it, it becomes real.” 


What making that point means, in practice, for Rees is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to city governance.

Weeks after the toppling of Colston’s statue, a new installation was erected at the same spot featuring Jen Reid, a protester of Black Lives Matter. However, the installation was removed, as “it was the work and decision of a London-based artist, and it was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed”, Rees said in a statement.

Bristol may appear a prosperous city, logging the highest employment rate among the UK’s “core cities” in the second quarter of 2019. But it is still home to many areas that suffer from social and economic problems: over 70,000 people, about 15 percent of Bristol’s population, live in what are considered the top 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in England. 

In an attempt to combat this inequality, Rees has been involved in a number of projects. He has established Bristol Works, where more than 3,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are given work experience opportunities. And is now setting up a commission on social mobility. “Launching a Bristol commission on social mobility is not only about social justice; it [should not be] possible for a modern city to leave millions of pounds worth of talent on the shelf, just because the talent was born into poverty,” he says.

The mayor is also a strong supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explaining that SDGs offer a way to talk about sustainability within a framework of many issues, ranging from climate change and biodiversity to women’s issues, domestic violence, poverty and hunger.

“What we want to achieve as a city cannot be done as a city working alone,” he insists. “We don’t want to benefit only people inside Bristol, we want to benefit the planet, and the SDGs offer a framework for a global conversation,” suggesting that a vehicle should be launched that allows cities to work together, ideally with organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund involved. 

Greater collaboration between cities would be “beneficial in terms of economies of scale,” he argues, “as cities could get more competitive prices when buying materials for building houses or ordering buses, rather than each city acquiring a few of them at a higher price.”

In an attempt to focus on the long term, Rees launched One City Plan in January 2019, setting out a number of goals for Bristol to achieve by 2050.

Investing in green infrastructure to meet 2030 carbon emission targets spelled out in the SDGs is a key area here, with the mayor noting that transport, mass transit and energy are important sectors looking for further investment and government funding: “The sooner we meet our targets, the sooner we will benefit from them, and invest in sectors that will provide people with jobs.”

Jobs, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, are of paramount importance to Rees. Bristol’s council wants to ensure that any government money given to the city will be quickly passed on to businesses to help prevent redundancies, he says, though given that mass job losses seem inevitable, reskilling options are also being looked into, such as through a zero-carbon smart energy project called City Leap.

Another important area for investment in Bristol is affordable housing, with 9,000 homes already built under Rees’s term of office. “People could build a base for life with affordable housing, [and this would mean] their mental health would be better because they have a safe place,” he explains. “Children in families that have a home that is affordable are more likely to able to eat and to heat, [and they are more likely to enjoy a] better education.”

Taken in the round, Rees’s agenda for Bristol is its own blueprint for shaping history. The Colston statue now lies in safe storage, with a local museum likely to play host to the controversial monument. But the Black Lives Matters protestors were fighting for a fairer, more equal future, and it is here where Rees is determined to deliver.

Sofia Karadima is a senior editor at NS Media Group.