Who Lived Here: London Has 850 Blue Plaques to Tell Us

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The exteriors of about 850 buildings in London are decorated with circular blue ceramic plaques placed by English Heritage. These markers, introduced in 1866, indicate the links between properties and the famous people who once lived or worked in them.

The first of these plaques (which were not always blue — the designs have changed over the years) went up in Holles Street, Marylebone, to indicate where Lord Byron was born. Alas, the house and the plaque are both gone. But the idea stuck, and now it's been replicated in other cities around the UK.

If you live in a blue-plaque house where the plaque is still affixed, it can add considerable value to your home. And why not?

History talks
Both history and diamonds are forever, and a blue plaque tells us that Ian Fleming was born at 23 Green Street in Mayfair in 1908. In 2010, Yoko Ono unveiled the John Lennon plaque at 34 Montague Square in Marylebone. How about houses where Mahatma Gandhi or Benjamin Franklin lived or where Florence Nightingale worked? Those are marked, too.

Jimi Hendrix rented an apartment in Brook Street, Mayfair, in the house next door to one where the composer Handel lived more than 200 years earlier. When I lived at 55 Ebury Street, friends were astonished to learn that the house at 180 Ebury Street, near Victoria Station, was where Mozart composed his first symphony in 1764.

New for 2012
Blue plaques for athletes were added at opposite ends of town in 2012, the London Olympics' year. Fred Perry, three time Wimbledon champion, is now commemorated at his childhood home at 223 Pitshanger Lane in Ealing, West London. A plaque for Sam Mussabini, the Olympic athletics coach immortalized by "Chariots of Fire," went up at his former home in Herne Hill in Dulwich, Southeast London.

Restrictions apply
About 10 additional plaques are added each year when applications meet all the key criteria: for example, a person must be dead 20 years or have passed the centenary of his or her birth before a plaque can be added. There are plenty of refusals. English Heritage rejects about two-thirds of all new applications for famous-person blue plaques.

Lived in London
To get many stories in one place, look into a 2009 book by Emily Cole called "Lived in London: Blue Plaques and the Stories Behind Them."  This fascinating read is the closest thing to a list of all 850 of London's commemorative plaques honoring outstanding Londoners of the past. Otherwise, have a walk around London and you will surely stumble upon or more blue plaques.

Content by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Top: A blue plaque indicates a house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart used to live in the Soho area, Westminster, London. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Left: Yoko Ono unveiled an English Heritage blue plaque at 34 Montagu Square, which in 1968 was the first home she shared with John Lennon while working on The Beatles' White Album. (Photo by Christie Goodwin/Getty Images)