For the first time in the history of the London Blue Plaques Scheme, which has been running for more than 150 years, more plaques will be unveiled to individual women in 2024 than in any previous year, English Heritage recently announced. The charity launched its ‘plaques for women’ campaign in 2016, encouraging the public to nominate more remarkable female figures from the past and this initiative is now bearing fruit on the streets and buildings of London.
The pioneering women who will be celebrated by English Heritage with blue plaques in 2024 include Christina Broom, who is believed to have been Britain’s first female press photographer; Diana Beck, celebrated as the UK’s first female neurosurgeon; the jazz singer, Adelaide Hall, one of the first Black women to secure a long-term contract at the BBC; and Irene Barclay, the first woman to qualify as a chartered surveyor. English Heritage will be announcing further blue plaque recipients throughout the year. A Record number of women to get blue plaques
Dr Susan Skedd, Blue Plaques Historian at English Heritage, said: “Every year, English Heritage’s blue plaques celebrate the very best of human endeavour. This year we are particularly pleased to be able to honour so many pioneering women who not only became female ‘firsts’ but who were also at the very pinnacle of achievement in their chosen fields.
In 2024 English Heritage blue plaques will be unveiled to, among others: *
Irene Barclay (1894–1989): Following the Sex Disqualification Removal Act of 1919, Irene Barclay immediately began attending evening classes to study for the Surveyors’ Institution exams. In just two years she became the first woman to qualify as a chartered surveyor in Britain. Barclay’s case was reported the front page of the Daily Mirror (17 May 1922) and she later recalled the “good deal of foolish fuss” that was made of the achievement in her book, People Need Roots (1976). Her work on slum clearance and her conviction that “providing people with a healthy environment includes surrounding them with things of beauty” separated her from the crowd. She carried out a number of slum surveys throughout London, but it was her work in the London district of Somers Town that had the widest impact, contributing to the movement which led to the Housing Act 1930 and the ensuing anti-slum campaign. Barclay will be commemorated at her former office, not far from Euston Station, in Somers Town.
Diana Beck (1900–1956): Diana Beck is believed to have been the first female neurosurgeon in the UK. With her appointment as a consultant at the Middlesex Hospital in 1947, she became the first woman to join the hospital’s faculty and also the first woman to be appointed to a senior clinical position at any of the major London teaching hospitals, which at that time admitted only male students. She was also the Middlesex Hospital’s very first neurosurgeon and she created and ran the neurosurgical department there. Beck will be commemorated at the impressive four-storey terraced house where she lived during the majority of her time at Middlesex Hostpital.
Christina Broom (1862–1939): Despite only making her first experiments in photography at the age of 40, with a borrowed quarter-plate box camera, Christina Broom went on to become “the most prolific female publisher of picture postcards in Britain” and is widely considered to be the first female press photographer. She was a prominent suffrage photographer; the only woman photographer allowed into London barracks; and the only photographer permitted regularly into the Royal Mews. From 1916 onwards her pictures of the armed forces and royalty were published regularly, with the credit ‘Mrs Albert Broom’. Her plaque will be the very first blue plaque in Fulham where she lived and worked for 26 years.
Adelaide Hall (1901–1993): The American-born Adelaide Hall is believed to have had the longest recording career of any twentieth-century artist; in 2003 she was recognised by Guinness World Records as having released material over eight consecutive decades. She was a pioneer of ‘scat’ singing, renowned for using her voice as a pure jazz instrument, and her 1943 radio series Wrapped in Velvet made her one of first black artists to regularly broadcast with the BBC. During the Second World War, she worked for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) and was one of the first artists into Germany after the liberation; by her own later account, she performed in air raid shelters, ack-ack gun emplacements and hospitals. The plaque will mark her Kensington home of 27 years, her longest standing address anywhere. Overall, she spent 55 years in London, and told an told an interviewer in June 1980 – by which time her accent had more of Kensington in it than Brooklyn – ‘I do like London very much. I like it because it’s quiet – and I like the quiet life’.
Joan Robinson (1903–1983): Joan Robinson was one of the first women to achieve academic prominence in the discipline of economics. She was concerned with the social relevance of economics, rather than treating it as an intellectual game and is widely considered to be one of the most influential economic theorists of her time. The blue plaque will mark the family home in Kensington where Robinson lived during the depression that immediately followed the First World War. The social work that she undertook among the unemployed while living there was pivotal in her decision to study economics, and she continued to correspond with the people she met for many years.
*We are currently working with the property owners and all blue plaques are subject to full owner approval.
The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme celebrates the link between significant figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. The scheme runs on public suggestions, the main conditions of acceptance for which are that a subject should have been deceased for at least 20 years, and at that least one building in Greater London in which they lived or worked should survive with a substantially unaltered exterior.