Maybe it's because
I'm a Londoner!
London is dotted with blue plaques with white writing that show where the famous son's and daughters of the city lived and worked. If you keep your eyes open you'll see these plaques everywhere. There are about 700 blue plaques in the scheme, which is organised by national heritage. Here's a few of the greats to look out for.
Charles Dickens is possibly the most famous of all London writers if you don't count Shakespeare who was really from Stratford. A Christmas Carol has been made as a film countless times and Ebeneezer Scrooge has been played by everyone from Bill Murray to Michael Caine. If the Victorians invented modern Christmas then it was Charles Dickens who gave it a social conscience.
Dickens had a fairly middle-class family background but his Father overspent and borrowed too much money in the process. Back then there were no debt consolidation loans to arrange all your monthly re-payments into one easy to handle sum. Instead they had Marshalsea debtors prison. With no breadwinner in the house Dickens was sent out to work at the age of twelve. He spent the rest of his childhood gluing labels onto jars of boot polish for ten hours a day.
These experiences in his youth made him very focused on working conditions and child labour. When he became a working writer these themes came through in his work combined with his extremely vivid characterisation and inventive language. He wrote a series of snapshots of the city for various newspapers under the pseudonym Boz. These descriptions of life in London's darker times are still powerful to read.
"The filthy and miserable appearance of this part of London can hardly be imagined by those (and there are many such) who have not witnessed it. Wretched houses with broken windows patched with rags and paper: every room let out to a different family, and in many instances to two or even three. filth everywhere - a gutter before the houses and a drain behind - clothes drying and slops emptying, from the windows; girls of fourteen or fifteen, with matted hair, walking about barefoot, and in white great-coats, almost their only covering; boys of all ages, in coats of all sizes and no coats at all; men and women, in every variety of scanty and dirty apparel, lounging, scolding, drinking, smoking, squabbling, fighting, and swearing."
Charles Dickens, 'Gin Shops' 1835
That's Charles Dickens describing Drury Lane off Oxford Street. It is now a street name synonymous with West End Theatre shows at the Theatre Royal!
48 Doughty Street, the house that he was living in while he wrote Oliver Twist, is now a Dickens Museum. Real Dickens fans can also visit Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Portsmouth Street.
Samuel Pepys, less well known perhaps outside the country but a major figure to Londoners and historians, is famous for his diaries. He kept a meticulous and detailed personal diary of his life in London from 1660 to 1669. And that just happens to be the must interesting and eventful decade of London's history there ever was.
The Puritan dictatorship had only just come to an end and Pepys was an educated Navy Administrator who sailed with the fleet that returned Charles the Second to power. He witnessed London nearly wiped out by plague and burned down by inferno and he wrote about all of it leaving us priceless eye witness accounts. It was June the 7th 1665 that Pepys first saw the awful evidence of the plague taking hold in London and took to tobacco to calm his nerves.
"This day, much against my Will, I did in Drury-lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and "Lord have mercy upon us" writ there which was a sad sight to me, being the first of that kind that to my remembrance I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll tobacco to smell and to chaw which took away the apprehension."
Samuel Pepys, Diary, June 7th 1665.
The Houses he saw in Drury lane would have contained the whole family and the victim who locked themselves in their houses to limit the spread of the disease.
Not everyone who has a blue plaque in London actually existed! The Great Detective Sherlock Holmes has a plaque at 221b Baker Street. The famous address in Arthur Conan-Doyle's books where Holmes kept residence. The building is open to visitors and fans of The Hound of The Baskervilles can see the boarding house exactly as it would have been when Holmes and Watson stayed here and discussed the latest mystery.
Holmes is famous for his razor sharp logic and his powers of deduction but evidence from the books suggests a character of mood swings, at times frenetic and energized but with spells of laconic introspection. Holmes' hobbies ranged from experimental chemistry to playing the violin very badly. He also smoked a pipe but he didn't stop there. Opium and Cocaine played a considerable part in the great detective's leisure time.
Emmeline Pankhurst, Champion of the women's rights movement, although originally from Manchester spent much of her life in London. Her and her daughters changed the face of women's suffrage by using radical tactics. In 1905 Christabel Pankhurst was arrested at a protest for assault on a police officer, it was the first time the campaign had reached the level of violence.
Emmeline herself was imprisoned several times for her use of civil disobedience in militant protests. The Suffragettes tied themselves to railings, threw themselves under horses, went on hunger strike and even put a handbag bomb on the throne of coronation at Westminster Abbey. Women finally got the vote in 1920.
"It always seems to me when the anti-suffrage members of the Government criticize militancy in women that it is very like beasts of prey reproaching gentler animals who turn in desperate resistance when at the point of death."
Emmeline Pankhurst, Public Address 1912
And finally Samuel Johnson is arguably the most quoted Londoner on London. Johnson was another writer who worked as a freelance journalist in London in the 1700's. He was never rich and always worked hard despite being scarred by childhood disease and bouts of depression. He was and still is a very loved figure. He was commissioned to write one of the earliest standardised English Dictionaries. The words he penned that every Londoner knows are.
"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
James Boswell, 'Life of Johnson Volume 3'
By Georgia Blazeka-Nitescu ©