19 April 2016

Blue Plaque unveiled to Samuel Beckett

A house in Chelsea which was home to both the dramatist Samuel Beckett and the eminent physicist Patrick Blackett will today (Wednesday 20 April 2016) become one of the few buildings in London to bear two official Blue Plaques, English Heritage has announced.
Samuel Beckett Blue Plaque

Samuel Beckett, the author of Waiting for Godot, lived at 48 Paultons Square for seven months in 1934 while undergoing psychoanalysis (paid for by his mother following the death of his father) and seeking literary work. During this time he was writing his first novel, Murphy, and it was while living on Paultons Square that his first full-length work, the short story collection More Pricks than Kicks, was published.

Scientist Patrick Blackett moved into 48 Paultons Square in 1953 and lived there until 1969. During the Second World War, he was one of the heroes of the ‘Battle of the Atlantic’ thanks to his revolutionary work in U-Boat detection. He also undertook ground-breaking research into cosmic rays and both Blackett and a colleague discovered the positive electron almost simultaneously with and independently from C.C. Anderson in the United States. The inscription on the English Heritage Blue Plaque describes him as a Physicist and Scientific Advisor.

As well as living in the same house – albeit years apart – Beckett and Blackett were also Nobel Prize winners, for Literature and Physics respectively. Both Downton Abbey actress Penelope Wilton, who has starred in adaptations of Beckett’s Eh Joe and Rockaby, and Astronomer Royal Arnold Wolfendale will together unveil the English Heritage Blue Plaques.

Ronald Hutton, Chairman of the English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel, said: “It is a very special occasion to unveil two new Blue Plaques at once, let alone for two Nobel Prize winners. Beckett and Blackett are giants in their fields and these two plaques mark their achievements and celebrate their connection to London. This unveiling is a fitting opening to the 150th anniversary year of the Blue Plaques scheme.”

Though Samuel Beckett is a writer mostly associated with Dublin and Paris, he lived in London on-and-off for three years in the mid-1930s.  His time in the capital was not a happy one: his application for literary work produced nothing but “glib Cockney regrets”, he was in mental turmoil following the death of his father in June 1933 and underwent psychiatric treatment, and he was suffering from a long list of ailments including boils, pelvic pains, tachycardia, panic attacks and insomnia.

Yet despite this, it was a significant and formative period in his life. It encompassed the writing of most of his first novel, Murphy, the book that Beckett considered to be the foundation of his subsequent works with its opening line, “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”, and in which the protagonist dies in London, having found contentment there. And it was during his time in the capital that More Pricks than Kicks, his collection of interlinked short stories about an indolent Irish intellectual, Belacqua Shuah, was published by Chatto and Windus – or, as Beckett referred to them in correspondence, “Shatupon and Windup”.

48 Paultons Square is a Grade II three-storey terraced house dating from 1840, on one of the best surviving squares in West London. The house becomes the nineteenth to claim the ‘double blue’ distinction, joining among others, 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud, his daughter and a pioneer of child psychoanalysis) and 29 Fitzroy Square in Fitzrovia (George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf). Famously, Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel have plaques on neighbouring houses in Brook Street, Mayfair. 

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the English Heritage Blue Plaques scheme.  Comedian Tommy Cooper, food writer Elizabeth David and music icon Freddie Mercury are among those who will be commemorated with Blue Plaques while on the weekend of 7-8 May 2016, English Heritage will celebrate the scheme’s anniversary with a Blue Plaques weekend of special tours. English Heritage will also launch a new Blue Plaques app which will help people to discover which of the more than 900 blue plaques is closest to them and to plot their own blue plaques tour across the capital.

Patrick Blackett Blue Plaque

The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl, the Blue Plaques Club, and members of the public.

History of London’s Blue Plaques Scheme: The London-wide blue plaques scheme has been running for 150 years. The idea of erecting 'memorial tablets' was first proposed by William Ewart MP in the House of Commons in 1863. It had an immediate impact on the public imagination, and in 1866 the (Royal) Society of Arts founded an official plaques scheme. The Society erected its first plaque – to poet, Lord Byron – in 1867. The blue plaques scheme was subsequently administered by the London County Council (1901-65) and by the Greater London Council (1965-86), before being taken on by English Heritage in 1986. www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/

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