Blue Plaque for Churchill’s Favourite Spy

Polish-born Christine Granville was Britain's first and longest-serving female secret agent

English Heritage has unveiled a blue plaque to Christine Granville, the Polish Second World War special agent who Winston Churchill once called his 'favourite spy'.

The new plaque marks 1 Lexham Gardens Hotel (then the Shelbourne Hotel) in Kensington. The hotel was Granville’s London base after the war, in the centre of the city’s post-war Polish community. 

Christine Granville was Britain’s first and longest-serving female secret agent during the Second World War.

Born Krystyna Skarbek in Warsaw in 1908, she joined British Intelligence after Germany invaded her home country in 1939. Her recruiting agent described her as 'a flaming Polish patriot, an expert skier and great adventuress.'

Granville served with distinction in three theatres of war – Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Western Europe. Throughout the war, she went by many aliases but early in the conflict she was issued with a British passport in the name of Christine Granville. She later wrote: 'I want to keep the name Granville that I have made for myself, and of which I am rather proud'. 

Granville's successful missions included skiing over the snow-bound Polish border in temperatures of -30°C, smuggling microfilm across Europe which proved Hitler’s plans to invade the Soviet Union, and rescuing French Resistance agents from the Gestapo. It is said that Granville was the inspiration for Vesper Lynd, a spy in Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953).

Anna Eavis, Curatorial Director at English Heritage, said:

'Christine Granville served Britain bravely and brilliantly during the Second World War. We hope that our blue plaque will help more people to discover her remarkable story and her connection with London.'

Clare Mulley, author of The Spy Who Loved, Granville’s biography, said: 

'All too often women in the resistance are remembered for the beauty and courage, while their achievements are overlooked. Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, was one of the most effective special agents to serve Britain during the Second World War, male or female. 

'Her achievements, which included securing the defection of an entire German garrison in a strategic pass in the Alps, and saving the lives of many of her male colleagues, led Churchill to call her his favourite spy, and Britain to honour her with the George Medal and OBE.'

The English Heritage Blue Plaque at the former Shelbourne Hotel in Kensington is inscribed with both the name she adopted, Christine Granville, and her original name, Krystyna Skarbek.

After her outstanding wartime career, Granville faced what she described as 'the horrors of peace' and the Shelbourne Hotel – run by the Polish Relief Society – provided her with welcome cheap accommodation. The hotel was her home from 1949 until her tragic death there at the hands of an obsessed stalker in 1952. 

Women and blue plaques

Christine Granville is the latest female secret agent from the Second World War to receive a blue plaque from English Heritage, joining Violette Szabo and – most recently – Noor Inayat Khan.

Only 14% of the over 950 London blue plaques celebrate women and while this is still unacceptably low, English Heritage’s ongoing ‘plaques for women’ campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of public nominations for women since the campaign was launched in 2016.

Later this year, the charity will unveil a plaque to Barbara Hepworth, one of the 20th century’s greatest artists.

Nominations are the lifeblood of the London Blue Plaques Scheme and if we are to continue to see a significant increase in the number of blue plaques for women, we need more female suggestions.

To find out more, including how to nominate someone for a blue plaque, visit our blue plaques page.

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