Six new blue plaques for women

  • Diana, Princess of Wales, designer Jean Muir and anti-slavery campaigner Ellen Craft among those commemorated this year.
  • Scientist Kathleen Lonsdale today receives English Heritage’s first blue plaque of the year, on the 50th anniversary of her death.

The crystallographer and peace campaigner, Kathleen Lonsdale has today been celebrated with an English Heritage London Blue Plaque, on the 50th anniversary of her death. Kathleen Lonsdale is the first of six illustrious women to be commemorated by English Heritage with a London Blue Plaque in 2021. Other recipients include social reformer Caroline Norton, designer Jean Muir, former slave and campaigner Ellen Craft, barrister Helena Normanton and Diana, Princess of Wales.

© Courtesy of the Lonsdale family

Anna Eavis, English Heritage’s Curatorial Director, said: “Since launching our ‘plaques for women’ campaign five years ago, we have received an increasing number of public nominations for female figures. In 2021, half of our new plaques will be dedicated to women, and women make up well over half of the cases currently in the pipeline. We still have a long way to go to address the gender imbalance that has ensued since the first blue plaque went up over 150 years ago but with the help of many excellent nominations from the British public, we are headed in the right direction.

“This year, our figures range from social reformers to creative leaders and a princess who captured hearts and minds around the world. As an eminent female scientist and passionate supporter of women in science, Kathleen Lonsdale is a very worthy first recipient of a 2021 blue plaque.

“We are expecting our plaque to Diana, Princess of Wales to be very popular. She was an inspiration and cultural icon to many, raising awareness of issues including landmines and homelessness, and helping to destigmatise illnesses such as HIV, leprosy and depression. It seems fitting that we should erect a plaque commemorating her work and influence in what would have been her 60th year.”

Kathleen Lonsdale’s plaque marks her childhood home in Seven Kings, Redbridge, where she lived from 1911 to 1927 – a formative time encompassing her education, the First World War, and her early days at UCL and the Royal Institution. Remembered for her ground-breaking work on crystal structures and her fundamental role in progressing X Ray crystallography, Lonsdale was also a passionate advocate for women in science and a devoted peace campaigner.

Principle Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland and English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel member Rebekah Higgitt said: “Kathleen Lonsdale played a fundamental role in establishing crystallography as a research field and, in particular, progressing the new techniques of X-Ray crystallography. As a woman in science, she achieved a number of remarkable ‘firsts’, including being one of the first two women to be elected to the Royal Society and the first female president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Her strong views on supporting women in science helped pave the way for the next generation of female scientists, and we hope that this plaque will inspire more support for and recognition of young women who take up careers in the STEM field.”

(1948): © Charles Hewitt/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

English Heritage will also be unveiling the following plaques to women this year*

Ellen Craft (1826-1891): Receiving a plaque alongside her husband William Craft (1824 – 1900), Ellen escaped slavery in the southern US state of Georgia and was a fervent campaigner for its abolition. In 1848, the Crafts hatched a daring escape plan, making a perilous thousand-mile journey to Pennsylvania, and then Boston, where slavery was unlawful. However, their former masters pursued them, eventually forcing them to flee to England as refugees, where they arrived in December 1850. The Crafts toured the UK, lecturing against slavery, before settling in Hammersmith in the house which will bear their plaque.

Jean Muir (1928-1995): At the forefront of British fashion and design for over 25 years, Jean Muir’s plaque will adorn the central London address that housed the grand showroom and office of her flagship brand, Jean Muir Ltd, and where she worked from 1966 right up to her death in 1995. She produced eminently flattering, grown-up women’s clothes with a distinctive minimalism that rendered them timeless, and has a loyal following amongst stars including Joanna Lumley and Patricia Hodge.

Helena Normanton (1882-1957): The first woman to practise at the Bar, appear in High Court and at the Old Bailey, Helena Normanton KC was a fierce campaigner against male exclusivity in the legal profession and for women’s rights, working tirelessly to improve divorce law. Her plaque will mark the address where she lived for the early part of her legal career.

Caroline Norton (1808-1877): Caroline Norton’s abusive marriage and separation was one of the most highly publicised cases in 19th century Britain. Her determination to fight for custody of her children and the rights to her own property had far-reaching ramifications, with the first ever pieces of feminist legislation arising as a direct result of her campaigning. Norton’s plaque will mark her former central London home where she lived for over 30 years.

Lady Diana Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-1997): Lady Diana Spencer became one of world’s most famous women in the latter half of the 20th century and her untimely death brought about an incomparable outpouring of public grief. A cultural icon, she devoted much of her life to charity work, raising the issue of landmines and destigmatising conditions including HIV and leprosy. Her plaque, for which she was nominated by the London Assembly, will mark one of the buildings associated with her life before marriage.

* English Heritage’s priority is the safety and wellbeing of its staff, supporters and the public. As such, amendments to the 2021 London Blue Plaques programme may need to be made, dependent on Government guidelines for Covid-19.

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

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