Blue Plaques

FOWLER, Henry Watson (1858-1933)

Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 14 Paultons Square, Chelsea, London, SW3 5AP, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

All images © English Heritage


Grammarian and Lexicographer


Journalism and Publishing, Literature


HENRY WATSON FOWLER 1858-1933 Grammarian and Lexicographer lived here 1900-1903



Henry Watson Fowler produced one of the most celebrated reference works of the 20th century: A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), often known simply as Fowler. With his brother he also compiled the first edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1911). He lived in London for four years at 14 Paultons Square, Chelsea, from 1900 until 1903.

Henry Watson Fowler with his dog, Raven © Reproduced by permission of the Secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press


Fowler moved to London in 1899 following 17 years as a teacher of English and Classics at Sedbergh in Cumbria (formerly Yorkshire). Moving into 14 Paultons Square in 1900, he worked as a freelance journalist and provided financial help to his landlady’s husband, a policeman who had suffered a nervous breakdown.

Fowler grew fond of London and bathed in the Serpentine every morning, summer or winter. He also jogged ‘at nine or ten miles an hour’ between Paultons Square and the Serpentine, occasionally supplementing his routine with exercise drills at the Inns of Court.

Now grade II listed, the stucco-trimmed building of 14 Paultons Square was built in about 1840. Blue plaques to Samuel Beckett and Patrick Blackett were also erected in Paultons Sqaure in 2016.

Henry Watson Fowler in his exercise gear. While living at 14 Paultons Sqaure he swam in the Serpentine every morning and regularly jogged there and back from his Chelsea home © Reproduced by permission of the Secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press


Fowler moved to Guernsey in 1903 to join his brother, Francis George Fowler. Living in separate granite cottages 50 yards apart, the brothers worked on three ambitious projects. First they translated the Greek works of Lucian of Samosata (1905), then they wrote The King’s English (1906) – the precursor of Modern English Usage – and finally they compiled The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1911).

Both brothers completed a year of service in France in 1915–6 and returned to England, but Francis died of tuberculosis in 1918.


After his brother’s death, Fowler continued his projects alone. He stayed in Guernsey until 1925 when he moved to Hinton St George in Somerset. He completed the Pocket English Dictionary in 1924 and then embarked on a project he thought of as the ‘idiom dictionary’. It was published in 1926 as A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Aimed at a domestic audience, it provided a style guide for the English language, encouraging the use of simple, direct sentences and opposing pedantic rules of grammar. It soon became the authoritative guide to the language, even though Fowler was regarded by academics as an amateur scholar rather than a specialist. The dictionary is still in print today.

Fowler died at his Somerset home on Boxing Day, 1933.

Nearby Blue Plaques

Nearby Blue Plaques

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