Londonist Interviews…Someone Who Likes Strange Plaques Even More Than We Do

By M@ Last edited 141 months ago
Londonist Interviews…Someone Who Likes Strange Plaques Even More Than We Do

LondonRemembers has turned plaque-tracking into something of an extreme sport. Its mission is to hunt down and record every plaque, memorial and dedication in London. Each entry is mapped, and includes photos and biographical notes. It’s a godsend for local historians, genealogists and anyone who likes poking into the capital’s lesser-known oddments. Most of the legwork, research and data entry was done by one person – Richenda Walford. We just had to meet her.

Where did you get the idea for the site?

It evolved. Way back in the 90s I just wanted a system for myself - a database to capture the memorials so that I could search and cross-reference, etc. I also had this idea for linking into a map but that was way beyond my skills or knowledge. As the web gained popularity it just seemed obvious to put it on-line. But why was I collecting memorials in the first place? It's really just an excuse to spend time looking, really looking at the fabric of London. You stop being distracted by the shop windows and the advertising and get a chance to see what's behind and above - the architectural splendour of this old hodge-podge of a city.

What’s your favourite plaque/memorial in London?

Sometimes it's just the last one I found. There have been days, searching a bereft backwater, when I would have been delighted to find anything, even a dull foundation stone. East Finchley for example! In Bloomsbury recently I found a great plaque to a Zeppelin attack where no one was injured - how British is that? War memorials are a special case; the detailing on them is often delightful and transcribing the lists of names is always moving. I am ambivalent about the Blue Plaque scheme. It's a very worthy enterprise but I'm never going to come home delighted at having found one of them. Plaques by committee are a bit dull, I like them slightly quirky. One of my all-time favourites is in Brussels, that city of the surreal, which reads (in French) "Boris Lehman is going to live here."

Have you ever got into trouble, taking photos of private property?

Oh, yes, that's if you consider American Embassies to be private property. Did you know there is a section of London pavement that most Londoners are not allowed to walk on? You are only permitted in front of the Embassy in Grosvenor Square if you have an appointment and have cleared security. But my first brush with embassy security was in Brussels (working on BrusselsRemembers) at the US Embassy. The guard there made me delete the pictures I had taken. He had a gun so I didn't argue. I had the same discussion with a British soldier outside Hyde Park Barracks but he was not visibly armed so I got to keep my pictures. Once or twice I have had to go on to private property to take some pictures and if it seems appropriate I knock and ask permission. No one has ever refused, they are normally pleased and rather curious so I have some cards to hand out.

Which area of London do you feel the greatest affinity for?

I was brought up in Highgate so that is a special place for me. Every bit of London that I've lived or worked in, they all hold memories. I love the Georgian terraces of Bloomsbury and Islington. But if pushed I think I'd have to say Soho - when I was young it promised grown-up glamour and, though much changed, it is still a great place to be - day-time or evening - it's a very current, vibrant place with lots of history.

If someone created a plaque to commemorate you, what would you want it to say?

"Most amazing person that ever lived" but failing that: "1953–2063, champion of the harmless hobby of memorial collecting."

When you’re not out plaque-spotting, what else interests you?

I watch far too many art-house movies and don't read nearly enough books.

Do you have a favourite bar/restaurant?

We have a favourite table at Konstam which is a bit of a clue. The décor is weirdly cosy, the food is delicious and ethical and they always seem pleased to see us. What more can you ask?

Any advice for Ken Livingstone?

Being a car-free cyclist I applaud a lot of what he's done in London, and I don't normally compliment politicians. Give him greater control of the transport problem; I think he's got it sussed.

Do you have a favourite London secret?

The little paradise at St John's Lodge Garden near the centre of Regent's Park, the strangeness of the old road under the RSA building in John Adam Street, the secret steps at the end of Carlton House Terrace, the Best Kebabs on the Planet in Junction Road, a few shops away from the Best Kebabs in the Universe, the trick for exiting Oxford Circus tube station on the north-west corner (from the Victoria line)…

Last Updated 07 May 2007