London Plaques You've Probably Never Seen

By M@ Last edited 6 months ago
London Plaques You've Probably Never Seen

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A blue plaque on a wooden board, through some thorns
London's most inaccessible public plaque? See below

The first rule of putting up a plaque is: make sure it's prominent. The whole point of a plaque is to get people to notice whoever or whatever you're celebrating.

Most plaques achieve this basic function. It's very easy to spot the discs of London's famous Blue Plaque scheme, for example, which stand out from the bricks and mortar in cobalt blue.

And then there are these guys... London's hidden and secret plaques, some of which get only single-figure visits each year. There must be many other examples hidden around town, but these are the best ones we've found on our own explorations.

1. Behind the Piccadilly Circus signs

A plaque to the signs of Piccadilly Circus, mentioning Albert Oaten

In 2009, we were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the lights of Piccadilly Circus. This plaque was put in position a year earlier to mark the installation of a new LED advertising panel for McDonalds. Albert Oaten, mentioned on the plaque, was reportedly a "bit of a legend" in the world of giant screen advertising. The panel would only last a decade. In 2018, all the LED panels were replaced by one giant curving HD screen. We suspect the plaque, too, has gone, and we'd love to pay a return visit to confirm first hand, if anyone from Land Securities is reading this!

2. Hogarth's long-lost plaque

A brown plaque to Hogarth on a concrete base

Leicester Square used to contain busts of some of its most famous residents, including Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth. These were cleared away about a decade ago, and are presumably in storage inside Westminster Council's version of the warehouse form Indiana Jones. But at least one of the old plaques from those busts survives elsewhere. This reminder of Hogarth is held by Vanguard Storage in west London, which we visited a few years back.

3 and 4. Pub plaques

A plaque marking the Handlebar Club in the Heron pub, paddington

To see this plaque you have to find a particular table in a particular pub. It's screwed into the woodwork of The Heron on Norfolk Crescent, Paddington. Although it looks like an unremarkable estate pub from the outside, The Heron is charm personified on the inside, with eccentric decor and a fine sense of its own history. That includes the Handlebar Club, a drinking society for wearers of elongated moustaches. They've been meeting since 1947, formerly in the equally eccentric Windsor Castle, but in the Heron since that much-missed venue closed in 2016.

A plaque to Steve Beer missing you always 2010

Another example of a pub plaque can be found nearby on the bar of the Duke of Kendal, marking the passing of aptly named regular Steve Beer.

5. London's most inconvenient plaque

A blue plaque marking a roman site. It is on a wooden board and surrounded by ivy

In contrast to the above plaques, this one is on full public view... it's just a pain in the ass to get to. To reach it, you must journey to the end of the tube (Edgware or Stanmore), walk up one of north London tallest hills, then scramble through a tangled patch of brambles. And you must do this in winter, as the foliage gets too thick in summer. The plaque (actually a painted sign) marks the probable site of the Roman settlement and pottery of Sulloniacis. We've written in more detail about it here.

6. Wellington Arch Quadriga

A quadriga of horses and charioteer in sculptural form surrounded by scaffolding

Have you ever been up the Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner? It houses a small exhibition and balcony area, accessible to the public courtesy of English Heritage. Where they won't take you, however, is up onto the roof. Here stands the mighty, four-storey Quadriga sculpture — a chariot of war pulled by four horses, followed by an angel of peace. In 2016, we were invited up to the Quadriga to get a first-hand view of restoration work. The sculpture carries a plaque from 2000, marking the previous intervention.

A plaque marking 2000 restoration work on the Wellington Arch

As shown above, it was conserved by a team from Rupert Harris Conservation. Not the most interesting of plaques, we'll admit, but one of London's least-seen.

7. Bench plaques

A bench plaque to Ellen Doyle

We could run a whole article about quirky bench plaques. Oh, wait, we did... This representative plaque is tucked away on Eel Brook Common, and remembers local resident Ellen Doyle and her true Cockney ways.

Seen a plaque that most Londoners will have missed? Leave us a comment below.

All images by Matt Brown

Last Updated 17 October 2023