When visiting London, most people want to see Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. But for the nerdy adventurer, I recommend a scavenger hunt for the blue plaques marking sites and homes associated with famous figures (nearly 900 to be exact). Pick your neighborhood or genre and start exploring. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get off the beaten path and see some of London’s charming neighborhoods.
After combing the English Heritage website, my friend Beth, her daughter Anna and I started our first pursuit in Chelsea, armed with a list for our literary walking tour that ranged from Dracula to Daniel Deronda (how is that for an obscure reference).
Just a warning, every street seems more charming and photogenic than the one before and there’s history everywhere you turn!
Our first stop was the home of Bram Stoker, author of the famed “Dracula.” I read it in college, and it is actually scary. You’ll find the Stoker house on St. Leonard’s Terrace. As with the vast majority of these homes, someone actually lives here.
Stoker (1847-1912) is Irish, but he also lived and worked in London. There is a Bram Stoker festival in every year in Dublin. In a good Nerd Trips connection, one article said the Stoker traveled to the United States and met Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt as well as poet Walt Whitman (I swear that Whitman was everywhere).
In London, Stoker was friends with many literary figures, including neighbor Oscar Wilde. We’ll get to him in a moment, before Wilde’s house we stopped at the home of an American literary giant.
Mark Twain: You may associate him with “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn,” but author and humorist Samuel Lanhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was also a renowned public speaker who toured the globe sharing his stories to packed houses. He lived in this house on Tedworth Square from 1896-7 and was apparently “the toast of London.” He definitely had a nice house. We also enjoyed the humorous “humps” sign on the block warning motorists of the hazards ahead.
Oscar Wilde: Author, wit and dramatist Oscar Wilde also lived in Chelsea at 34 Tite Street, which now sits across from a nursing home. Like Bram Stoker, Wilde is also Irish, and I also associate him with a scary story “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” You may also be familiar with his play “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Of course, he is also associated with a salacious trial.
George Eliot: We saved the best for last, at least in my opinion. I did a report on George Eliot, aka Mary Ann Evans, during my senior year of high school. I admired her tenacity to succeed in a man’s world of writing, and she also has a somewhat scandalous personal life, living with a married man.
Known for the novels “Middlemarch,” “Silas Marner” and “The Mill on the Floss,” she also had a novel called “Daniel Deronda” (see reference above).
She died in this Chelsea house, 4 Cheyne Walk, which is located near the river. (She has also has a house with a blue plaque in Wimbledon).
The Chelsea house is very grand and sits behind a tall, elaborate gate (it’s so cool), but you can still get a pretty good view. I also like the green door.
The literary scavenger hunt was fun. It became a game to see who could spot the plaque first, and we saw many other plaques on our walk. Chelsea is a beautiful neighborhood, and I will share more photos in the next post.
If you are looking for a way to see some of the less-traveled streets of London, I recommend a blue plaque pursuit. Happy hunting!
I love Daniel Deronda — its one of my favorite books. I admit that I was introduced to it via the television production, but having seen that, I also read the book — once, twice, many, many times.
Great way to see London. Will try it the next time I’m there.
Even though I am a big George Eliot fan, I have actually never read Daniel Deronda. I am leaving for another London trip in a few weeks, maybe I will add it to my Kindle.
Wait a minute — you get to go back? So soon? Lucky you1
I have some friends who have been working in London the past few summers, so I have somewhere to stay. It’s been wonderful!
Been to London 10+ times – but never to Chelsea! Now we will HAVE to get there!
Chelsea is beautiful. But honestly, so many places in London are beautiful.
I actually had the great, good fortune to go to school in London for six months of my university study. I loved to prowl the neighborhoods. My interest was mostly very early Elizabethan and earlier history, but your version seems like an extremely interesting way to go, too. I’m anxious to get back, too. Thanks for fanning the flames!
I am heading back to London in a few weeks, so I will be looking for more blue plaques. My friends who are there just found one for Martin Van Buren. Now I want to see if there are other U.S. presidents.