Part 5 in our occasional series about blue plaques features two of South London’s most famous sons, along with two social campaigners and a composer from Scandinavia.
Sir Charles ‘Charlie’ Spencer Chaplin 1889-1976
Born near East Street, Walworth into a family of performers, Charlie Chaplin is possibly the most globally famous south Londoner of all time, and his rags-to-riches life is a Hollywood story in itself. Brought up by his mother in difficult circumstances in south London, he went on to become one of Hollywood’s greatest, not only as an actor, but also as a director, producer, composer and screenwriter. His most well-known character is of course, the Tramp, while his most famous films include Modern Times, City Lights and The Great Dictator. With four wives and eleven children, his personal life provided plenty of material for the gossip columns too, culminating in his exile from the USA in the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. He lived the rest of his life in Switzerland, where he is buried.
Edvard Grieg 1843-1907
If you ever need the names of famous Norwegians in a pub quiz, here’s one of them. From the city of Bergen, where he has a statue and public buildings named after him, Grieg was a composer and pianist, whose works put Norway on the musical map. As a concert pianist, he performed around Europe and while in London he stayed at a house on Clapham Common. His many works include the music for the Peer Gynt suite, a play by fellow-countryman Henrik Ibsen, where the most famous section is ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, surely one of the most recognisable pieces of classical music ever written.
William Wilberforce 1759 –1833
Born in Hull, Wilberforce was an MP who was famous as the leader of the campaign to abolish the slave trade. Influenced by an aunt and uncle in London, he became an evangelical Christian from an early age, which prompted his social campaigns in Parliament. Later, he became a member of a church movement dedicated to social reform, known as ‘The Clapham Sect’ , based at Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common. He promoted the Slave Trade Act 1807 in Parliament, and was involved in the campaign to free all slaves throughout the Empire, which culminated in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. Wilberforce was also involved in the founding of the Church Mission Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He died shortly after the passage of the 1833 Act through Parliament.
Field Marshal Bernard ‘Monty’ Montgomery, Viscount of Alamein 1887-1976
Born in Kennington right opposite the Oval cricket ground and son of the vicar of St Mark’s church, Montgomery served in WWI with distinction and rose through the ranks of the army. In the summer of 1942 Churchill turned to him to head the north Africa campaign against the German army commanded by Rommel, and ‘Monty’ won the battle of El Alamein. Many see this as a crucial turning point in the war, paving the way for the invasion of Sicily and Italy, where Montgomery also played an important role. He was appointed Commander of Allied Ground Forces for Operation Overlord – the Normandy landings – and later took the German surrender on 4th May 1945. Subsequently, he became head of the British Army and deputy commander of NATO. Never short on self-confidence and unafraid to criticise others in high places, he was certainly a charismatic figure who inspired the troops he commanded.
Annie Besant 1847-1933
Annie Besant was a social and political campaigner who was born in Clapham and lived for a time in Gipsy Hill. She was a prominent member of the socialist Fabian Society and edited the National Reformer, a weekly publication advocating trade unions, women’s right to vote, birth control and national education. She supported and helped to organise a number of workers’ protests and strikes about poor working conditions, including at the Bryant & May match factory in east London. Later in life she became interested in Hindu religious beliefs and moved to India where she became President of the India Home Rule League and a prominent member of the Indian National Congress.
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