In the third of our series on blue plaques, we unearth more history on our streets and give you the stories behind the names.
Thomas Crapper 1836-1910
On one small street in Anerley we discovered two famous people had occupied houses next to each other, though not quite at the same time. Thomas Crapper was a sanitary ware engineer and business man to whom many people attribute the invention of the flushing toilet, along with the origin of the word ‘crap’. However, neither is strictly true, although he did hold several patents connected to toilets and drainage, and the appearance of the modern toilet and cistern owes much to Crapper. Originally from Yorkshire, Thomas ended his days in south London, living at 12 Thornsett Rd from 1904 till his death in 1910. His company still trades today.
Walter de la Mare 1873-1956
Two years after Crapper’s death, poet, novelist and short story writer Walter de la Mare moved in to 14 Thornsett Rd where he lived until 1924. He is probably best known for his poetry, including ‘The Listeners’, along with his children’s stories as well as many ghost stories. Born in Charlton, and partly descended from a French Huguenot family, his ashes are buried in the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1859-1930
Less than a mile from Thornsett Rd., lived one of Britain’s most famous writers. Arthur Conan Doyle lived at Tennison Rd. South Norwood from 1891-1894 where he wrote some of the renowned Sherlock Holmes novels. Doyle was born in Edinburgh and qualified as a doctor before embarking on a literary career, which included several historical novels as well as the more famous detective series. He was also a political campaigner and twice stood for Parliament in Scottish seats, though failing to be elected.
Emile Zola 1840-1902
Moving a short distance up the hill to Crystal Palace we feature two famous names from 19th century France. Emile Zola was a critically acclaimed and best-selling novelist and playwright, whose works include Therese Raquin, L’Assommoir and his masterpiece, Germinal. He came to south London in 1898 as he fled from Paris to escape prosecution because of the ‘Dreyfus Affair’, where he accused the government of anti-semitism in an open letter entitled ‘J’Accuse‘, published in a national newspaper. His stay at the Queens Hotel on Church Rd lasted a year, after which he returned to Paris. He died in somewhat suspicious circumstances and is buried in the Pantheon in Paris alongside two other literary greats – Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas.
Camille Pissarro 1830-1903
Born on the Caribbean island of St Thomas – then Danish – to French parents, Pissarro was one of the principal artists of the French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements. His group, which included Cezanne and Monet, was excluded from the French artistic establishment of the time as the works were ‘non-traditional’. He moved to Crystal Palace nearly 30 years before Zola, during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), where he stayed at Westow Hill. Scenes from south London feature in his work including ‘The Avenue, Sydenham‘, which is in the National Gallery.
For the history of Blue Plaques have a look at English Heritage.