This is the fourth in our occasional series of articles about blue plaques of famous (and not-so-famous) people who lived in south London and the stories behind them.
Sir Ernest Shackleton 1874-1922
Shackleton was a polar explorer who led four expeditions to the South Pole in the early years of the 20th century. In the second of these, in 1907-09, he reached to within 97 miles of the pole itself, which would be conquered in 1911 by the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen. Shackleton received a knighthood for this expedition and went on to lead a third expedition in 1914 and his final one in 1922, during which he suffered a fatal heart attack. Born in Ireland, Shackleton moved to Sydenham as a boy and attended Dulwich College.
Marie Stopes 1880-1958
Marie Stopes was a scientist and pioneer of birth control and sex education who lived in Crystal Palace. She founded, along with her husband, the first family planning clinic in the UK in Holloway, north London, in 1921. Thereafter, a number of other clinics were opened around the country and in 1976 these were brought together in the newly formed organisation Marie Stopes International , an NGO which is involved in family planning and birth control in the UK and around the world.
Anne Shelton 1928-1994
Born as Patricia Sibley in Dulwich, where she lived most of her life, Anne Shelton was a popular singer in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. She entertained at military bases and on radio during the war and became known as ‘the Forces’ Favourite’. She recorded the original UK version of the wartime song Lili Marlene and went on to have a successful singing and acting career in peacetime, including a no. 1 hit Lay Down Your Arms in 1956. She worked for forces’ charities throughout her life, for which she received an OBE. She is buried at Camberwell New Cemetery.
John Keats 1795-1821
One of the most popular and acclaimed English Romantic poets, Keats actually studied medicine at Guys Hospital where he took lodgings in St Thomas’s Street with Henry Stephens (see plaque). Although he continued his medical studies and qualified as a surgeon/apothecary, he was increasingly interested in poetry and more and more of his time was spent on this. His most famous works were called Odes, such as Ode to Melancholy, along with a poem entitled Endymion. None received critical approval during Keats’ short life – he contracted TB and died at the age of 25. It was not until the second half of the 19th century that Keats became recognised as one of this country’s great poets.
Sir Francis Pettit Smith 1808-1874
Although he is the least famous of our five, Francis Smith nevertheless developed a highly significant (and still-used) invention of the industrial revolution – the marine screw propeller. Following trials in London, Smith took out a patent in 1836 and three years later organised the construction of the world’s first screw propelled ship, the SS Archimedes. Smith, who lived for several years on Sydenham Hill, was eventually employed by the Admiralty to supervise the construction of naval vessels employing this vastly superior form of propulsion. He received a knighthood for his work and became head of the Patent Office.