Discover London: 10 Famous Londoners
No city can boast the same number of staggeringly famous and influential citizens as London. In fact, you may have noticed the circular Blue Plaques on unassuming houses naming a famous resident.
This isn’t really surprising, given that London has been the centre of cultural, scientific and artistic progress for centuries. So let us take you on a ramble around this city highlighting a few of our more notable residents.
Walk in the footsteps of giants, kings and queens, as well as elves, rock stars and detectives, and take a look at the little gems London’s most famous residents have to offer.
1. Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse’s death left the world with a great sense of loss, particularly the music industry to which she had made such a contribution. But her legacy lives on in the determinedly musical area of Camden. The Hawley Arms on Hawley Road has regular live music events, and this was one of her favourite pubs. Her spirit certainly lives on here, not least in the form of a huge mural painted on the wall of the upstairs band greenroom. The surrounding area has everything Winehouse fanatics could want, and taking a stroll down a few of the side-streets around the canal will give you a fresh understanding of many of her songs.
2. Charles Dickens
Perhaps the most famous Londoner (despite being born in Portsmouth), Dickens has noteworthy associations all over the town, particularly just south of the river, but also as far north as Pentonville (near Camden). One advantage of Dickens being deceased is that you can actually go into his house; it’s now the fascinating Charles Dickens Museum, preserved so that historical voyeurs can soak it all up! Dickens’ work was so comprehensive that nearly all areas of London are mentioned somewhere in his work. In fact, there are Dickensian London tours that will show you the sights (but thankfully not the smells) of the hostile Victorian London.
Again, Shakespeare is not a Londoner by birth (as Stratford-upon-Avon will never let anyone forget) but he spent a vast chunk of his life in London. It’s likely he lived in Blackfriars slap-bang in the centre of town, before he moved to Bishopsgate (near what is now Liverpool Street) and then the Liberty of the Clink in the Borough of Southwark (“clink” refers to a prison situated in the ward). As Southwark was technically outside the city limits, all sorts of interesting and illicit activities were sanctioned there, including theatre. No doubt this suited the bard well. Many excellent Shakespeare walking tours can be found, or just a little research will take you a long way!
4. Sherlock Holmes
Okay, before you point out Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character, it is also worth pointing out his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was also a Londoner, spending much of his life in South Norwood. Everyone knows Holmes lived at 221B Baker Street with Dr Watson, so why not get yourself down there for the fantastic Sherlock Holmes Museum? Holmes’ London is, obviously, a very different place, but the beauty of it is that there are a couple of unchanged quarters of town that will plant you right in the thick of the Victorian capital. One such place is Borough Market (in Borough, unsurprisingly) and the Victorian operating theatre next door.
5. Harry Potter
OK, so Harry Potter doesn’t spend a huge amount of time in London. But Potter has a pretty fun relationship with the capital, getting into all sorts of mischief at both real and fictional places (some are both, paradoxically). You can see platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station, visit some of the locations from the films, see a waxwork of the boy himself at Madame Tussauds, and, believe it or not, you can actually go to Diagon Alley and that creepy house with all the elves. You’ll need to get a train to Watford Junction and then a bus to Leavesden, but fortunately a shuttle gets you to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter in a jiffy.
6. The Prime Minister
Arguably one of London’s most famous residents, Mr Cameron resides at the oft-pictured No. 10 Downing Street in Westminster, equidistant between the Queen and work. This house is famous for two reasons: 1. It is where the Prime Minister lives, and 2. It has no door handle on the outside. “But how does one get in?” I hear you cry, understandably outraged. Well, it is the Prime Minister and so a fairly important chap we’re talking about. So important, in fact, that there is always someone the other side of the door to open it when he (or some other important person) approaches. But how do they know when he’s coming? That, dear reader, is one of life’s great mysteries.
7. Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer is widely regarded as the father of English literature, as well as a hard-drinking poet who frequented the George Inn, which still stands on Borough High Street and has a selection of ales that would impress the man himself. It is more where Chaucer now lives that is interesting. He’s buried alongside a few other names you might have heard of (Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Lawrence Olivier, Alfred Tennyson and so on) in Poets’ Corner, a section of Westminster Abbey devoted to heroes of the pen and stage. What better acknowledgement of your literary genius could there be to be buried alongside names like these?
8. Wills & Kate
Wills and Kate have recently made their humble home in the palatial humungousness that is Kensington Palace. What do two parents with a young baby need a palace for? Well, rearing a child is expensive these days. But wee George has plenty of space to run and play in, and you can go and see it for yourself by nipping over to Chelsea. The grounds are exquisitely maintained and this beautiful residence has been the home of the Royals for a very long time indeed. Visitors can get to grips with the palace’s vast and uniquely interesting history, including the not-so-pleasant dealings of a few of our older monarchs.
9. The Queen
Good ol’ Liz has ruled over our green and pleasant land for more than 60 years from the comfort of Buckingham Palace. The palace is open to visitors certain times of the year, when one can see the day-to-day functioning of a royal household. Alternatively, it’s free to watch the Changing of the Guards outside. As with most tourist hot-spots, the best time to go is on a Monday morning. The guard changing starts at 11:15 and lasts until just before 12:00, so you’re best bet is to pack a breakfast picnic and get a good spot near the gates, or simply explore the extensive greenery that surrounds the Palace: Green Park, Hyde Park and St James’s Park.
10. A couple of places to round out the top 10…
OK, so Cheyne Walk is a place, not a person or even a fictional character, but this prestigious walk along the north bank of the River Thames is full of extremely famous people, including Mick Jagger, Lawrence Olivier and Roman Abramovich. Simply take in the delights of the posh river barges nudging against the shore with unspoilt views of the more natural part of the river. Another place worthy of special mention is a building that has housed a fair number of London’s most famous residents (including Oscar Wilde, William Wallace, Anne Boleyn, Guy Fawkes and Samuel Pepys): the Tower of London. Variously a castle, a prison and a home, it is well worth a visit.