The junction of Finchley Road with West End Lane sets the scene for a pivotal episode in Wilkie Collins’s novel The Woman in White. The protagonist, art teacher Walter Hartright, encounters the mystifying and distressed Anne Catherick in the small hours when walking home from Hampstead. She is later tragically buried as Walter’s lover Laura Fairlie. Excitingly, this is also the spot where in 2008 the Metropolitan Police uncovered £50m pounds worth of criminal loot stashed in deposit boxes at a bent safe depository. Drama indeed.
When the early 20th century behemoth of Anglo-Irish literature chose to live in London, he opted for Camden rather than the more Irish Kilburn a mile or so west. Yeats had such a profound impact upon poetry in the English-speaking world that though Sylvia Plath – our next plaque – lived for the most part on Chalcot Square, she moved to Yeats’ house on Fitzroy Road in 1962 after she separated from Ted Hughes.
In the year before her separation from Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath moved to Chalcot Square a few years after she married Ted Hughes in 1956. Residing there for a year between 1960-61, this time for Plath was undoubtedly a difficult one for the writer who took her own life in 1963, having moved out from this original address.
Just over the Canal from these two is the plaque for Dylan Thomas’s home in Camden near Regent’s Park. He only lived here for a few months between October 1951 and January 1952 and in December 1951 Thomas wrote of ‘our new London house of horror on bus and night lorry route and opposite railway bridge and shunting station’.
MacDonald died in 1905 and perhaps might best be recognised alongside his mentee, Lewis Carroll. His fantasy writings influenced the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who once wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his ‘master’. MacDonald’s old house, where he lived between 1860-63, is located near Mornington Crescent Tube Station, a name that will resonate with listers of BBC Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which uses the tube station’s name as an improvisational game to satirise panel show games.
What does Friedrich Engels share with Carlton Banks, Dr. Watson and Jamie Murray? He is also the less famous half of a pair (Will Smith, Sherlock Holmes and Andy Murray for anyone playing along at home) but that makes this plaque that bit more special. Engels is of course the the less well-remembered author of the Communist Manifesto, and while Karl Marx’s reputation is dominant, his partner who lived by Primrose Hill between 1870 and 1894 certainly made some waves himself.
Sir Arthur Hugh Clough
A poet, teacher and devoted assistant to Florence Nightingale, Sir Arthur Clough, the former Balliol College Student, wrote largely pastoral and elegaic poetry. Additionally, his sexual frankness makes him regarded as one of the most forward-looking poets of the 19th century, and how apt that he once lived in that most bohemian of areas, Camden between 1854-59.
Just two doors down from Sir Clough lived the historian and broadcaster A.J.P. Taylor. Though a great war historian, some of Taylor’s very best work came in his book English History 1914-45 which represents his only foray in to social and cultural history. In this book you might find clues as to his residence in Camden, or a view of the nation seen through a North London lens.