Heritage: Byron in the bathware section
As a plaque is unveiled in the poet's honour on London's Oxford Street, John Walsh wonders what the famous libertine would make of being immortalised in, er, John Lewis
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Thursday 04 October 2012
The descendants of Lord Byron, the most dashing and scandalous of the Romantic poets, are meeting in Oxford Street this morning to unveil a Westminster Green Plaque to the great man. The site of the unveiling is important – it's the house where he was born in 1788, number 23, Holles Street.
Of course it's changed a bit since Byron's day. It's now John Lewis.
There's been a wooden plaque on the store's Holles Road elevation for some time, but it's being replaced by the verdant circlet as part of the Green Plaque Scheme, which aims "to draw attention to particular buildings in Westminster associated with people of renown who have made a lasting contribution to society".
An admirable intention, marred only by the slight bathos of attaching such noble memorials to the sides of buildings with modern commercial identities. There's nothing wrong with John Lewis; it's just a department store isn't something you think of when reciting "She walks in beauty like the night/ Of cloudless climes and starry skies…" Although I'm sure Byron could have knocked off an appropriate rhyme: "The greatest bordello I ever knew is/ The perfume counter at John Lewis,/ Where gentlemen by bawds are told/ 'We're never knowingly undersold'."
Elsewhere in the borough, similar plaques have been attached to similarly jarring emporia. Jane Austen gets herself one at 10, Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, the site of her brother's flat where she wrote most of her best letters. A shame that she now has to share premises, so to speak, with one of the Rohan shops that sell outdoor clothing for men and women. It doesn't quite fit the Austen profile. One cannot imagine Jane's heroine, Lizzie Bennett, going to visit her sick sister Jane in a pair of the brand's Dry Fusion Waterproof Trousers (£100).
The plaque commemorating JMW Turner's birthplace at No 21 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, sits above a pub called The Porterhouse, selling beers, ale, stout and "modern bar cuisine with an Irish flavour". Nearby, a plaque at No 10 celebrates the fact that Voltaire, the great French philosopher, lived there; he would not be entirely displeased to learn that his home is now the Hungarian Cultural Centre.
The plaque in honour of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle isn't at Sherlock Holmes' address, 221B, Baker Street (which doesn't exist). It's at No 2, Upper Wimpole Street, where he set up as a ophthalmologist in 1891. He didn't attract any patients so turned to writing instead. And today it's the premises of a trendy dentist. Will he ever warrant a Green Plaque?
- 1 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 2 Scarlett Johansson new band 'already hit with legal complaint' from another The Singles
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
Mohammed Emwazi: Family of man named as 'Jihadi John' described by neighbours as 'normal Muslim family'
Mohammed Emwazi: Nine things we know about Isis militant 'Jihadi John'
Mohammed Emwazi: Man identified as Isis killer 'Jihadi John' 'stopped by MI5' while on safari holiday in Africa in 2010
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...
£13000 - £13500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...
£18000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Long-established Energy Brokers...
£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...