As the ‘Putney Pusher’ (the runner caught on camera pushing a woman into the path of an oncoming bus) dominates Putney headlines, we thought it was about time we turned to something more positive. That is, the three official blue plaques of Putney. What this list lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality, as there are a few interesting characters here. So let’s begin our tour of the blue plaques of Putney…
FRED RUSSELL (1862 - 1957) - 71 KENILWORTH COURT, LOWER RICHMOND ROAD
Fred Russell was an English ventriloquist born Thomas Frederick Parnell in 1862. He began amateur ventriloquism in 1879, but didn’t perform as a semi-professional until 1886 when he was offered a spot at London’s Palace Theatre. His act broke from convention and was one of the first to use a knee sitting figure, hence his nickname as ‘The Father of Modern Ventriloquism’. His blue plaque stands on 71 Kenilworth Court, Lower Richmond Road, where he lived in Flat 17 from 1914 to 1926. He was awarded an OBE in 1948 for his services to the profession, continuing his act right into old age. He died in Wembley, aged 95.
DR EDVARD BENES (1884 - 1948) - 26 GWENDOLEN AVENUE
Dr Edvard Benes was born into a peasant family in 1884 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was educated in Prague, Paris and Dijon. Once he had obtained his doctorate of Law in 1912, he became a lecturer and was also involved in Czechoslovakian independence activities. From 1916 to 1918 he was a Secretary of the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris and from 1918 to 1935 he was the first and longest-serving Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia.
Benes served as President of Czechoslovakia twice, firstly from 1935 to 1938 and then from 1946 to 1948. During the Second World War, after his first presidency, he went into exile in Putney, hence the blue plaque. He died of natural causes in 1948 and is interred in the garden of his villa in Sezimovo Usti.
THEODORE WATTS-DUNTON (1832 - 1914) & ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE (1837 - 1909) - THE PINES, 11 PUTNEY HILL
Theodore Watts-Dunton and Algernon Charles Swinburne share a blue plaque. Now that’s a strong friendship. There are two sides to every story, especially this one. Let’s start with Watts-Dunton.
Theodore Watts-Dunton was born in St. Ives and studied in law, consequently moving to London once he had qualified as a solicitor. He also dedicated his time to literature, poetry and criticism. Watts-Dunton became the most sought after friend in literature it seems, befriending Tennyson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti throughout his time in London.
One of his clients was a man named Algernon Swinburne.
Swinburne was born in Grosvenor Place, London in 1837 and attended Eton College in 1849, beginning his passion for writing. His work was considered that of the decadent school and he was also part of the literary Pre-Raphaelite movement. Swinburne was a unique character, writing about taboo subjects at the time such as flagellation, cannibalism and lesbianism. He also suffered from alcoholism and a tendency to exaggerate his deviances within homosexuality and bestiality.
Fun fact: Swinburne also has another blue plaque at 16 Cheyne Walk, which he shares with Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Watts-Dunton and Swinburne became friends in 1872 and Watts-Dunton was shocked by Swinburne’s alcoholism, moving him into his home at The Pines, 11 Putney Hill. This is where Swinburne was tamed and became a socially respectable individual. Watts-Dunton encouraged Swinburne’s landscape verse, but is often criticised for preventing the completion of Swinburne’s sadomasochistic novel. A phrase is often tossed around that he ‘saved the man and killed the poet’. However, Swinburne’s literary career still flourished and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1903 to 1907 and again in 1909.
Watts-Dunton was also an author in his own right, publishing his own poetry volume in 1897 called ‘The Coming of Love’. Watts-Dunton and Swinburne shared this home in Putney for nearly thirty years until Swinburne’s death in 1909 at the age of 72. Watts-Dunton died at The Pines on 6 June 1914 and was buried at West Norwood Cemetery.
WHAT IS THE SOUTH LONDON CLUB CARD?
The South London Club is a local discount card to help support small independent businesses across South London whilst saving all who live, work & play in South London money! With over 500+ local discounts to choose from, you will discover & explore all the best hidden gems in South London. Join over 5,000 of us & celebrate all that's independent & South London!