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The Survey of London


Recording the history of London's built environment since 1894


Commemorating Lord Byron on Holles Street

By the Survey of London, on 20 May 2016


Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips (Reproduced via Wikimedia Commons).

That Lord Byron was born in Holles Street in January 1788 seems clear. His mother Catherine had returned from Paris a month before his arrival to live in rented rooms there. These rooms have been identified variously as No. 16, which stood on the west side of the street, near its north end, or via a supposed renumbering as No. 24, eight doors further south. It was at No. 24, on a house rebuilt in 1852, that the Society of Arts commemorated Byron in 1866–7 with the first of its round blue plaques. But there had been no renumbering and, in any case, letters from Catherine Byron are addressed simply as from ‘Holles Street’ – no evidence for any house number has been traced. The plaque disappeared in 1889–90 when John Lewis redeveloped this stretch of the street. Lewis commissioned a bronze half-length profile of Byron from the sculptor John Edward Taylerson as a replacement. This was housed within a large Portland-stone aedicule on the second floor of the new frontage at No. 24 in 1900, and was exploited by Lewis for marketing and propaganda purposes during a hot-tempered dispute with the Howard de Walden Estate over the conversion of the old house at No. 16. The Byron aedicule was destroyed by aerial attack in 1940 and Tom Painter designed a modest bronze portrait plaque for a pier between the rebuilt department store’s windows in 1960. This was taken down and replaced in 2012 by a City of Westminster plaque that bears the message (misquoting the poet), ‘Always laugh when you can it is a cheap medicine’.


Plaque designed by Tom Painter for John Lewis, now replaced (By Miezian via Wikimedia Commons).

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