Should there be a blue plaque in honour of the controversial explorer Gertrude Bell in Cadogan Square in spite of the fact she did not actually “live” there?
Today, in The Guardian, arts correspondent Mark Brown reported on the controversy that has arisen as a result of English Heritage deciding it appropriate to approve a blue plaque in honour of Gertrude Bell CBE (1868 – 1926) in Cadogan Square, Knightsbridge.
Though home to the explorer’s grandmother and a place she stayed at on “numerous occasions” for over 40 years, Bell’s biographer, Graham Best, asks: “Is this a case of cultural appropriation? … She didn’t really have anything to do with London.”
“The thing with Gertrude Bell is that everyone is trying to appropriate her as a person. She is deeply misunderstood.”
“The thing is everyone is trying to grab hold of Gertrude Bell and say yes, she’s one of us. But she’s not.”
Going further, the article also attempts to smear “Queen of the Desert” Bell by referring to the fact that she opposed vote’s for women and repeatedly makes reference to the William Morris designed Red Barns in Redcar being her genuine home.
Just like with Queen Elizabeth I – a woman who seemingly slept in every bed in the land – it is effectively plaques to famous people could end up being put up just about everywhere they ever went. In February this year, The Steeple Times reported on a condominium in Pacific Heights, San Francisco that was for sale complete with a plaque that proclaimed: “2151 Sacramento Street: This house, built in 1881, was once occupied by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.” It turned out that the author had “visited” the building for just a few hours.
Pictured top: Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell with Robert Pattinson as T. E. Lawrence in the “muddled mess” that was Werner Herzog’s 2015 film ‘Queen of the Desert.’
The plaque should go up. She spent 40 years staying there on and off so it has relevance. She was a traveller but obviously this was her London base. The biographer is plainly just a pathetic pedant.
What exactly does the plaque say? If it’s honest e.g. “She stopped off for tea and crumpets a few times when she was passing through London” then I could live with a blue plaque. Is it deliberately vague and therefore deliberately misleading without being actively mendacious?
For more fun is The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I can pass on the other one
I too favour the plaque.
James Canning: Well, if it’s an HONEST plaque, I’m with you. Otherwise it’s as useful as dental plaque.