They commemorate the famous, the community-spirited, the worthy and the rich – and now for the first time, every single blue plaque in Bristol has been documented and the story behind that life to remember has been told.
Historian Maurice Fells’ book, simply titled ‘Bristol Plaques’, has been a labour of love as he not only found every blue in the city, but painstakingly researched the person deemed worthy enough to merit one.
Many are for history’s establishment figures – doctors, Victorian industrialists, scientists and artists – but there are some surprises among people remembered with blue plaques, from the HMV dog and the man who wrote ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ to America’s greatest comedian and the 1930s’ version of David Beckham, all from Bristol.
So here, thanks to Maurice, are some of the local, national and indeed global figures honoured by blue plaques, that you might not have even realised are from Bristol.
St George Park
Possibly the most famous American comedian of the 20th century, known more for his pro-celebrity golf rounds than his comedy in the end, but he was the first global megastar of the television era, and spent his years entertaining US troops as they fought the Cold War.
Remarkably, though, Bob Hope has Bristol roots, as a plaque at the Church Road entrance to St George Park attests.
He moved as a toddler from London to St George and spent his early years playing in the park, before his family emigrated to Ohio in the US.
When he returned to Bristol on a visit in 1952, he asked to be taken to his childhood home.
Nipper the HMV dog
Corner of Park Row and Woodland Road BS1
The dog featured as the emblem for HMV, a record label and now a record store, was from Bristol.
The dog was born in Bristol in 1884 and at the age of three was painted by his owner who then sold the painting to a gramophone company for £100.
That was ‘His Master’s Voice’, and over the next few decades Nipper’s picture, listening intently to a gramophone player, became the firm’s logo.
Hapgood Street, Barton Hill
The David Beckham of his day, and possibly the best footballer to come from Bristol. Eddie Hapgood never played for either Bristol City or Bristol Rovers, and at the time was the only person from the city ever to captain England.
During the 1930s he played for, and captained, the best team in the country – Arsenal – and captained England too.
Born in The Dings, the rough slums around St Philips, and moved to Barton Hill at the age of six.
Dean Lane, Southville
If Eddie Hapgood was the David Beckham of his day, Russ Conway was perhaps the Jamie Cullum.
He taught himself the piano as a child, and worked his way up as a pianist in the London club scene before breaking into television in the late 1950s.
He then topped the charts with jaunty instrumental piano compositions, and sold 30 million records.
23 Berkeley Square, Clifton
Yes, the man who invented modern roads, and gave his name to Tarmac, did so while working as an engineer in Bristol.
The Scots might claim him, and yes he was Scottish, but he invented his new technique while working as the General Surveyor of the Bristol Turnpike Trust, with the job of maintaining 146 miles of the city’s roads.
He spent too much money experimenting on perfecting his new way of laying road surfaces, so he appealed for financial help from the Bristol Corporation.
Eventually he got it right, and tarmac was invented – here in Bristol.
39 Saxon Road, St Paul’s
Perhaps most famous as the man who co-ordinated the ‘Bevin Boys’ of wartime coalmines, he was the first Foreign Secretary of the Cold War, holding the position in the great transforming Labour Government of 1945.
It was a remarkable rise for a boy born in Winsford in Somerset who left school with no real education and moved to Bristol to find work as a teenager.
He was at the forefront of the city’s Trades Union movement of the 1920s and 30s, and was an MP for nearly 20 years before being appointed Foreign Secretary.
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Shirehampton Public Hall
The composer of the piece of music, called The Lark Ascending, which is consistently voted Britain’s favourite piece of classical music, is from Gloucestershire, but had Bristol as his base for much of his career.
The blue plaque in Maurice Fells’ book notes that a unprepossessing community hall on the edge of Bristol was the place where, in 1920, this piece of music was first performed.
After that performance at Shirehampton Public Hall, The Lark Ascending became something of a popular hit, and soon became popular across the world.
29 Anglesea Place, Clifton
Born in Bristol, he quit his job as an office junior to go on the stage, and became the first real music hall star to move into radio and so was the first real household entertainment name of the new radio age, singing humorous songs he wrote himself.
During his lifetime he was best known for ‘On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep’, but the song he sang that has lived on into public consciousness in the 21st century is probably ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’.
Corner of Bartley Street and Philip Street, Bedminster
In Bristol few have heard of Arthur Satherley, but in the Deep South of the US, he’s part of music history and known as ‘Uncle Art’.
When he became the first Brit to be inducted into America’s Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash told the stellar gathering of country and rock and roll stars: “If it wasn’t for Uncle Art, none of us would be on stage”
He grew up in Bedminster and was obsessed by the tales of cowboys in the Wild West from comic books.
The first chance he got as a 24-year-old, he left Bristol for America, and worked his way into the music industry, ending up at Paramount Records as their leading A&R man, before moving to Columbia, signing up the new wave of talent like Cash, Gene Autry and a young Louis Armstrong. He died in 1986, at the age of 97, as a legend in American music.
15 Hughenden Road, Horfield
OK, so most Bristolians know full well that Cary Grant is from Bristol – his statue is, after all, strolling casually across Millennium Square.
Born Archibald Leach, he worked as a teenager backstage at the Bristol Hippodrome, joined a touring acrobatic group and ended up in Hollywood, where he became, in the 1930s, the world’s biggest movie star.
Clifton College, Clifton
Until just a few months ago, the plaque on the wall at Clifton College which proclaimed Arthur Collins’ 628 not out as the highest score ever recorded in a proper cricket match was correct.
For cricket aficionados, Collins’ innings in June 1899 was the stuff of legend – a 13-year-old playing in a five-day game for his school house team against another set of pupils. He batted for five days, amassing those runs, and wrote his name in the history books.
Until, that is, in January this year, when his score was finally beaten by 15-year-old schoolboy Pranav Dhanawade, who scored 1,009 not out from 327 balls for KC Gandhi School against Arya Gurukul School in Mumbai.
Collins joined the British Army after he left school, and tragically was killed at Ypres in World War One.
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