It’s not often in my line of work that research has a concrete, physical and permanent (as far as anything can be) public outcome, so it was with great pleasure yesterday that I attended the unveiling of a new plaque commemorating the work of the Free Russian Press at 61 Judd Street in London.
I first started researching the Free Russian Press for my Russians in London series, quickly realizing that Alexander Herzen’s twelve years in London were central to the story of many of the other visitors I was tracking down. And his importance as a point of contact was primarily down to the significance of the Free Russian Press and especially the journals The Polar Star and The Bell which, when published from Judd Street in the 1850s (the press moved to a new site across the road after establishing its first independent premises at no. 61, at the time 82 Judd St.), were probably the most influential publications in Russia.
That post led to contact with the Marchmont Association, and further research by myself, Blue Plaque guide Sean Mitchell, Hilary Chapman and Richard Ekins from the Marchmont Association (see the initial discussion thread here) to establish exact locations. I detailed the results in a further post, and today’s plaque is the culmination of the whole process. You can also now find it on Open Plaques.
What I wasn’t expecting was to be invited to unveil the plaque myself, but here I am, doing the honours (and battling vertigo!) with the Mayor of Camden, Jonathan Simpson. It looks terrific, not least because it’s on a beautiful old terrace, whose 200th anniversary will itself be commemorated next year.
The Marchmont Association plaque scheme is quite new, but growing rapidly. It’s great to see people who are so interested in the history of their local area, and their readiness to mark the work of a figure who, whatever his importance in Russian intellectual and political history, remains quite obscure in this country, is really wonderful. I can only thank them (for being so very friendly and welcoming as well), and hope the plaque will help spark the interest in Herzen that he deserves. I will be doing more research into the Free Russian Press and its journals over the next year, and will keep readers informed about that work. And there remain numerous Russians with London connections to research, when I have time – and who knows where they will lead me…