UPDATE ON THE EFFORT as of 14 August 2011

In a word (or two), English Heritage turned down the nomination.

    Here's the letter that I received from English Heritage.

This is what I wrote to the Patrons and Supporters:
Dear Patrons and Supporters of a Blue Plaque for Sir Clements Markham's house,

The Blue Plaques Panel of English Heritage met on 20 October and made its decision on our nomination of Sir Clements Markham and 21 Eccleston Square for a Blue Plaque.

The decision however was not made public until recently. The letter attachedI've also included the text belowis dated 12 November but was not received until yesterday, the 6th of December.

As it turns out, it would have been preferable not to have received it at all!

It is, of course, quite disappointing to learn that English Heritage has not approved the nomination. As you will read, one of its reasons for turning us down is that "Markham's reputation remains controversial." If one were to remove all the Blue Plaques in London accorded to controversial men and women, there would be few left standing. There seems little to be gained by quibbling over its uninformed opinion of what Markham may have advocated.

The nomination was similarly turned down ten years ago and there probably is now no reason to think that the decision would be different in another ten years if yet another application were to be made.

One option is to consider the Green Plaque Scheme of the City of Westminster. Not quite the same cachet but Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle aren't bad company. If any of you are familiar with this program or are in a position to make enquiries, please do so.

On our part, I don't believe a more comprehensive nomination could have been assembled and presented. The willingness of many people to serve as Patrons of the effort was gratifying. And the numerous expressions of support that accompanied the nomination, if not unprecedented, must have been impressively large by English Heritage standards.

Thank you for your involvement in this process. I welcome any suggestions or ideas for somehow re-directing this effort in the future.
In the near future I will probably add (anonymously) some the many comments sent to me. There may be some "further developments" as well.

Some Responses Received

"Clearly there was someone on the panel who disapproved of Markham, and wasn't prepared to be persuaded by rational argument."

"What a chronic display of wanton ignorance. … I am now more determined than ever to see English Heritage forced to eat their words."

"How very disappointing. What's more I am in agreement with your comments. It will be interesting to find out in due course who succeeded this year."

"The argument that not all persons of distinction can be commemorated with a Blue Plaque is, of course, irrefutable, but the more specific reason given is, as you point out, distinctly puzzling. I wonder what Sir Ranulph Fiennes, one of the patrons of your appeal, made of the disparaging reference to man-hauled sleds!"

"I wonder where they discovered the bit about man-hauling? That only really became outdated after Amundsen's spectacular success with dogs."

"What a disappointment—and for a spurious reason as it is re-writing history to say man-hauling was outdated a hundred years ago! Such a comment makes my blood boil."

"I am really shocked at the misguided opinions of the blue plaque panel…is Roland Huntford on this panel?? I wonder what Sir Ran Fiennes has to say about manhauling and the idea that it was outdated in 1910 when it is still being used today by explorers!!"

"Most of us have skeletons of sorts and it is a shame that after a century they can't let go of this."

"It shows I suppose the emotion that the extraordinary polar efforts of the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries still arouse."

"The reply from English Heritage makes me angry. What on earth do they mean by his 'reputation remains controversial'?
Is this a reference to the nasty allegations by that warped 'historian' Roland Huntford that Markham's relations with Captain Scott were somehow homosexual? He based this on their having classical Greek nicknames for one another (quite common in Edwardian times), and by quoting out of context a remark in Markham's diary about handsome boys running along a beach in Sicily—Huntford, typically, neglected to say that this diary entry was made when Markham was out for a pre-dinner stroll with Lady Markham. Even if there were some truth in this allegation (which there was not), so what? Plenty of gay men have got blue plaques on their houses.
Was it 'controversial' that Markham favoured Scott over Shackleton? At that time, Scott had a greater reputation as a polar explorer, and many others at the RGS backed him. Also, Markham did not actively oppose Shackleton. And the RGS later made amends by putting a statue of Shackleton outside its building.
Perhaps the 'controversial' reputation was because Markham helped to get first Cinchona trees and then rubber seedlings out of South America.The Cinchona trees were brought by Richard Spruce, with the knowledge of the Ecuadorian government, and they saved many lives from malaria. The request to Henry Wickham to bring rubber from the Amazon was made jointly by Markham and Joseph Hooker (who does have a blue plaque), and this was done quite legally from a Brazilian point of view. English Heritage should read Brazil and the Struggle for Rubber by Professor Warren Dean of Columbia University, which blows Brazilian pique and hypocrisy about this out of the water.
Or was it 'controversia' that, in his magnificent corpus of translations for The Hakluyt Society, Markham occasionally mistranslated to make the text more favourable to the Incas?
I think that you should demand an explanation of what EH means by their fatuous remark about Markham's reputation remaining controversial. That is not the view of all the people who wrote in support of the plaque—many of whom are more knowledgeable about this than the staff of EH or, I suspect, the members of the blue plaque committee."

"I am amazed to read that the main reason for the controversial reputation was that Markham was alleged to have recommended out-dated equipment such as man-hauled sledges. (Did he?) I thought that the controversies were about a) Scott's use of Welsh pit ponies, and b) Amundsen's use of husky dogs which were killed and fed to one another. I think that I am right in saying that ponies and dogs are now forbidden in Antarctica because of their threat to endemic wildlife, whereas some expeditions still man-haul their sledges (even though motorised sledges, which were invented long after Markham's day, are now available).
John Cattell says that man-hauled sledges were 'out-dated' in Markham's, Scott's and Shackleton's time. What more modern means of locomotion does he have in mind?
He also says that his committee cannot afford the cost of another blue plaque. If he told you how much it is, we might be able to subscribe to this."

"This is indeed a real shame. I suspect we needed someone on the inside to make it happen. I wonder who is on this committee? Too many artists probably."

"Incredible decision—an insult to all the very remarkable effort to which you went to try and achieve this obviously well-deserved tribute to Markham."

"Politics, and all because of man-hauled sledges? I think there is more to it than that. If Markham would have insisted that Scott used dogs, knowing that the dogs would be killed and eaten by other dogs and the field party, would that have swayed the Panel members? Would that difference put Scott at the Pole before Amundsen? No one knows, or can estimate. …"

"I was very sorry to learn of the Panel's rejection of the proposal for the Blue Plaque for the residence of Sr Clements Markham. It seems to me there is some analogy here with Time Magazine's 'Man of the Year', which Bush was awarded in 2004. Certainly, none would argue that he was the 'Best' man of 2004. The award was for the one who most influenced events of that year.
Similarly, Markham was probably the single most influential person in awakening British interest in polar exploration at the end of the nineteenth century. His home is thus an important icon for such historic events as those behind the Discovery expedition. Whether Markham's reputation is "controversial" is irrelevant.
It seems to me the Panel erred in assessing the proposal in terms of the man rather than the historic significance of the events that he influenced and for which his home would be an icon. "

"Very disappointing indeed. How about a letter to the Times making your point about so-called controversial figures…no more so than say Jimi Hendrix?"

"There is no sense or rationality to this decision, ludicrous almost I would say. It seems poor Clements has fallen foul of the typical and simplistic Scott vs Amundsen, man vs dogs arguments. Ask any modern explorer or extreme athlete if they think man-hauling is outdated and they would strongly say how heroic and adventurous it is. Such travel is now seen as the quintessential challenge, stripped down and simplified. So, it seems English Heritage have totally missed the point.
Markham deserves a blue plaque for cinchona alone, besides his polar advocacy which opened up an entire continent!"

"It is indeed baffling that Markham was rejected on the grounds being a little controversial. As you say, there would very few plaques in existence if they applied only to uncontroversial figures.
Personally, I accept that Markham had some very substantial weaknesses. But—weaknesses or strengths aside—he presided over an important chapter in history and it seems perverse to ignore his role in promoting these historic events. By the same token, it would be possible to construct an argument that perhaps Scott himself should not have a blue plaque because of the outcome of the expedition he led."

"I agree totally with you that the decision by English Heritage is mystifying. To cite that 'Markham is a controversial figur' and that 'his promotion of man-hauling of sledges' as the grounds for refusal is risible."

"I am quite shocked that our application has been turned down. You assembled such a numerous and knowledgeable list of supporters and to dismiss Markham because of his so-called controversial reputation, 'most notably' for his 'advocacy of out-dated exploration equipment such as man-hauled sledges' seems quite crazy. It also shows how ignorant the panel must be—unfortunately perhaps having swallowed Roland Huntford's extremely biased opinions hook, line and sinker. I see that Markham's name has not been added to the shortlist 'for the present'. Does that mean there is still a ray of hope?…
Incidentally, the bust outside the R.G.S./I.B.G. building (Lowther Lodge) has been side-lined since the new entrance in Exhibition Road became the main one. The one in Kensington Gore appears to be used mainly by contractors and other trades people, thus meaning that the bust given by the Peruvian nation is but little seen."

"Obviously English Heritage did not take the time to read the letters or background information you provided and have simply accepted the Roland Huntford debunking of Scott and the British Expedition. Seems a pity they could not be bothered, but that is the way of all bureaucracies.
Has there been any press coverage of the rejection? Their poorly informed decision ought to be made public."

"How very irritating of English Heritage! I am just reading Huntford's book about Amundsen and Scott, and he paints quite a dubious picture of Markham, so maybe that is where they are getting their view from.
He was clearly vital to the polar exploration scene at the end of the 19th century, and as you say, there are many with less than lilly-white reputations."

All I can say is Amen to what your supporters have written. As to manhauling being outdated, look atthis photo (attached). I took it on 20 December 2010 at 89 degrees south (a century after Scott died!). Manhauling still goes on.

John Cattell
1 Waterhouse Square
138-142 Holborn
London EC1N 2ST

8 April 2011

Your ref. BP. 2942
Blue Plaques: Sir Clements Markham (1830-1916)

Dear Mr Cattell:

You will remember the long and strenuous efforts by Mr Robert B Stephenson of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, to get a plaque affixed to 21 Eccleston Square, where Markham and his gifted wife Minna lived for many years.

It was with sadness and even indignation that I received the news in your letter to Mr Stephenson of 12th November 2010 that this had been refused. Supporters of the application were both numerous and distinguished. They included one of Markham's successors as President of the R.G.S. that popular traveller and T.V. presenter, Michael Palin.

I was shocked to learn in your letter that the plaque was refused because Markham's reputation was "controversial, most notably over his advocacy of out-dated exploration equipment such as man-hauled sledges". In this, I regret to say, the committee shows itself ignorant of these matters—it was the great Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, who advised Captain Scott, on Markham's recommendation, and on both his Antarctic expedition's, Scott used dogs with Nansen sledges. In any case, Markham's life-time achievements in combating malaria in India, in initiating the exploration of the interior of the totally unknown Antarctic continent and as Historian of Peru, far out-weigh any such ludicrous allegations.

Incidentally the bust outside Lowther Lodge, Kensington Gore, headquarters of the R.G.S. is hardly visible to the general public, especially now that the main entrance is in Exhibition Road.

I beg the Blue Plaque committee (and English Heritage) to see that justice is done. I suspect however that in the present climate of political correctness, it may be found easier to commemorate the Chairman of a football club in Hendon than a prominent former "Establishment" figure such as Markham. I hope very much that I am wrong in this respect.

Yours sincerely

Ann Savours. Hon. D.Litt.
Polar Historian

Dear Dr Savours,

21st April 2011


Thank you for your letter to John Cattell, dated 8th April, which has been passed to me for reply as a historian on the Blue Plaques Team. I believe that we spoke on the phone while research was being done on this case, and am sorry to learn of your disappointment over the decision of the Blue Plaques Panel not to shortlist Sir Clements Markham.

In summarising Markham's career for the benefit of the Panel, we reported that he was the leading contemporary authority on Peru and his achievement in introducing quinine to India as a malaria cure. His wide-ranging authorship was also mentioned, with a slight cavil that the accuracy of some of his translations has been called into question. The Panel was made fully aware of the broad support for the plaque application, and of the widespread view that Markham was a key figure in promoting early Antarctic exploration. The exceptional length of Markham's residence in Ecclestone [sic] Square was also discussed.

It seems clear, however, that there is no unanimity among historians about Markham. His autocratic behaviour has been criticised, notably with reference to his behaviour towards Shackleton, and his advocacy of man-hauled sledges is discussed in several accounts. The Panel were informed that it has been argued—and it was put no more strongly than this—that this preference was transmitted to Scott. We did not mention that the Scott expedition used dogs as well, as it did not seem material to the case.

Overall the case was judged to be borderline. The Panel decided, on this occasion, not to add Markham's name to the shortlist—a decision which must be seen in the context of the Blue Plaques Scheme as a whole. We have the resources to put up twelve plaques a year, out of around hundred viable suggestions that are received. 0wing to this volume of work that this creates, we are unable to reconsider suggestions until ten years have elapsed.

The historians who work on the scheme are generalists, not polar historians. We are, however, experienced in summarising the current state the historical debate about nominated figures. I hope and believe that, in the case of Sir Clements Markham, this was done faithfully.

If you have any further questions, or would Iike to explore alternative means of commemorating Markham, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely

Howard Spencer
Blue Plaques Historian

3rd May 2011
Howard Spencer
Blue Plaques Historian English Heritage
1 Waterhouse Square 138-142 Holborn
London EC1N 2ST

Dear Mr Spencer

Thank you for your welcome letter of 21st April 2011, giving the background to the Panel's adverse decision.

In your second paragraph you present numerous reasons for the award of a plaque to Markham, which I am surprised did not tip the scales in his favour, his achievements being of lasting value, not of popular or mainly local importance. Perhaps he did become somewhat autocratic in his later years, but he did get things done. For example he opposed the Royal Society's proposal to make the (Discovery) National Antarctic expedition, 1901-04 (Captain Scott's first) into a continuation of the Challenger's oceanographic researches. Instead, he rightly advocated the very first exploration of the unknown interior of the Antarctic continent. Note that Scott, Shackleton and Markham ("we three") dined together in London on the Discovery's return in 1904. Perhaps he can be forgiven for any adverse reactions to Shackleton's decision to follow Scott again towards the South Pole, when he (Markham) had earlier set the wheels in motion with the support of the R.G.S. individual donors and government. He was over seventy when the Discovery departed. His Peruvian journals showed that he was relatively timid in his younger days; he was brave therefore to do what he did.

Regarding man-hauled sledging: what other type of traction could Markham be expected to advocate? During the 19th Century, virtually the whole of the Canadian Arctic archipelago, despite its extent and complicated geography, had been mapped by "travelling parties", which departed from ships, anchored or beset in the high Arctic. Sailors were used to hauling ropes at sea in sailing ships, hence their (very gallant) employment on long sledging journeys, some of over one thousand icy miles. The Admiralty charts bear witness to the Royal Navy's great efforts in this respect.

Regarding alternative ways of commemorating Sir Clements Markham, I believe the originator of the campaign, Mr Robert B Stephenson of New Hampshire has sought advice on this. Perhaps all his supporters ("Patrons") should club together to get a plaque affixed. I see in the Shire publication, "Discovering London plaques" by Derek Sumeray (1999) that there are quite a number put up by private organisations or groups. However, I still maintain, as do other supporters, that Markham deserves an official blue plaque. Perhaps we can offer to fund one.

Yours sincerely

Ann Savours

Mr John Cattell,
Secretary of the Blue Plaques Committee,
1 Waterhouse Square,
138-142 Holborn,
London EC1N 2ST.

14 August 2011

Dear Mr Cattell,

Dr Ann Savours has sent me her correspondence with you about a blue plaque on Sir Clements Markham's house, 21 Eccleston Square, London.

I feel that the Mr Robert Stephenson and the original applicants, and your committee's decision, miss the point about Markham. He was not an Antarctic explorer and should not be judged as such. He did, however, have four great achievements in other spheres, each of which in my view merits a Blue Plaque:

1. Chinchona (quinine). Markham's early travels in Peru introduced him to the 'fever bark' tree Cinchona, whose bark was the great palliative for malarial fevers. In 1860-61 Markham organised three separate attempts to extract plants and saplings of this tree from the Andean regions of South America. He himself attempted to collect the plants in Peru, but suspicious Peruvians prevented him from doing so. He also wrote, on India Office paper, commissioning the great Yorkshire botanist Richard Spruce to collect the trees. Spruce did this brilliantly, and the hundreds of plants that he shipped from Ecuador were replanted in India, where Markham personally supervised their planting. This quinine unquestionably saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. (This action also led to the popular drink gin-and-tonic, because British soldiers in India were given gin only if they drank it with the tonic quinine.)

2. Rubber. Encouraged by the success of the chinchona operation, Markham persuaded his employers in the India Office to authorise payment for seeds of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) from the Amazon. Markham and his friend Sir Joseph Hooker (of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew—to whom you awarded a blue plaque) wrote in 1874 to Henry Wickham, a young planter on the Brazilian Amazon, to bring rubber plants and seeds. Wickham did this successfully. This eventually led to the rubber plantations in Malaya (Malaysia) and great wealth for that territory and the British economy.

3. Royal Geographical Society. For 25 years, from 1863-1888, Markham was a very dynamic Honorary Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, and was then its president for 12 years, from 1893-1905. One of his first actions as Hon. Sec. was to appoint the admirable Amazon naturalist Henry Walter Bates as the Society's first paid chief executive. The quarter century in which these two men effectively ran the RGS were the golden age of British exploration, and Markham was directly responsible for creating the Society's great reputation in both world-wide discoveries and the teaching of geography in Britain. (I know how important this period was, since I was the Society's fifth director, for 21 years from 1975-1996.)

4. Peru. Clements Markham's first book was about his travels in Peru, and he had a lifelong interest in that country and in Inca studies. His translated scores of chronicles and documents about the Incas and Amazon exploration, and many of these publications are still in use. He was the first to recognise the importance of the fine chronicler Pedro de Cieza de León. He published these translations through the Hakluyt Society, of which he was also honorary secretary for almost 30 years and then president. This Society, the world's oldest book club, is still flourishing. (Here again, I know what I am talking about since I am a trustee of the Hakluyt Society and have used Markham's translations in my books on both the Incas and Amazon exploration.) The Peruvian nation donated a bust of Markham to the RGS, and it still stands outside the main door on Kensington Gore. As far as I know, Peru has not donated a similar bust of any other foreigner anywhere in the world. The most prestigious boy's school in Lima is still Markham College.

For the above four achievements, Sir Clements Markham deserves a blue plaque, as an outstanding Geographer and Historian.

Through the RGS, Markham supported Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic voyages (just as he supported and encouraged exploration in other parts of the world). Scott was an experienced polar explorer and it was his decision, not Markham's, to use Welsh pit ponies on the 1911 expedition. It was only after the ponies failed that Scott's team had to man-haul their sledges. So your committee is wrong to blame Markham for this mistake or to say that he was 'controversial' or behind the times. A more controversial decision was Amundsen's use of dogs which he periodically killed and fed to the surviving animals. (Dogs are now forbidden in Antarctica, on environmental grounds.) Also, the more modern method of polar exploration—snowmobiles, as used by Fuchs and Hilary—had not been invented in 1911.

Yours sincerely,

Dr John Hemming, CMG


While last in the UK I saw this item in the paper (Independent, 14 November 2011):
Row over honour for pioneering stripper
Plans to honour the first stripper to appear in London with a blue plaque have met resistance from residents of her former home.
English Heritage had planned to commemorate Phyllis Dixey, a pioneering burlesque dancer who is credited with bringing striptease to the West End of London during the Second World War, with a plaque outside her home in Surbiton.
But residents of Wentworth Court, whose permission is required, have objected to its wording, which reads: "Phyllis Dixey 1914 to 1964. Striptease Artiste lived here in flat number 5."
English Heritage said negotiations were continuing.
Well, what can one say?