Southwark blue plaques: shortlist in for next local historical figure to be honoured

Kit Heren (26 August, 2021)

Five people with connections to the borough have been put forward this year - but only one will be chosen.

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The shortlist is in for the next round of people who could be honoured with a Southwark blue plaque. Five people with connections to the borough have been put forward this year – but only one will be chosen.

The Southwark Blue Plaque scheme was the brainchild of Southwark News and Southwark Heritage Association. The national English Heritage scheme insists on buildings needing to still be standing, after getting Southwark Council on board our scheme has seen over fifty placed across the borough.

Candidates this year include people from the arts, literary, business, and social work spheres – as well as a renowned figure in the history of British espionage.

Helene Aldwinckle

Helene Aldwinckle later in life

Helene Aldwinckle was one of the leading female codebreakers at Bletchley Park, which hosted the British government’s programme to crack the German Enigma code in the Second World War. She died in April last year aged 99.

Helene, originally from Aberdeen, was recruited straight from university into Bletchley Park in 1942. She was first set to work on the vital task of triaging messages before being put in charge of a familiarisation course for the Americans who arrived in the summer of 1943. She later worked in the Quiet Room in Hut 6 at Bletchley Park, taking on codes that could not be cracked by the main codebreaking team, the Watch.

Helene married her husband John Aldwinckle in 1945. After the war he was a British intelligence agent in various cities across Europe, including in Berlin. She came with him and began working as a broadcaster for the British Forces Network and for German radio station Westdeutscher Rundfunk.

When they came back to the UK, Helene became a German-English translator, including working on a biography of the Russian designer and artist El Lissitzky. She later managed London art galleries.

Helene lived at 76 Farquhar Road SE19 from 1979 to 2014, spending her final years in a care home. John died in 2012. Helene is survived by four children.

James Butterworth

The Reverend James Butterworth was a Methodist minister who set up Clubland, a pioneering youth club, in Walworth in 1932. It became renowned for its mixture of social and faith based activities. James Butterworth was an energetic fundraiser and attracted many of the famous names of the day to the club, including Bob Hope, Laurence Olivier and Queen Mary, the wife of King George V.

James came from a tough upbringing in Lancashire. “From the age of 12 he was working in the cotton mills,” his daughter said in a Southwark Council film. “His mother had been widowed, his father sadly had committed suicide… Dad being the eldest, he went to work.” He served in the trenches in the First World War.

James met people in the war who were interested in setting up youth clubs, according to his son James. He became a minister at Didsbury theological college. After leaving college he chose a placement on Walworth Road in 1922 in order to continue his interest in social work.

“He had a vision of a club and a church combined,” said his friend Dr Gordon Lyle. “So that young people could have a complete environment of the spiritual side and the physical side.” The club became Clubland – a place for young people in the area. James also took young people on annual trips to the channel island Guernsey, where he met his wife, Anna Castain.

Sadly large parts of Clubland and the church were destroyed in the Blitz in 1940. Services continued to be held in the remains of the buildings. After the war he went on a lecturing and fundraising trip to the US in order to rebuild – even persuading Bob Hope to come to London to give a charity performance.

Jimmy retired from Clubland in 1974 after more than 50 years, with his health worsening. He died eighteen months later.

Len Deighton

Len Deighton (b. 1929) is a renowned British author, best known for his spy novels and thrillers, such as The Ipcress File and Bomber. Bomber is thought to be the first novel written using a word processor. The Ipcress File was made into a 1965 film starring Michael Caine.

He lived in Merrick Square in Borough during the 1960s, where he wrote many of his best-known works. Deighton’s skill and interest in cooking is less well-known. He wrote two cookery books and even a cookery “strip” for The Observer newspaper.

Francis Peek

Francis Peek was a businessman and advocate for social causes in the nineteenth century.

He spent much of his early life running the family tea importing business. In 1855 he took over Peek, Winch and Co., the firm his father began, and grew it into an extraordinarily successful business.

Peek later championed the preservation of London’s open spaces and persuaded Dulwich College Estate to create a public space from their lands, which became Dulwich Park in 1890. He provided the funding. He also donated more than £500,000 to charitable and religious causes, including paying for the building of the new church of Holy Trinity, Beckenham as a memorial to his parents. Peek was also a supporter of prison reform. He died aged 65 in 1899.

Barbara Steveni

Barbara Steveni, who died last year, was an artist and activist based in Peckham. As well as being a wide ranging conceptual artist in her own right, she also co-founded the Artist Placement Group in the 1960s, which aimed to move artists away from galleries and into ‘real-world’ situations like governments and corporations.
Barbara was born in Iran, where her father worked for the Foreign Office. She lived in Peckham from 1985 until her death and was an important and active presence in the local art scene and further afield.

To vote, email admin@southwark.co.uk or kit@southwarknews.co.uk naming the person that you would like to see commemorated with a blue plaque. Voting closes at midnight on November 30.

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