Iris Murdoch shortlisted for a blue plaque

Images above: Iris Murdoch, 1970, photograph by Godfrey Argent; The Black Prince book cover

Iris Murdoch, winner of both the Costa prize and the Booker prize for literature, has been shortlisted by English Heritage for a blue plaque. The prestigious and highly sought after plaques are attached to the house of someone famous in recognition of their achievements, but candidates do not become eligible until 20 years after their death, so it is often the current occupants of the house where they lived who become their main champions in the bid for recognition.

Iris Murdoch, who grew up in Chiswick, died in 1999 so she has only recently become eligible for a plaque.

Chiswick has several blue plaques already, on houses where famous people once lived: writers EM Forster, Patrick Hamilton and Alexander Pope, artist Johann Zoffany, ‘architectural visionary’ Joseph Michael Gandy, comedian Tommy Cooper, Olympic rower Jack Beresford, botanist John Lindley and Private Frederick Hitch, who was awarded a VC at Rourke’s Drift.

READ ALSO: EM Forster in Chiswick

READ ALSO: Johann Zoffany in Chiswick

READ ALSO: Alexander Pope in Chiswick

Image above: The house in which Iris Murdoch grew up, 4 Eastbourne Rd, Grove Park

Iris Murdoch in Chiswick

Iris Murdoch lived at 4 Eastbourne Rd, Grove Park as a child and came back on and off to visit her parents until her father died and the house was sold in 1959. There are numerous references to Chiswick in her novels. In An Accidental Man Gracie Tisbourne and Ludwig Leferrier visit Chiswick House together; in The Nice and the Good Eric Sears made his living from a pottery in Chiswick on the corner of Cedar’s Road and Sutton Court Road and in Nuns and Soldiers her characters go on a pub crawl in Chiswick.

Alex Houseman, who now lives in the Eastbourne Road house, put her name forward to English Heritage in 2019 and heard from them in August 2020 that she had been shortlisted for commemoration with a plaque.

Iris Murdoch lived in several locations in London, as well as in Oxford and Cambridge and the next step in the process, Alex told The Chiswick Calendar, is for English Heritage to do a detailed assessment of the London addresses associated with her to establish which would be the most appropriate building to bear the plaque. The process can take several years.

Images above: Iris Murdoch A Centenary Celebration, edited by Miles Leeson; Devil of a State by Anthony Burgess; competition winner Jill Apperley

Iris Murdoch and Jill Apperley win Chiswick Book Festival competition

While the experts at English Heritage are deliberating, Chiswick is stepping up its campaign. Aggrieved that another of our famous writers Anthony Burgess was recently turned down for a plaque, Torin Douglas, Director of the Chiswick Book Festival, launched a competition at this year’s festival for nominations for other blue plaque candidates.

The competition has been judged by Torin, antiquarian bookseller Stephen Foster of Foster Books and myself, Bridget Osborne, editor of The Chiswick Calendar. We can now announce the winning author is Iris Murdoch, nominated by Alex Houseman, Susan Dani and Jill Apperley.

“We were delighted to learn that Iris Murdoch is already in the running for a blue plaque” said Torin.

In answer to the question ‘Which of Chiswick’s authors should receive a blue plaque?’ Susan wrote:

“Iris Murdoch of course. (If she hasn’t already got one.) She has had an enormous influence on me and many of my generation.”

Alex wrote:

‘I’m sure there is no one more deserving of a blue plaque than Iris Murdoch.  She lived at 4 Eastbourne Road, Chiswick from the age of 6 to her early adulthood, although she travelled away to study and with work for some time, before moving permanently to Oxford in 1948 at the age of 29’.

Jill wrote:

“Iris Murdoch: philosopher, academic and one of the most original and influential novelists of her generation. Undoubtedly one of the iconic literary figures of the twentieth century.”

The Book Festival prize for nominating Iris Murdoch, a first edition of Devil of a State by Anthony Burgess donated by Stephen Foster, goes to Jill.

“The reason we chose Jill Apperley as the winner was not just her succinct, yet comprehensive, entry but also her detailed research into Murdoch’s life in Chiswick, published earlier this year” says Torin.

Written for The Chiswick Calendar, Jill looked at biographies, including the best known biography of Iris Murdoch by Peter Conradi and articles, including one by John Fletcher: Iris Murdoch, Novelist of London, in which she says he takes ‘a rather sniffy view of the house in Eastbourne Road’, describing it as ‘architecturally undistinguished’.

Jill also spoke to Murdoch scholars including Dr Miles Leeson, Director of the Iris Murdoch Research Centre, who told her:

“Iris Murdoch’s childhood in Chiswick formed her as a writer. Her regular walks in and around the area, and more widely around London, helped form the imagination which would go on to produce some of the best works set in London in the 20th century.”

READ ALSO: Iris Murdoch in Chiswick, by Jill Apperley

READ ALSO: Blue plaque for Chiswick writer Anthony Burgess rejected

READ ALSO: Upstaged by a Muppet – Torin Douglas

Image above: Alex Houseman with the letters, postcard and poem written by Iris Murdoch

Letters written by Iris Murdoch while she was living in Chiswick

Alex Houseman and his wife Frances moved into 4 Eastbourne Rd in February 2010 with their two daughters Aurelia and Jemima. They were aware that Iris had been brought up at that address, though until that point Alex says he had only read one of her books, The Bell.

“When we looked round in 2009 the biography by Tomalin was open on show” Alex remembers.

He has all the original documentation for the sale of the house to Iris’s father Hughes as a new build in 1927 and for the sale of the house in 1959 after his death to Albert Cohen, from whom the Housemans bought it.

Alex says it was partly the fact that the house had a bit of interesting history that appealed. He wanted something of Iris’s to put on display and after a bit of research bought a couple of letters and a postcard that she had written while she lived there and a fragment of an unpublished poem from a dealer.

The postcard, to Mr & Mrs Mills in 1947, was just to wish them a happy Christmas. The letters – to Ruth on 10th June 1947 and to Bill in (he thinks) 1956 were both about buying pieces of art. In one she says happily:

“We now have a phone – Chiswick 1913”.

Transcript of Iris Murdoch’s letter to ‘Bill’ in (Alex thinks) 1956, giving him her new address in Oxford

From tomorrow:

25 Beaumont Street, Oxford

Dear Bill,

It was very nice to hear from you after so long & it was most kind of you to send the drawings.  They are most exciting and I like them a lot.  I expect your work has changed very much since I last saw it.  Do you remember the painting of the Bluecoat School near Seaforth Place?  I have had great pleasure from that painting during these years, & it is in my bedroom at Oxford.  Thankyou for that too!

I’m sorry I didn’t write sooner.  I was rather busy getting married! – to one John Bailey, a Fellow of New College.

Things have settled down now, & work is possible again, & the writing of letters!

About a show in Oxford, I don’t at this moment know what would best to do, & as you know Oxford is very empty at this time of year.  But I will find out as often (sic) I can & let you know of any ideas.  The British Council (at Black Hall, St Giles) stages shows of paintings I know, & a note to them might be worth while.  Apart from that – I’ll let you know later if I can find out something.  I  am not right in the picture world in Oxford, but I think I know who to ask.  I hope Ruth is well – give her my love & best wishes.  I’ll hope to see you both in Oxford!  With all my best wishes,


Now we wait

Now Chiswick has decided who we favour as our next candidate for glory, all we can do is wait while the experts at English Heritage deliberate.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: The man who discovered Sean Connery – Chiswick film director Alvin Rakoff

See also: Chiswick’s local authors at the Chiswick Book Festival 2021

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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