Meet the women behind Barnet’s blue plaquesTaking a closer look at Barnet's three female blue plaque recipients
There are 19 historic individuals honoured with blue plaques in Barnet, from Second World War spy Garbo and philosopher Sir Karl Popper, to the actor Sir Ralph Richardson and the iconic writer Evelyn Waugh.
Currently however, only three blue plaques are devoted to female pioneers; aviator Amy Johnson, trade unionist Mary Macarthur and pianist Dame Myra Hess. Born within 23 years of each other, all three spent considerable time living in the borough, while going on to achieve great things.
Here’s a glimpse at their remarkable lives, and where you can visit their plaques today.
Amy Johnson was born Hull on 1st July 1903 and was destined to live a life of record-breaking world firsts. But, before that, she read a degree in economics at Sheffield University. By 1928, she had moved to London and become an active member of the London Aeroplane Club, which was located in Stag Lane, Edgware.
Passionate about flying planes, Amy qualified as a ground engineer in 1929 – her first record, as she was the first woman in the UK to do so. Then, on 5th May 1930, she set off in a plane from Croydon and 19 days later landed in Australia, becoming the first woman in history to complete a solo flight form England going Down Under. It was shortly after this success – which turned her into a star around the globe – that she and her then-husband, the aviator Jim Mollison, moved to Vernon Court in Cricklewood for a few years.
Amy didn’t stop with worldwide fame and two world firsts under her belt, however. She set a number of speed records, including on a UK to Japan solo journey and a trip from Kent to Cape Town. Amazingly, she decided to break her own Cape Town record a few years after setting it.
During the Second World War, Amy served as a pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary. Sadly, in January 1941, she encountered poor weather conditions during a standard flight, and her plane disappeared over the Thames Estuary. She was presumed dead at 37 years old.
In 1987, Amy's blue plaque was placed on the side of Flat 15, Vernon Court, Hendon Way (NW2 2PE).
Trade unionist Mary Macarthur was born on 13th August 1880 in Glasgow, Scotland. As a young adult, she held conservative values, and was a member of the Primrose League. She worked at her father’s drapery company, but quickly became impressed by union meetings held by shop assistants – and soon devoted her life to campaigning. By the time she moved to London aged 23, she quickly earned a post as secretary for the Women’s Trade Union League, where she was renowned for amping up communications, gathering momentum and organising swathes of women workers around the UK to strike.
Mary had ties to a number of organisations throughout her life, but in 1906 founded the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW), a larger-scale organisation achieving 2,000 members in its first year alone. It had 40,000 members at its peak, many of whom perhaps joined during the First World War – as many women were drafted into work, to take on the jobs left by men who'd been shipped off to war.
The NFWW achieved many things – through a number of long strikes, and its own publication – but most famously the NFWW and Mary were vital in securing a minimum wage for women workers by law. Mary served as the union’s president initially, before serving as general secretary until 1918. Eventually, NFWW was absorbed into the National Union of General Workers in 1921.
Mary sadly died of cancer a year before this happened, in 1920. She was aged just 40. A blue plaque at her Barnet home, 42 Woodstock Road in Golders Green, was placed almost 100 years after her death in 2017.
Dame Myra Hess
Dame Myra Hess
Dame Myra was born Julia Myra Hess on 25th February 1890. She was the youngest of four children born to a Jewish family from Kilburn.
Aged just five when she first began to play piano, seven years on she was studying piano (on a scholarship) at the Royal Academy of Music. By 17, she made her public debut as a pianist at a very important concert at the Queen’s Hall.
Throughout her life, Dame Myra toured the world as a celebrated concert pianist. Her performances of classics by Beethoven, Mozart and Bach – and her own moving arrangements, particularly the Bach chorale named Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – particularly struck her many admirers. She touched not only the lives of classical music fans, but also the general public, as she arranged a number of affordable performances at the National Gallery from the beginning of the Second World War. It was for this she received a damehood in 1941, and the concerts continued until 1946.
Dame Myra toured again in the 1950s, travelling the world and famously performing at New York’s Philharmonic. Dame Myra played her last public concert in 1961. She taught students in the years before her death, in 1965, aged 75. Dame Myra’s plaque is located just to the side of the front door of 48 Wildwood Road in Hampstead Garden Suburb (NW11 6UP). It was placed in 1987.
To suggest an iconic woman for a Barnet plaque: