Charlie Chaplin has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former London home in Brixton Road, Kennington – his last British home.
The plaque was unveiled on Wednesday by comedian Paul Merton outside the top-floor flat of Glenshaw Mansions, a home he shared with his older half-brother Sydney between 1908 and 1910. One of his few surviving London addresses, Chaplin remembered this flat in his 1964 autobiography calling it his ‘cherished haven’. Chaplin and his brother moved into this four-storey mansion block and spent just £40 on furnishings.
This included a couch, two armchairs, a fretwork Moorish screen lit by a yellow bulb and a tasteful female nude portrait. Chaplin, believed to have been born in East Street, Walworth, described the design in his autobiograpy as a combination of a “Moorish cigarette shop and a French whore-house. But we loved it.”
He left from there for America in 1910 – leaving a note for Sydney because he disliked goodbyes. Chaplin’s tramp character remains one of the most iconic in the history of cinema. Chaplin’s tramp costume – a too tight jacket, voluminous trousers and oversized shoes – reflect the ill-fitting clothes that he wore during his poverty-stricken childhood.
It’s said that the tramp was based on a local character from Kennington. Glenshaw Mansions was newly built when Chaplin lived there, but survives intact, despite the bomb that fell just behind it during the Second World War.
Merton said: “I’m proud to be associated with the foremost comic artist of the first half of the 20th century, and this unveiling reminds us of the humble origins from which he sprung.” Former BBC director- general and Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, a member of the panel which decides on the plaques, said: “We are delighted to honour one of cinema’s greatest stars and the modest building he once called home.”
Chaplin later singled out Glenshaw Mansions, referring to the building by name in his novella, Footlights.