Blue Plaque Installed On Patrick Hamilton's Childhood Home

Unsung hero of twentieth-century fiction is honoured with installation on Burlington Gardens house

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The novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962), has been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque in celebration of his life and contribution to literature. The plaque was installed at 2 Burlington Gardens, Chiswick, W4 on Saturday (12th February).

Hamilton has been described by his biographer Nigel Jones as “undoubtedly a major – arguably the major – novelist of mid-20th century London life”, and few people commemorated with a blue plaque can ever have had such a love-hate relationship with the capital city.

Late in life, writing in an unfinished novel entitled The Happy Hunting Ground’he observed that ‘London’s a place where you’re forever hunting for happiness – and even if you find it it’s soon taken away from you’. Although never part of a particular literary clique Hamilton’s work was championed by the likes of Graham Greene, John Betjeman and J. B. Priestley.

In recent years interest in Hamilton has increased: his play Rope was revived last year and a TV adaption of Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky, his novel trilogy, was aired in 2005.

Born in Hassocks, West Sussex, Patrick Hamilton was the youngest of the three children of Bernard and Ellen Hamilton. He came from a literary family with both his parents – and later both his siblings Lalla and Bruce – being published authors. At the outbreak of the First World War the family moved to Burlington Gardens in Chiswick where the blue plaque is now placed.

Hamilton wrote his first novel Monday Morning (1925) when he was just nineteen but it was his second novel Craven House (1926) that set the tone for his writing with its candid observation of “shabby genteel” English life, effortlessly invoking the speech and manners of the inter-war era. It was the play Rope (1929) that made Hamilton famous; Alfred Hitchcock adapted it for film; Hamilton wrote the screen play, but regarded the end product as “sordid and practically meaningless balls”.

Hamilton’s success as a novelist continued with The Midnight Bell (1929), The Siege of Pleasure (1932) and The Plains of Cement (1934). This trilogy – describing the colliding lives of a barman, a barmaid and a harlot in London’s West End, and partly inspired by Hamilton’s obsessive affair with a prostitute – was later issued as Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky (1935). By this time Hamilton was married – to Lois Martin – and had suffered a nearfatal road accident in Earl’s Court in 1932 that stopped him from writing for nearly two years, and left him physically and psychologically scarred. He was to score his biggest commercial hit with the neo-gothic stage play Gaslight (1938); many regard his finest achievement as Slaves of Solitude (1947), a novel set in Henley-on-Thames. This was Hamilton’s home for a time, as were Hove and Reading, where much of the action in The Gorse Trilogy (1955) is set.

By the time of the Second World War Hamilton’s marriage was failing and he embarked on
an affair with the aristocratic Ursula Chetwynd-Talbot, known as “La”. He eventually
divorced Lois in 1954 and married La but continued to live partly with his first wife for some
years afterwards. By the mid 1950s he was suffering from severe depression, for which he
received electro-convulsive therapy in 1956. The treatment appeared to have worked for a
time, but he wrote nothing publishable thereafter. His heavy consumption of alcohol, a trait
also found in his father, remained constant throughout his life and led to his early death in
1962, aged 58.

Patrick Hamilton’s residence at the large Victorian corner-house on Burlington Gardens was intermittent, but his connection with the place lasted sixteen years and it was at this address
that he laid the foundations of his career. In 1926–28, his most important spell at the house,
he completed the first draft of Craven House, conceived the concept for the play Rope and met the prostitute Lily Connolly on a night out in the West End – the model for Jenny Maple in The Midnight Bell.

English Heritage blue plaques historian, Howard Spencer, said: “Hamilton’s plays and novels
strongly evoke the taste, smell and colour of London life in the middle of the twentieth
century. His vivid and descriptive writing is full of dark humour and merciless observations
of human foibles, and I hope the installation of this blue plaque will mean his work reaches
new audiences.”

Nick Robinson, Vintage Publishing Sales Manager, Random House, said “I am absolutely
thrilled that English Heritage have chosen to commemorate Patrick Hamilton with this blue
plaque. He is, without doubt, one of the greatest London novelists and this will, at last, bring
him to a wider audience whose lives will be enriched by his wonderful fiction as well as his

February 17, 2011