London blue plaque for Helena Normanton unveiled in the Square

On 20 October 2021 a new English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled outside 22 Mecklenburgh Square to commemorate Helena Normanton, a trailblazing female barrister and champion of women's rights

Helena Normanton lived at the house (now part of The Goodenough on Mecklenburgh Square hotel), between 1919-31.

Mecklenburgh Square has a long history of attracting distinguished academics, writers and thinkers and many other pioneering women such as Virginia Woolf, Eileen Power and Jane Ellen Harrison, lived and worked in houses in and around the Square. Goodenough College is surrounded by homes with English Heritage London blue plaques giving the College’s Members (and guests staying at the hotel) extra inspiration and a special appreciation of the area’s history.

Helena Normanton is seen as instrumental in paving the way for women in law. After many early challenges and setbacks she became the first female law student at one of the London Inns of Court and one of the first to be called to the Bar. As a practising barrister, she was the first female counsel to lead in a case at the High Court, the first woman to accept a dock brief and run a trial at the Old Bailey, the first woman in the English courts to lead murder trials, and one of the first two women to take silk as a King’s Counsel (the recognition given to the most senior barristers).

A lifelong advocate of equality feminism, Normanton was actively involved in numerous campaign groups, including the Women’s Freedom League, Six Point Group, the Married Persons Income Tax Group, the Married Women’s Association, the Council for Married Women and the British Federation of Business and Professional Women. She was also active in the long-standing campaign for reform of divorce laws, aiming to make divorce more equal, less difficult to achieve and less expensive.

Lady Hale, a Goodenough College Fellow and the first woman to serve as President of the UK’s Supreme Court, unveiled the plaque and commented: “Helena Normanton was the pioneer of women barristers. She had to overcome a great deal of prejudice and discrimination. A blue plaque is a fitting tribute to her courage and her example to women barristers everywhere.”

The blue plaque is the third to be placed on houses that are part of The Goodenough on Mecklenburgh Square hotel, owned by the College.  Plaques commemorating the historian and political writer RH Tawney and the Muslim reformer and scholar Sir Syed Ahmed Khan appear outside 21 Mecklenburgh Square.

The London blue plaque scheme relies on public nominations but at present only 14% commemorate women. English Heritage is keen to address the historic gender imbalance and this year, following its long-running ‘plaques for women’ campaign half of the organisation’s new plaques will be dedicated to women.