New ‘blue plaque’ to honour Helena Normanton

On 20 October a Blue Plaque to celebrate the career of pioneering barrister Helena Normanton will be unveiled outside her former home on Mecklenburgh Square.

Helena had an unpromising start in life. Following the death of her father, when she was just four years old, Helena and her sister were brought up by their mother who ran a grocery store and later a boarding house to support her children.

From a young age Helena wanted to become a barrister, but she began her career as a history lecturer, gaining a first-class degree in modern history from the University of London while teaching.

In 1918 she applied to become a student at Middle Temple but was refused and went on to lodge a petition with the House of Lords. She reapplied on 24 December 1919, within hours of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 coming into force, and achieved her aim to gain admission to the Middle Temple.

In the course of her legal career Helena went on to achieve a remarkable number of firsts. In 1922 she was called to the Bar and became the first woman in England to practice as a barrister.

In the 1920s Normanton was also, having married, the first woman in Britain to hold a passport in her maiden name, and the first female counsel to lead in a case at the High Court.

In 1925 she became the first woman to conduct a case in the United States, and in 1948 she was the first woman to lead the prosecution in a murder trial in an English court. The following year, Normanton became (with Rose Heilbron) one of the first two women appointed as King’s Counsel.

English Heritage will conduct a short ceremony to unveil the Plaque on 20 October. Guests will be asked to gather from 4.15pm for speeches to begin at 4.30pm – watch the website for more news of the event or email if you would like to attend.