Exhibit of the Week: Remembering one of the town’s famous sons

Painting by Lord Leighton of Jezebel and Ahab on display in Scarborough Art Gallery.
Painting by Lord Leighton of Jezebel and Ahab on display in Scarborough Art Gallery.

How often do you actually take time to stop and read the blue plaques that mark locations significant to some of Scarborough’s most famous sons and daughters?

So familiar are they, that for many, they’ve become part of the landscape. But take time to really look, and you’ll find some fascinating people have lived here in the past.

The original Lord Leighton blue plaque which was mounted on the house he was born in on the long-gone Brunswick Terrace in Scarborough.

The original Lord Leighton blue plaque which was mounted on the house he was born in on the long-gone Brunswick Terrace in Scarborough.

One of those is artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, who was born in Scarborough in 1830; the family moved to London when he was still a child. He studied abroad, and became known as a neo-classical artist, although many link him with the pre-Raphaelite movement – he was friends with some of the group, and his most famous work, the opulent Flaming June, has a definite pre-Raphaelite feel to it with its rich colours and sensual female subject.

Leighton eventually became President of the Royal Academy. He holds the unenviable record of having the shortest-lived peerage in history – he was named as Lord Leighton just one day before his death in 1896.

His blue plaque can be seen on Vernon Road, diagonally opposite the library, and uses the now more commonly accepted spelling of his forename, Frederic (no ‘k’). Our exhibit today is a previous version which was mounted on the house he was born in on the long-gone Brunswick Terrace, demolished and replaced by the Brunswick Pavilion shopping centre some years ago.

You can also see today a fine painting by Lord Leighton on display in Scarborough Art Gallery.

Jezebel and Ahab depicts the story of the Phoenician princess, Jezebel, who procured a vineyard for her husband Ahab, the King of Israel, by making false accusations against the owner, Naboth, leading to his execution. At God’s prompting, the prophet Elijah reveals the deception – Ahab is repentant, but Jezebel remains defiant.

The blue plaque scheme was started in London in 1886 to celebrate the architecture of its streets and the diversity and achievements of its past residents. It’s believed to be the oldest of its kind in the world, and is now run by Historic England (formerly English Heritage).

But the national body only administers the London plaques. Other organisations and societies throughout the UK have picked up on the idea, and Scarborough is lucky enough to have an active civic society, which has instituted a similar scheme. It selects people to be commemorated using the Historic England guidelines.

These are that nominated figures must have been dead for 20 years, or have passed the centenary of their birth; wherever possible, plaques should be erected on the actual building they lived in, not the site where the building was (obviously, this is not always possible, including in Lord Leighton’s case); and buildings must be visible from the public highway.

The person commemorated must also meet one or more of the following criteria: they must be considered eminent by a majority of members of their own profession or calling; have made an important positive contribution to human welfare or happiness; be recognisable to the well-informed passer-by; deserve national recognition; have resided in the town for a significant period of time or importance within their life and work.

There are blue plaques in Scarborough commemorating notable figures as diverse as writer Anne Brontë, actor Charles Laughton, First World War poet Wilfred Owen and those remarkable scientists known respectively as the ‘fathers’ of aeronautics and English geology, Sir George Cayley and William ‘Strata’ Smith.

You can visit www.scarboroughcivicsociety.org.uk to find out more about the scheme, and about other Scarborough Civic Society projects.

The Leighton plaque is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust.

For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.