A Blue Plaque for Ronald Fisher’s Childhood Home in Hampstead
In May 2002 an English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled at Inverforth House, the house in North London where Ronald Aylmer Fisher, statistician and geneticist, spent his childhood. The house is in North End Way and faces Hampstead Heath. Google maps.
The ceremony is described below but first there is an account of the house and its place in Fisher’s life. The information about Fisher’s childhood is taken from the biography by his daughter, Joan Fisher Box, and the information about the house and gardens from Cherry & Pevsner’s volume on North London.
When Ronald was born in 1890 the family—there were five older children—was living in Finchley North London. The family moved to the Hampstead house in 1896. The move reflected their growing wealth. George Fisher, Ronald’s father, was partner in Robinson & Fisher of King St, a firm of auctioneers whose reputation, according to Box, rivalled Sotheby’s or Christie’s. (A Google search on “Robinson and Fisher” produces some traces of its former activity: see here for a page from one of its catalogues.)
House from the back (March 2003) Another photo
Box describes the house and what it provided, “In 1896 George Fisher moved from his home in Finchley to Heath House, a mansion he had built near the top of Hampstead hill, set in five acres of parkland and gardens. There were ponies for the children and a goat-chaise [Harness Goat Society] which they drove round the grounds and a carriage and pair for the parents.” (The account in Baker suggests that the house was not Heath House but Hill House and that George Fisher rebuilt an existing house.)
Ronald Fisher as a child
Ronald’s mother died aged 49 when he was 14. Within eighteen months his father lost his fortune and the family had moved to Streatham. Ron relied on scholarships to keep him at Harrow and to send him to Cambridge.
In 1919 Fisher was appointed to a position at Rothamsted Experimental Station in Harpenden. In 1933 when he succeeded Karl Pearson as Galton Professor of Eugenics at University College London Fisher did not follow his predecessor’s example and live in Hampstead (See Karl Pearson’s Hampstead home) but stayed in Harpenden. The house where the Fisher family lived, Milton Lodge at 3 Milton Road, now longer stands as the site was redeveloped in the 80s; see Gavin Ross The Fishers at Milton Lodge and Milton Road East Side.
There is another blue plaque (London remembers) on the property, commemorating William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme (1851-1925). It reads “Soap-maker and Philanthropist, lived and died here.” Lever lived there from 1904 and in his time the property was known as The Hill. (The entry in Cherry & Pevsner is under this name and is about Lever’s house.) Lever had the house remodelled and enlarged and the garden redesigned by Thomas H. Mawson (see the nice aerial view). The garden, called The Hill, is much admired (1 2 3) and has been a public park since 1960. It was restored in the 1990s after a long period of neglect. See also Camden Listed Buildings and Parks and Gardens UK.
There is a plaque for an earlier resident of an earlier house, John Gurney Hoare of the well-known banking family. This was put up by Hampstead Plaque Fund (London remembers) to recall Hoare and his role in preserving the Heath in the 19th century; See Hampstead Heath.
There is no plaque for Lord Inverforth, the shipping magnate Andrew Weir, who acquired the property after Lever’s death. Dorothy Dawes has left an account of life as a maid in the Inverforth household in the 1930s. Inverforth died in 1955 and left the property to Manor House Hospital and, renamed Inverforth House, it became the women’s section of the hospital. The house still has that name, though it is now divided into luxury apartments. A 2001 piece by Peter Birkett in the Telegraph described some of the problems encountered in the conversion.
On Friday 17 May the Royal Statistical Society held a meeting in London to mark the unveiling of a memorial plaque to Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher at the house in Hampstead where he spent his childhood. Such blue plaques commemorating famous people are a notable feature of the London street scene - an earlier example is one for Karl Pearson less than a mile away at 7 Well Road near Queen Mary’s Hospital.
The plaque was unveiled by June Posey, one of Fisher's daughters, in the presence of her brother Harry Fisher and one of her sisters, Margaret Fisher, and three of Fisher's grandchildren, David Newsom, Ruth Hodson and Amanda Posey.
The chairman of the ‘blue plaque’ committee of English Heritage, Francis Carnwath, and the President of the Royal Statistical Society, Peter Green, gave short addresses, before a gathering of some thirty wellwishers.
The house, now called Inverforth House, is half-way along North End Way, on the west side of the road opposite Hampstead Heath. It has been extended over the years and is currently being converted into flats.
In the afternoon papers were read at the Royal Statistical Society to mark the occasion. M.J.R.Healy spoke on Fisher's statistical work, A.W.F.Edwards on Fisher's genetical work and Alan Grafen on Fisher's contributions to evolutionary theory. *
Chair - ISI History of Statistics Committee
* The papers have appeared in The Statistician (Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series D), (2003), 52 (3) pp. 297-330.