20 Feb 2023
Stephen Hawking: Blue Plaque to commemorate the theoretical physicist at his old family home in St Albans
On Saturday 18h February 2023, 14 Hillside Road, St Albans, Hertfordshire, a blue plaque commemorating the life of Stephen Hawking, world-famous theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author was installed at his old family home. Stephen’s sister, Mary Hawking and other family friends were present.
This is the seventh plaque to be installed by Blue Plaques St Albans (BPSA), a voluntary organization, which was established to commemorate famous men and women who have lived and worked in St Albans, by placing blue plaques on buildings associated with their lives. The initiative resembles the well-known blue plaque scheme run by English Heritage in London.
Professor Tim Boatswain, the Chairman of Blue Plaques St Albans, says, Stephen Hawking, who received some of his education in St Albans, was a remarkable physicist and best-selling author. Throughout most of his life he battled with motor neurone disease but still managed to survey the cosmos from his wheelchair, theorising on the nature of gravity and the origins of the universe. It is absolutely appropriate that St Albans recognises this amazing man with a blue plaque. Stephen Hawking is a wonderful symbol both of brilliant thinking and extraordinary human determination.
More about Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)
Stephen William Hawking was arguably the most famous scientist – and certainly the best-known physicist – of his time.
Importance to St Albans: He spent most of his early life in St Albans, leaving St Albans School for Oxford University. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society In 1974, having recently discovered Hawking Radiation, and received many major international awards before being elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1979.
History: He was born in 1942 in Oxford, but in 1950 the family moved to Hillside Road in St Albans. At the age of 8, he attended St Albans High School for Girls (which took boys at the primary level) before, aged 10, passing the 11+ and attending St Albans School – one of the oldest in the country, founded in CE 945. In 1958, with the help of his maths teacher, he built a computer from clock parts, an old telephone switchboard and other recycled components
At just 17 his university career started at University College Oxford, becoming cox of the college boat team – he found the academic work “ridiculously easy”. Being given his First Class Honours degree, Hawking moved to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, to study physics but was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND). In spite of this, he married Jane Wilde in 1965. Expected to live only 2-3 years, the disease progressed more slowly than expected and Hawking continued with his studies, receiving a PhD in 1966 in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, specialising in general relativity and cosmology.
MND, however, played an increasingly major part in his life, his motorised wheelchair becoming a frequent sight in Cambridge. This did not prevent him from publishing “A Brief History of Time” in 1988 – written for non-scientists, the book became an international best-seller, being translated into many languages and selling over 25 million copies. In 1989, he was appointed a Companion of Honour, having reportedly declined a knighthood.
Having needed a tracheostomy, Hawking required a speech-generating device and his computer-generated voice became instantly recognisable throughout the English-speaking world. In 2014 “The Theory of Everything”, an Oscar-winning film based on his life, was released. He continued to receive many international awards to the end of his life.
He died in Cambridge on 14th March 2018 having lived with MND for more than an unprecedented half-century. Four days later, he was commemorated in the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea. His ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey, between those of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.