Marked with a plaque: Woolman and Auden

This plaque, on a house in Bootham, marks the birthplace of W H Auden. It is of course fairly common practice now to mark with a plaque the place where a famous person was born.

I’ve wondered many times why we make so much of a person’s birthplace. Where we’re born is, after all, something we have absolutely no say in. Worth a plaque perhaps, for ardent fans of the individual’s work. But I never understood why it was seen by some as a case of shameful neglect when York didn’t manage to make more of the centenary of the birth of W H Auden, in 2007.

Auden was here for about a year, for the first year of his life, when it can be assumed he wrote no poetry. His family then moved to Birmingham.

His father, George A Auden, edited A Handbook to York and District, published in 1906. This contribution to the city is more deserving of recognition, I’d suggest, than anything young Wystan was capable of doing while living here.

Reads 'John Woolman, American Quaker and anti-slavery pioneer, died here, Oct 1772'
The book includes mention of places of interest in the Bootham and Marygate area. This house, Littlegarth, being one of them. It’s not far away from the Auden house, round a couple of corners, down Marygate and into Marygate Lane. It is marked by another bronze plaque, marking a life well-lived, at its end.
More on John Woolman

Links etc

An article in the York Press at the time of the Auden centenary quoted Andrew Motion, who suggested that York should be marking the event in a ‘grateful’ way. I really can’t see why York owes any gratitude to Auden, but if you can explain this remark, please feel free to comment.
Photo of Auden plaque: Summonedbyfells on

About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories
To link to this page's proper location please use the > permalink

One comment

  1. Pingback: Literary Tourism: York, United Kingdom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Thank you for adding a comment. Please note that comments are moderated, but should appear within 24 hours.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.