Plaque appeal for orchid artist Nelly Roberts

woman painting an orchid
Melly Roberts at work

The Loughborough Road Histories blog and Brixton Society are fundraising for a plaque to mark the home of a formerly forgotten but notable Brixtononian.

blue plaque

On 15 October this year, it will be 150 years since Nelly Roberts was born in a room above what is now the Bon Bon newsagent on Loughborough Road.

At the time of her birth, the shop was a watchmakers and jewellers run by her mother and father, Rebecca and William Roberts.

Nelly was the first and is still the longest serving – 56 years – official orchid artis for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

A week of commemorations for her was centred around the unveiling of a plaque on her previously unmarked grave in Lambeth cemetery in Tooting, 63 years after she passed away on the 29 March 1959.

There were tributes from her great nephew, Chris Roberts, and current RHS orchid artist Deborah Lambkin.

People from the Loughborough Road neighbourhood, Tooting and the orchid community attended the ceremony.

ceremony in cemetery
The ceremony in Lambeth cemetery
graveside plaque

Now her admirers want to commemorate Nelly with a blue plaque in Loughborough Road where she lived all her life and where she painted thousands of orchids.

They have a crowdfunder to raise the money needed for the plaque. 

Nelly left a legacy of more than 4,000 paintings of RHS award-winning orchids, as well as private commissions, a significant contribution to documenting orchid species and hybrids from around the world. 

She lived all her life – from 1872 to 29 March 1959 – at 72 Loughborough Road.

She was discovered as a teenager when a passing orchid-fancier saw one of her paintings in the window of her father’s jewellery shop on Loughborough Road.

She never moved and never married – a possible reason might be her younger sister, cruelly described as an “imbecile” in the 1939 census.

The rediscovery and recognition of Nelly is one result of a Heritage Lottery funded project organised by a local tenants and residents association – LEAF, standing for Loughborough, Evandale, Akerman, Fiveways, four local roads.