20 March 2020

Behind the Blue Plaque: Sir Alexander Fleming

Each of our splendid suites here at 100 Queen's Gate Hotel is named after a famous resident of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. One such is the Sir Alexander Fleming Suite, a duplex suite named after the famous Scottish physician, microbiologist, and pharmacologist.

Born in 1881, Fleming was born and raised in Ayrshire on Scotland’s west coast, before relocating to London to study at the Royal Polytechnic Institution. His elder brother, Tom, was already a physician and suggested to him that he should follow the same career – and so Fleming enrolled at St Mary's Hospital Medical School in Paddington. He qualified with an MBBS degree with distinction.

In 1908, Fleming gained a BSc degree with Gold Medal in Bacteriology, proceeding to become a lecturer at St Mary’s. At the same time, he served as a private in the London Scottish Regiment of the Volunteer Force, before being commissioned as a lieutenant in 1914 and promoted to captain three years later. He served throughout World War I in the Royal Army Medical Corps, working in the battlefield hospitals at the Western Front in France. In 1918, he returned to St Mary’s Hospital, where he was elected Professor of Bacteriology of the University of London.

A short time after the start of the war, Fleming married Irish nurse, Sarah McElroy and had a child, Robert Fleming. After McElroy’s death, he married Dr. Amalia Koutsouri-Vourekas, a Greek colleague at St. Mary's – just two years before suffering a fatal heart attack at his Kensington home.

Amongst several, Fleming’s most celebrated discovery was the world's first antibiotic substance benzylpenicillin (Penicillin G), for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945. Fleming was also knighted for this, one of the greatest advancements in scientific history. In 1999, he was named in Time magazine’s list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, and in 2009, he was voted third "greatest Scot" in an opinion poll conducted by Scottish channel STV, behind only Robert Burns and William Wallace.

Despite his Scottish roots, Fleming lived in a quiet corner of Chelsea for a significant period of his life. A quaint side street just off the River Thames, 20a Danvers Street was his home from 1929 until his death in 1955. All of his honours, including the Nobel Prize and Freedom of the Borough of Chelsea, were achieved while living here.