A blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event, serving as a historical marker.
The world's first blue plaques were erected in London in the 19th century to mark the homes and workplaces of famous people. This original scheme across the United Kingdom was administered by English Heritage from 1986, but was temporarily closed to new suggestions in 2013 owing to a lack of funding.
There are also commemorative plaque schemes throughout the world, including in Paris, Rome, Oslo, Dublin and in cities in Australia, Canada and the United States.
In the United Kingdom
English Heritage scheme
The original blue plaque scheme was established by the Royal Society of Arts in 1866 and since 1986 has been run by English Heritage. It is believed to be the oldest such scheme in the world. There are currently some 880 plaques in London; historically there were more, but about 100 have been removed or destroyed because of demolition over the years.
English Heritage plans to erect an average of twelve new blue plaques each year in London and many of these are unveiled by prominent public people. For example, in 2010 a plaque dedicated to John Lennon was unveiled in Montagu Square by Yoko Ono, at the house where the couple shot the cover of the album Two Virgins.
English Heritage continues to operate the scheme, however in January 2013 it announced that government funding cuts meant that the blue plaque team would be reduced and the scheme would temporarily close to new suggestions from the public. Approved plaques will still be installed as planned and the organisation will seek new sources of finance. It hopes to announce details of a new approach to administration for the scheme in 2014. The National Trust's chairman stated that his organisation could step in to save the scheme but its future is uncertain.
The first plaque was unveiled in 1867 to commemorate Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street, Cavendish Square. This house was demolished in 1889. The earliest blue plaque to survive, also put up in 1867, commemorates Napoleon III in King Street, St James's. Byron’s plaque was blue, but the colour was changed by the manufacturer Minton, Hollins & Co to chocolate brown to save money.
In 1879, the RSA agreed that the City of London Corporation would be responsible for erecting plaques within the square-mile of the City of London to recognise the jurisdictional independence of the City. This demarcation has remained ever since. In total the RSA put up 35 plaques, less than half of which survive today.
In 1901, the scheme was taken over by the London County Council (LCC), which gave much thought to the future design of the plaques, and eventually it was decided to keep the basic shape and design of the RSA plaques, with the exception that they would from then on be blue, introduce a laurel wreath and include the LCC's title. Though this design was used consistently from 1903 to 1938, some experimentation occurred in the 1920s, and plaques were made in bronze, stone and lead. Shape and colour also varied.
In 1921, the most common (blue) plaque design was revised, as it was discovered that glazed ceramic Doulton ware was cheaper than the encaustic formerly used. In 1938, a new plaque design was prepared by an unnamed student at the LCC's Central School of Arts and Crafts and was approved by the committee. It omitted the decorative elements of earlier plaque designs, and allowed for lettering to be better spaced and enlarged. A white border was added to the design shortly after, and this has remained the standard ever since. The LCC formalised the selection criteria for the scheme in 1954.
When the LCC was abolished in 1965, the scheme was taken over by the Greater London Council (GLC). The scheme changed little, but the GLC was keen to broaden the range of people commemorated. The GLC erected 252 plaques, the subjects including Sylvia Pankhurst, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Mary Seacole.
In 1986, the GLC was disbanded and the blue plaques scheme passed to English Heritage. English Heritage erected more than 300 plaques in London.
To be eligible for an English Heritage blue plaque in London the famous person concerned must:
- Have been dead for 20 years or have passed the centenary of their birth. Fictional characters are not eligible;
- Be considered eminent by a majority of members of their own profession; have made an outstanding contribution to human welfare or happiness;
- Have lived or worked in that building in London (excluding the City of London and Whitehall) for a significant period, in time or importance, within their life and work; be recognisable to the well-informed passer-by, or deserve national recognition.
In cases of foreigners and overseas visitors, candidates should be of international reputation or significant standing in their own country.
With regards to the location of a plaque:
- Plaques can only be erected on the actual building inhabited by a figure, not the site where the building once stood (but in exceptional circumstances they may be put onto reconstructed buildings which have exactly the same façade on the identical site);
- Plaques are not placed onto boundary walls, gate piers, educational or ecclesiastic buildings, or Inns of Court;
- Buildings marked with plaques should be visible from the public highway;
- A single person may not be commemorated with more than one plaque in London.
Note that other schemes have different criteria.
Almost all the proposals for English Heritage blue plaques are made by members of the public who write or email the organisation before submitting a formal proposal.
English Heritage's in-house historian researches the proposal, and the Blue Plaques Panel advises on which suggestions should be successful. This is composed of 13 people from various disciplines from across the country. The panel is chaired by Professor Sir David Cannadine, and includes former Poet Laureate Professor Sir Andrew Motion and buildings historian Professor Gavin Stamp. The actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry is also a prominent member of the panel. Stephen Fry wrote the foreword to the book Lived in London: Blue Plaques and the Stories Behind Them.
Roughly a third of proposals are approved in principle, and are placed on a shortlist. Because the scheme is so popular, and because a lot of detailed research has to be carried out, it takes about three years for each case to reach the top of the shortlist. Proposals not taken forward can only be re-proposed once 10 years have elapsed.
As of 2013 English Heritage has suspended proposals for plaques owing to funding cuts.
Other UK schemes
The popularity of English Heritage's London blue plaques scheme meant that similar schemes were created in other towns in the United Kingdom. Many of these schemes also use blue plaques, often manufactured in metal or plastic rather than the ceramic used in London, but some feature plaques of different colours and shapes. In July 2012, English Heritage published a register of plaque schemes run by other organisations across England.
The criteria for selection tends to vary greatly. Many other schemes treat plaques primarily as memorials and place them on the sites of former buildings, whereas English Heritage places emphasis on the plaque as a marker of the actual building lived in by the famous person. Other schemes are run according to theme, such as the Transport Trust's Red Wheel scheme, which places red plaques on sites of particular significance in the evolution of transport.
English Heritage itself trialled a national plaques scheme between 1998 and 2005, erecting 34 plaques in Liverpool, Merseyside, Birmingham, Southampton and Portsmouth. It now concentrates on the provision of advice and guidance to individuals, groups and organisations interested or involved in putting up plaques.
The Birmingham Civic Society provides for a blue plaque scheme in and around Birmingham; there are over 90 plaques commemorating notable former Birmingham residents and historical places of interest.
A scheme in Manchester used colour-coded plaques to commemorate figures, with each of the colours corresponding to their occupation. The plaques are now patinated bronze. The scheme is co-ordinated by Manchester City Galleries, to whom nominations can be submitted. Under the Manchester scheme, plaques must be funded by those who propose them.
The British Comic Society (previously known as the Dead Comics' Society) installs blue plaques to commemorate the former residences of well-known comedians, including those of Sid James and John Le Mesurier.
In 2003, the London Borough of Southwark started its own blue plaque scheme, which allows for the commemoration of living people in the borough. The borough awards blue plaques through popular vote following public nomination. Unlike the English Heritage scheme, the original building is not necessary for nomination.
Bournemouth Borough Council has unveiled more than 30 blue plaques. Its first plaque was unveiled on 31 October 1937 to Lewis Tregonwell, who built the first house in what is now Bournemouth. Two further plaques followed in 1957 and 1975 to writer Robert Louis Stevenson and poet Rupert Brooke respectively. The first blue plaque was unveiled on 30 June 1985 dedicated to Percy Florence Shelley.
The Hertfordshire town of Berkhamsted unveiled a set of 32 blue plaques in 2000 on some of the town's most significant buildings, including Berkhamsted Castle, the birthplace of writer Graham Greene and buildings associated with the poet William Cowper, John Incent (a Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral) and Clementine Churchill. The plaques feature in a Heritage Trail promoted by the town's council.
Wolverhampton has over 90 blue plaques erected by the Wolverhampton Civic and Historical Society in a scheme which started in 1983. One of the more unusual plaques marks the location of the World Altitude Balloon Record on Friday 5 September 1862.
The Essex town of Loughton inaugurated a scheme in 1997 following a programme allowing for three new plaques a year; 36 had been erected by 2012. The aim is to stimulate public interest in the town's heritage.
In 2005, Malvern Civic Society and Malvern Hills District council announced that blue plaques would be placed on buildings in Malvern that were associated with famous people, including Franklin D. Roosevelt. Since then blue plaques have been erected to commemorate C. S. Lewis, Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin and Haile Selassie.
In 2010, Derbyshire County Council allowed its residents to vote via the Internet on a shortlist of notable historical figures to be commemorated in a local blue plaque scheme. The first six plaques commemorated industrialist Richard Arkwright junior (Bakewell), Olave Baden-Powell and the "Father of Railways" George Stephenson (Chesterfield), the mathematical prodigy Jedediah Buxton (Elmton), actor Arthur Lowe (Hayfield), and architect Joseph Paxton (Chatsworth House).
A long-running blue plaque scheme is in operation in Gateshead. Run by the council, the scheme was registered with English Heritage in 1970 and 29 blue plaques were installed between the inception of the scheme in 1977 and the publication of a commemorative document in 2010. The Gateshead scheme aims to highlight notable persons who lived in the borough, notable buildings within it and important historical events. Some of those commemorated through the scheme include Geordie Ridley, author of the Blaydon Races, William Wailes, a noted 19th century proponent of stained glass who lived in a "fairytale mansion" at Saltwell Park, the industrialist and co-founder of Clarke Chapman, William Clarke and Sir Joseph Swan, the inventor of the incandescent light bulb whose house in Low Fell was the first in the world to be illuminated by electric light.
Further Gateshead blue plaques have since been erected. In 2011 plaques commemorating William Henry Brockett, editor of the first Gateshead newspaper, Dr. Alfred Cox and Sister Winifred Laver, a missionary who had been awarded various decorations, including the British Empire Medal, during her lifetime, were installed. In 2012, further blue plaques were unveiled in commemoration of Vincent Litchfield Raven, an "engineering genius" who was the chief mechanical engineer at the North Eastern Railway where his successes in steam engineering ultimately frustrated his own visionary work on the possibility of electric trains, and the 19th century Felling mining disasters.
In Northern Ireland the Ulster History Circle is one of a small number of groups administering blue plaques. Established in 1983, it has erected around 140 plaques. Belfast City Council also has a scheme.
In other countries
Commemorative plaque schemes (not all of them using blue plaques) also exist most notably in the cities of Paris, Rome, Oslo and Dublin.
In the United States, commemorative plaques similar to those used in Europe are called historical markers. These vary in colour, but tend to be predominantly green or blue. The National Trust for Historic Preservation or the U.S. government, through the National Register of Historic Places, can bestow historical status.
Most states in Australia have historic marker programs. For example, in Victoria all places and objects listed on the Victorian Heritage Register are entitled to a blue plaque. The Mechanics' Institutes of Victoria Inc. have also adopted a blue plaques program, and more than 30 Mechanics' Institutes throughout the state have installed plaques on their buildings.
- Alan Turing – 2 Warrington Crescent, Maida Vale, Westminster, London, W9, where he was born.
- Anna and Sigmund Freud can be found on the Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead, NW3.
- Benjamin Franklin (one of the Founding Fathers of the United States) once owned a property in Preston city centre, on the corner of Cheapside and Friargate. A blue plaque on the wall of the building commemorates the spot.
- Bob Marley – Ridgmount Gardens.
- Charles Darwin – Biological Sciences Building, University College, Camden, Gower Street, WC1
- Charles Dickens – BMA building commemorating his former home Tavistock House, Tavistock Square, London.
- Charlie Chaplin – 287 Kennington Road, London, SE11
- Franklin D. Roosevelt – Aldwyn Tower, a former hotel in Malvern, Worcestershire, England, where he stayed while convalescing from an illness during his childhood.
- George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix – side by side on 25 and 23 Brook Street, Mayfair, London, W1.
- H. G. Wells – 13 Hanover Terrace, Westminster, NW1
- Isaac Newton – 87 Jermyn Street, Westminster, SW1
- John Lennon – 251 Menlove Avenue, Liverpool
- John Logie Baird – 22 Frith Street, Westminster, W1D 4RP
- Keith Moon by The Heritage Foundation is situated at 90 Wardour Street, Soho, London, W1F 0UB, site of the Marquee Club
- Laurence Olivier – Wathen Road, Dorking.
- Mahatma Gandhi – 20 Baron's Court Road, Hammersmith and Fulham, W14, marks where he stayed while living in London
- Marie Kendall – Okeover Manor Clapham Common.
- Michael Faraday – Larcom Street, Walworth.
- Oscar Wilde – 34 Tite Street, Kensington and Chelsea, SW3
- Robert Louis Stevenson – Mount Vernon, corner of Holly Place, Hampstead, London, NW3
- Sherlock Holmes – 221B Baker Street, London, W1, placed there on behalf of the Sherlock Holmes Museum which now occupies the site.
- Stanley Holloway – 25 Albany Road, Manor Park, Newham, E12, the house in which he was born.
- T. E. Lawrence – 14 Barton Street Westminster, SW1, and another at 2 Polstead Road, Oxford, OX2, which was his childhood home.
- Vincent van Gogh – 87 Hackford Road, Lambeth, SW9
- Virginia Woolf – 29 Fitzroy Square, London, W1
- Winston Churchill – 28 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington Gore, Kensington and Chelsea, SW7
- Spencer, Howard. "The commemoration of historians under the blue plaque scheme in London". Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- "Blue Plaques". English Heritage. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- "Blue Plaque FAQS". English Heritage. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
- "Getting back to where she once belonged: Yoko Ono unveils blue plaque at John Lennon's London home". The Daily Mail. 23 October 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- "Blue plaques scheme suspended after 34% cut in government funding". The Guardian. 6 January 2013. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
- "Blue Plaques scheme position statement". 8 January 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
- Plaque #517 on Open Plaques.
- Hansard vol 172 17 July 1863 quoted in 'The commemoration of historians under the blue plaque scheme in London' by author Howard Spencer
- "History of the Blue Plaques Scheme". English Heritage. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- "About blue plaques". Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- "The Blue Plaque Design". English Heritage. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- Plaque #473 on Open Plaques.
- Plaque #136 on Open Plaques.
- Plaque #604 on Open Plaques.
- "How the Scheme works". English Heritage. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- "How to propose a Blue Plaque". Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- "Blue Plaques Panel". English Heritage. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
- Peter Parker (11 July 2009). "Lived in London: Blue Plaques and the Stories Behind Them by Emily Cole: review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
- Plaque #1412 on Open Plaques.
- "Register of Plaque Schemes". English Heritage. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- "Transport Trust". Retrieved 7 July 2010.
- "Plaque FAQs". www.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
- "Birmingham Civic Society plaques list". Retrieved 12 January 2013.
- "Birmingham Civic Society Awards". Retrieved 29 November 2011.
- "Commemorative Plaques". Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- "Green Plaques Scheme". Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- "Blue Plaque Winners 2007". Southwark Borough Council.
- "Blue Plaques in Bournemouth". Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- "Blue Plaques of Bournemouth". Bournemouth Borough Council.
- "The history of Berkhamsted". Berkhamsted Town Council. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
- Cook, John (2009). A Glimpse of our History: a short guided tour of Berkhamsted. Berkhamsted Town Council.
- "Blue Plaques". Wolverhampton Civic and Historical Society. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
- "Loughton Blue Plaques". Retrieved 25 June 2011.
- "Blue plaque link to town's famous faces". Malvern Gazette (Newsquest Media Group). 21 October 2005. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
- "Plaque a tribute to Narnia author". Malvern Gazette (Newsquest Media Group). 21 July 2006. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
- "Emperor will be remembered as part of civic week". Malvern Gazette (Newsquest Media Group). 6 June 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
- "Final vote for Derbyshire blue plaque honour". BBC News. 25 April 2010. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
- "Blue Plaques". Derbyshire County Council. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
- "Commemorative Plaques". Gateshead Council. 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- Richards, Linda (9 September 2010). "Blue Plaques mapshows off famous spots". Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- "Gateshead's Commemorative Plaques". Gateshead Council. June 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2012. at p.2
- "Gateshead's Commemorative Plaques". Gateshead Council. June 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2012. at p.3
- "Plaque honours famous ex-resident". the BBC. 15 June 2005. Retrieved 29 December2012.
- "Fairytale mansion gets new life". BBC. 14 July 2004. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
- "Gateshead's Commemorative Plaques". Gateshead Council. June 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2012. at p.8
- "Gateshead Blue Plaques – Joseph Swan 1828–1914". Gateshead Libraries. 2011. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- Lawson, Ruth (8 March 2011). "Gateshead newspaper founder honoured". Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- Richards, Linda (23 March 2011). "Blue plaque marks Victorian medic's home". Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- Richards, Linda (23 June 2011). "Blue plaque honour to Sister Winifred Laver". Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- Wainwright, Martin (21 March 2012). "Gateshead honours an engineering giant whose genius has lessons for our times". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- "Felling Pit Disaster remembered on 200th anniversary". the BBC. 25 May 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- "THe Ulster History Circle". Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- "Poet and broadcaster remembered". 8 February 2011. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- "Plaques by Country". Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- "Blue Plaques". Department of Planning and Community Development, Victoria. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
- "Historical Plaques Program". Mechanics' Institutes of Victoria Inc. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
- Keith Moon plaque unveiling
- Cole, Emily; Stephen Fry (2009). Lived in London: blue plaques and the stories behind them. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-14871-8.
- Dakers, Caroline (1981). The Blue Plaque Guide to London. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-333-28462-9.
- Rennison, Nick (2009). The London Blue Plaque Guide (3rd ed.). The History Press Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7524-5050-6.
- Sumeray, Derek (2003). Track the Plaque: 23 Walks Around London's Commemorative Plaques. Breedon. ISBN 978-1-85983-362-9.
- Sumeray, Derek; John Sheppard (2009). London Plaques. Shire Publications. ISBN 978-0-7478-0735-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Blue plaques.|
- Blue plaque section of English Heritage's site – includes a searchable online list of London plaques
- Blue plaques of The Heritage Foundation
- Community-based project which documents plaques in the UK and overseas
- A list of Blue Heritage Plaques in Kingston upon Hull
- Cambridge City Council, United Kingdom – Blue Plaque Scheme
- Llanelli Community Heritage blue plaques
- London Plaques