Monday, 8 September 2008

Blue Plaques

Bob Smith, 1711 – 1752, Plumber, lived here (but died around the corner)

Nearly every time I look up in London and see a blue plaque the name being commemorated is completely unknown to me. I’m not sure if this is a woeful ignorance on my part of 18th century philosophers or a woeful misguidance of the authorities on who to bestow a plaque.

How do they choose – is it perhaps done by sticking a pin in the Victorian equivalent of the Yellow Pages (the Distemper Pages, perhaps) and seeing who they get? What elevates a person to be selected for a blue plaque – what criteria do they use to be nominated? From the English Heritage website it appears to be:

That he or she has been dead for at least 20 years, or has passed the centenary of his or her birth. It is also vital that at least one London building associated with the nominated figure survives unaltered.

It just goes to show how much history we have in this city for there to be buildings that stand ‘unaltered’ for such a long time! The person also has to have done something noteworthy – nominating my great-grandmother for her (rumoured) delicious roast potatoes probably wouldn’t quite cut the mustard in Blue Plaque world.

The strange but marvelous thing about blue plaques is that you think you have no idea who that person is, as the description will just say ‘composer’, ‘industrialist’ etc, but when you google them you realise they wrote ‘Rule Britannia’. However, since you’d have to make a note of their name, and then hurry yourself to a computer to do your research it almost negates the point of identifying where they used to live.

The latest blue plaques to be screwed to a wall were for actor Alastair Sim, and the ‘Pioneer of the Screw-Propeller’, Sir Francis Pettit Smith. Even though the latter surely invented something of note, I would still walk past his house slightly confused.

Let’s look at notable deaths in 1978 to see if we can pinpoint any likely upcoming candidates… How about Ronald George Wreyford Norrish, a Nobel Peace Prize winning chemist? He sounds like a typically obscure choice. Or Nicolas Bentley, author and illustrator – heard of him? Perfect.

I think I’ll have a word…

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