The Origins and Development of the Blue Plaque
The blue plaque is a familiar sight in many British cites because of the appreciation the country has for its historical figures and the way they have captured the imagination of the public. This long-running, old-fashioned tradition has seen many transformations over the years and 2013 is no different.
Blue plaques are familiar symbols to many of us but, for a while, their shape and style were completely different and there were not even always blue, some are green, red or even grey. The first plaque – known as a memorial tablet – came in 1867 to highlight the birthplace of Lord Byron and since then they have been in continual production in London to showcase the birthplaces, homes and places of work of a wide range of figures. At last count there were over 870 plaques in London alone and there are hopes that this number will grow as a new generation of famous faces are recognised.
The Significance of the blue plaque today
To some people, the idea of a blue plaque may seem a little old fashioned yet, nearly 150 years after the first unveiling in London, the concept is still widely popular and has been adopted by towns nationwide. These simplistic markers are seen as a part of British heritage almost as much as the people they commemorate and the plaques act as great tourist spots and reminders in cities that are continually changing. For example, the former residence of Vincent van Gogh in Brixton would be easy to walk past but, with a blue plaque, people can stop and admire the site.
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The significance and attraction of these symbols of accomplishment are still so strong that the news of the suspension of the English Heritage effort in London was met with a negative reaction. A lack of funding means that as of 2013, no new plaques will be installed until at least 2015 unless they have already been approved. This cutback is a blow to London but luckily other UK schemes are still thriving and one example of this is the use of blue plaques in Derbyshire.
This particular county has taken the community spirit of the scheme and used it great effect. In 2010, the county council let its constituents vote on a series of remarkable local figures to choose the first six recipients of blue plaques and the success of the venture has lead to two more rounds between then and March 2013 and twelve more plaques. The advantage with opening it up to the public is that the most famous heroes – such as George Stephenson and Florence Nightingale – are valued alongside extraordinary and less well-known figures like Frances Bush and Jedediah Buxton.
Blue Plaques are not just reserved for people.
The unusual choices seen with the blue plaques in Derbyshire has led to another interesting and unusual recipient – the Cromford Canal. To residents and descendants of this area the choice may not seem that strange because it has played an important role and shaped the landscape and, while the majority of plaques are reserved for people, the commemoration of significant buildings and places is not unheard of. Alexandra Place in London is of course one of the more famous examples, because of its links to television, but there are also plaques at the impact site of the first V-1 flying bomb and the Adelphi Terrace, because of its range of famous occupants over time.
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The future of the Blue Plaque scheme.
With the current suspension of funds in London, it may seem as though the age of the blue plaque is coming to an end in Britain and that people no longer care about these tokens of appreciation; however, the community spirit shown in the selection of blue plaques in Derbyshire and the continued support across the country shows that the scheme still has a lot of life left. There has even been talk of a QR code system to make the plaques more modern and interactive for younger generations. The scheme has never been set in its ways and has the ability to adapt – as was seen in the introduction of sporting figures, brown plaques and landmarks – and this nature should ensure its survival past the budget cuts