From the quiet room where Sylvia Plath wrote The Bell Jar to the kitchen where Elizabeth David created recipes which changed the tastes of a nation, London’s blue plaques celebrate hundreds of remarkable people who have made the city their home.

The scheme celebrates the link between significant figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. In order to receive a blue plaque, figures must be judged to have met a number of criteria. Find out about the process https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/propose-a-plaque/

The English Heritage blue plaque scheme relies solely on nominations from the public. Since 2016 over half of the plaques approved have been to women, but still only 129 celebrate the achievements of women. We need your help to change this.

Learn more about London’s blue plaques and ask our blue plaques team, Cathy Power and Howard Spencer, a question.

Verification: https://twitter.com/EnglishHeritage/status/1056971350697525248

EDIT: We're signing off now, Reddit. Thank you so much for all your fantastic questions today and we're sorry we couldn't answer them all. We've really enjoyed doing this AMA and we'd love to do another one soon. Tweet @EnglishHeritage with your ideas for the next topic and we'll see what we can do!

Comments: 464 • Responses: 45  • Date: 

c_dug212 karma

There are plaques for some very well known people that most of us have heard of, but also lots of obscure names that are virtually unknown to most people. What are the main deciding factors in whether somebody gets a plaque or not?

AskEnglishHeritage195 karma

Some of the names on plaques aren't immediately familiar but in most cases, if you google them or look them up in our Blue Plaques guide book, the reason for the award should become clear: just because a figure isn't famous doesn't mean they aren't deserving. In some cases a plaqued person's work may not have lasted - there are some authors with plaques who aren't read much these days, for example. But I'd say that, out of the 940 up that the moment, there aren't too many of those.

The full criteria for awarding plaques can be found here: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/siteassets/home/visit/blue-plaques/propose-plaque/blue-plaques-selection-criteria.pdf

_spendoggydogg194 karma

I've seen other plaques about the UK, how are these different (or the same) to the London ones?

AskEnglishHeritage188 karma

English Heritage runs the London Blue Plaques scheme. However, outside London, many local councils, civic societies and other organisations run similar plaque schemes.

cahaseler135 karma

Have there been any particularly controversial plaques?

Have you ever had to take one down because it was wrong?

AskEnglishHeritage351 karma

Some people objected to Jimi Hendrix getting a plaque, because he took illegal stimulants. This was slightly ironic given that the first plaque in London (in 1867) was to Lord Byron, who did much the same.

The BBC director-general Lord Reith's plaque gave his name incorrectly. It was taken down immediately and corrected. His family particular asked for this because Reith was, famously, a real stickler for accuracy.

There are a very few other plaques with spelling mistakes - for instance, the one to Thomas De Quincey put up in 1981 in Covent Garden spells his name wrong. A Greater London Council officer decided to let it stand 'as a monument to bureaucratic incompetence'!

Robert_Cannelin113 karma

Is there a list of all the plaques? Are there suggested Plaque Tours?

AskEnglishHeritage92 karma

You can search for a blue plaque on our website here: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/#section7

We also have a blue plaques where you can follow guided walks around Soho and Kensington, or explore all of the 900 plaques by finding ones nearby and searching for your favourite figures from history.

wagoons56 karma

Hi both, what are you personal favourite plaques and why?

AskEnglishHeritage146 karma

Among my favourites is the one on Alexandra Palace, that marks the site of world's first high definition TV transmissions. That marks a pretty key moment in the birth of the modern world. Another plaque to record a major technological development is that to the civil engineers William and William Heerlein Lindley in Blackheath. The Lindleys -father and son - aren't well known, but engineered clean running water supplies to dozens of European cities, without which our urban lives today would be impossible. On a different tack, another one I worked on that I particularly enjoyed was Amelia Edwards, the Egyptologist. Despite a relatively modest background, she managed to get right to the front of an emerging field of enquiry, which for a woman of her era was pretty remarkable - Howard.

ciaphas203745 karma

What are your views on blue plaques outside of London? I've heard that they are not official, but some of our most significant historical figures were from elsewhere.

AskEnglishHeritage16 karma

The English Heritage London Blue Plaque Scheme only operates in London. Outside London, many local councils, civic societies and other organisations run similar plaque schemes. English Heritage piloted a national project between 2000 and 2005, but found that much of the ground had already been covered, so we decided to retain the London-only focus.

TitsAndGeology30 karma

Are plaques ever put up for those still living?

AskEnglishHeritage84 karma

We do have a selection criteria which specifies that at least 20 years must have passed since a candidate’s death.

jigjiggles29 karma

Have you had any homeowners reject the plaque? I'd imagine if some horrible pop icon or serial killer used to own my home, I wouldn't want too many fans popping by...

AskEnglishHeritage45 karma

There have been instances where building owners have refused permission for a plaque to be put up. All blue plaques are subject to the permission from the owner of the building.

SoftStage5 karma

Does the plaque remain the property of English Heritage? What happens if the building ownership changes hands and the new owner doesn't want it? Or if they need to undertake work to the wall?

AskEnglishHeritage15 karma

Plaques revert to English Heritage ownership if they are removed from a building. This has only ever happened, in my experience, in cases where a building is demolished. What we then do is seek another authentic building on which the plaque can go. I've not come across any renovation work which need more than for the plaque to be just covered up for safekeeping. - Howard

etymologynerd28 karma

I remember those from my last visit! I'm curious: why the color blue in particular?

AskEnglishHeritage81 karma

Interestingly not all blue plaques are blue! The earliest plaques were blue but this was an expensive and difficult colour to produce. In the early years of the scheme, brown, terracotta, green, bronze, lead and stone plaques were erected. From the early years of the twentieth century the blue roundel gradually became standard as it was felt to stand out best in the London streetscape, against backgrounds of white stucco and brick, whether red or yellow.

cahaseler27 karma

Wow, how long have you guys been doing it?

AskEnglishHeritage78 karma

English Heritage took over the London blue plaques scheme in 1986 but the scheme began in 1866.

JohnPlayerSpecialRed28 karma

Hey! Is there any evidence that the placement of a blue plaque has increased the value of the property? Massive thanks in advance. I’m Dutch, but have a very soft spot for British culture and I loved the time I spent in the great city of London.

AskEnglishHeritage28 karma

Great to hear! There is no strong evidence that plaques add to the value of your home, though they certainly increase its interest.

LoveBy13726 karma

Are there any you find particularly cheeky? What about any that make you teary-eyed/emotional?

AskEnglishHeritage53 karma

There are amazing stories of people’s struggles to achieve their dream, inspiring but many are also sad – Alan Turing’s final years and death will always be emotional; the feats of endeavour during war is often tough to describe and remember. - Cathy

fightree2725 karma

Firstly, thanks for taking the time to do this AMA! I love the London plaques and make sure to point them out whenever I visit.

In your opinion, what's the best hidden or even unexpected plaque in London so far?

AskEnglishHeritage51 karma

One of the best hidden – by nature not by design, is the plaque to Frank Bridge, composer and musician, as the house has the most beautiful but totally overgrown lavender across the whole façade.

lazylazycat24 karma

In Bristol right now there's a lot of controversy and discussion over what to do with certain plaques and statues that commemorate public figures that were involved in, or took their money from, the slave trade (e.g. Cabot). Are there any similar controversial plaques in London and how do you personally think they should be addressed?

AskEnglishHeritage38 karma

Good question. There are similar cases in London: for example, a recent biography of Hans Sloane, the great benefactor of the British Museum, showed that a lot of his fortune was derived from sugar plantations, and therefore from slave labour. For plaques, my personal view is that the best approach is to make sure that the full details about a person's activities are made absolutely clear in guides or other interpretative material. We have to be honest about the past, and what happened, even if it makes for difficult reading. We also have to be honest about who (and what) other people in the past believed was worth commemorating, and need to be wary about obliterating that. For statues and the naming of buildings, I think the issues may be somewhat different. - Howard

freeeeels15 karma

Hi, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!

Out of people who are still alive today, who do you think would be a most likely or interesting plaque candidate in the future?

AskEnglishHeritage23 karma

In terms of people who seem to have really 'moved the game on', perhaps Tim Berners-Lee would be a good candidate (assuming, for the English Heritage scheme, that he lived in London at some point). - Howard

AskEnglishHeritage15 karma

There are going to be some great people to nominate – it’s an exciting time as more women, and an increasing number of people from all nationalities are making their mark - and the incredible break-through in technology in our lives – the computer and on-line world is going to be an interesting one to commemorate. - Cathy

mark_i12 karma

What is the oddest story relating to a blue plaque ?

AskEnglishHeritage39 karma

There are many odd stories! Here's one: during both world wars the plaque scheme was suspended, as you might expect. With one exception - a plaque went up in 1942 to Lenin, on what remained of his house in Holford Square, Pentonville, after a bombing raid. There is an extraordinary picture of it being unveiled (with the usual line of dignitaries, pelmet, curtains and so on) on one of the few walls of the house left standing. At the time, of course, the Soviet Union were our wartime ally, and I imagine this was felt to be an important gesture to make.

The house was completely demolished after the war, and I believe the plaque got sent to Moscow. - Howard

ScottySatan11 karma

If it's for a person or event long ago and the original buildings are no longer there, how do you verify the location?

AskEnglishHeritage13 karma

In order for a person to be commemorated with a blue plaque at least one building associated with the figure must survive within Greater London.

readitorial11 karma

I'm going to London for vacation next week! What are some weird and wonderful, off the beaten track blue plaques that you recommend I visit? Thanks!

AskEnglishHeritage24 karma

Some of the more off the beaten track plaques are those that you come across on modest terrace houses - the plaques for example to Freddie Mercury (Feltham) and to Bobby Moore (West Ham), are a delight to see. - Cathy

AskEnglishHeritage4 karma

Some of the plaques which are more off the beaten track I think are the ones you come across on modest terrace houses - the plaques for example to Freddie Mercury (Feltham) and to Bobby Moore (West Ham), are a delight to see. - Cathy

AIUMelodyNelson10 karma

Some plaques, for example the recent one placed at the family home of Freddie Mercury, remain as homes for people with nothing to do with the commemorated person. Does this pose issues, considering it potentially encourages people to loiter, photograph or even approach the private property and citizens who live there? How much of an influence do the occupiers have over such decisions?

AskEnglishHeritage13 karma

All blue plaques are subject to the permission from the owner of the building.

ekaclifford8 karma

What made you choose Agnes Arber's plaque to launch at the same time as your plaques for women campaign?

Thanks!

AskEnglishHeritage7 karma

Plaques can take anything between two and five to be put up after being shortlisted, mostly owing to the time it can take to obtain the necessary permissions. This year’s centenary of the first votes for women has brought into focus the need to re-balance the record of women’s contribution to history. Whilst timely, the unveiling of Agnes Arber’s blue plaque to coincide with the campaign was not intentional.

Conte_Vincero8 karma

Do you reckon you could get away with giving yourself one?

AskEnglishHeritage11 karma

If only! The criteria for the scheme specifies that at least 20 years must have passed since a candidate’s death.

amsent7 karma

What areas have has the most and least blue plaques, and who decides if someone is important enough to get one? Thanks.

AskEnglishHeritage15 karma

Westminster and the borough of Kensington and Chelsea have the most blue plaques. After a person is nominated they are subject to thorough historical research and discussion. English Heritage’s Blue Plaques Panel of experts then meet three times a year to decide the shortlist.

stuaxo6 karma

Are you guys in touch with openplaques ? I remember when it was started, quite an impressive database now.

AskEnglishHeritage7 karma

Yes, it's a great resource - I use it a lot and have contributed. I met Jez, one of the people behind openplaques at the unveiling of a plaque (not one of ours) to Abba, at the Brighton Dome. As you might imagine, we had plenty to talk about during Bjorn Again's hit medley. - Howard

UnboxAustin5 karma

[deleted]

AskEnglishHeritage19 karma

I have mentioned them in a previous reply, but the Lindleys - father and son - are very interesting. They aren't well known, but engineered clean running water supplies to dozens of European cities, without which our urban lives today would be impossible. Also Charlie Chaplin. Actor, director, producer, composer ... we thought about calling him a 'film polymath' on the plaque until one of our advisory panel pointed out that this was a bit pretentious, especially for such an unpretentious man! Chaplin's autobiography is a great read - strongly recommended. - Howard

JimmyMinch5 karma

I always stop and read a blue plaque. What's the most recent one to be put up and what's the oldest original plaque still in place?

AskEnglishHeritage11 karma

The most recent blue plaque was to the performers Michael Flanders and Donald Swann. A plaque to the botanist Agnes Arber will be unveiled on Thursday 1 Nov in Primrose Hill.

The plaque to Napoleon III put up in 1867 is the oldest to survive. You can find more about the plaque here https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/napoleon-iii/

OwlOfDerision4 karma

Are there any especially controversial plaques (i.e. dedicated to controversial people) which attract vandals or other responses?

AskEnglishHeritage8 karma

During the 1930s there was a plaque to Karl Marx in Kentish Town which got vandalised twice, by members of the British Union of Fascists. The owner of the house refused to have another, and the house has now gone. Marx was later memorialised with a plaque in Soho.

altf4account4 karma

When I was young I would go past Pinewood/Teddington Studios where they had blue plaques lined up along the wall with the parking spaces. So naturally I thought they were the names of those whose parking spot it was! It all came crashing down when I mentioned to a friend the coincidence of a man having the same name as Benny Hill though. Yeah that was slightly embarrassing haha. Btw what would have happened to those blue plaques now that the studios has been demolished?

AskEnglishHeritage2 karma

These plaques were not part of our scheme so do not know what would have happened to them now.

blacksombrero4 karma

Which is the street/square with the most plaques? Is it Bedford Sq., WC1?

AskEnglishHeritage4 karma

That's right. There are currently eight official plaques in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury and two more unofficial ones. Gower Street, which leads off the square, is currently the most plaqued street, helped by its length.

joustswindmills3 karma

What are the memorable ones that you've been a part of? Which ones are most meaningful to you and why?

AskEnglishHeritage6 karma

I tend to remember the ones most clearly that I work on for research, or have an unveiling. At an unveiling particularly, they can be such a unique time for the family descendants to all be there. To hear them talk about the family stories of their great-great granddad or grandmother is rather special. - Cathy

Weekendsession3 karma

If there are multiple occupancies associated with one person, how do you decide which one to put the plaque on - do you give more weight to where they are born, or where something in particular happened?

AskEnglishHeritage8 karma

There usually is more than one London address to choose from, and in many ways the most important part of my work is trying to determine the one with the strongest and most resonant association. Length of residence is a pretty major consideration; so is what they did when they lived there - often we try to mark the place where a figure was at their professional peak, or perhaps (for a writer or artist) produced what is generally considered their best work. There is nothing wrong with putting a plaque on someone's birthplace, though I'd make the point that people aren't actually conscious or doing very much at that point in their lives! - Howard

SithLord133 karma

You mentioned your guidelines say people must be dead at least 20 years to receive them. Have there been any exceptions made?

Are there any particularly interesting possibilities under consideration at the moment?

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

There was a time when ‘exceptional figures’ could be considered if 100 years had passed from the date of birth, however we no longer use that as a rule, and there are no exceptions made now on the 20 years from date of death.

fadugleman2 karma

How’d you get such an interesting job?

AskEnglishHeritage2 karma

A love of history and people’s lives essential. - Cathy

ShartVader2 karma

How soon will Rocky Flintstones be errected?

AskEnglishHeritage3 karma

Sorry to disappoint but Rocky Flintstones will not get a blue plaque. The English Heritage London Blue Plaques Scheme does not commemorate fictitious characters.

Joincidence_With_A_C2 karma

[deleted]

AskEnglishHeritage2 karma

I never knew Peter and Dizzie but they would've been before my time! - Howard

m_faustus2 karma

What are the criteria for choosing who gets a plaque? Is it at all based on locations that still exist?

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

The criteria for a blue plaque includes - at least 20 years must have passed since a candidate’s death, at least one building associated with the figure must survive within Greater London and the building must survive in a form that the commemorated person would have recognised, and be visible from a public highway.

You can read more about the criteria here https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/propose-a-plaque/#section2

kangarufus1 karma

Why are the plaques blue as opposed to some other colour?

AskEnglishHeritage2 karma

Not all blue plaques are blue! The earliest plaques were blue but as this was an expensive and difficult colour to produce the Society of Arts – which first set up the scheme – mainly used a chocolate brown background over the following 35 years. However, from the early years of the twentieth century the blue roundel gradually became standard as it was felt to stand out best in the London streetscape, against backgrounds of white stucco and brick, whether red or yellow. In 1938 the modern design of the blue plaque was born, created by an unnamed student of the Central School of Arts and Crafts.

panda_man12341 karma

What is the oldest plaque in London?

AskEnglishHeritage3 karma

The plaque to Napoleon III put up in 1867 is the oldest to survive. You can find more about the plaque here https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/napoleon-iii/

MrSnoobs1 karma

There must be a few famous people who moved frequently within London - are there ceilings to how many plaques an individual might receive? If so, who gets to make that call - and is the person/place more important than what happened in a particular location?

AskEnglishHeritage3 karma

Yes there is, as the criteria currently stands only one blue plaque can be put up per person. However in the past, different criteria were sometimes used. There are two blue plaques to Mahatma Gandhi, one on Baron’s Court Road, West Kensington where he lived as a law student, the other is in Bow. The Prime Ministers Lord Palmerston and William Gladstone are each named on three surviving plaques, as is the author William Makepeace Thackeray.

Sasquatchtration1 karma

What are the most _____ plaques?

  • Violent/gruesome
  • Romantic
  • Historically important
  • Obscure

AskEnglishHeritage4 karma

There's a requirement under the London scheme that plaque recipients should have made 'an important contribution to human welfare or happiness'. But I suppose you could say that the plaque that marks where the Cato Street Conspiracy was hatched - to murder the entire cabinet, in 1821 - is a bit gruesome.

Romantic - there are a number that commemorate couples - the garden designers John and Jane Loudon were one such who were pretty devoted to each other.

Having lived with plaques for 14 years I wouldn't say any of them were particularly obscure, but maybe I'm a bit close to the subject! - Howard

smokingloon41 karma

How many plaques are there in total? Since they began 150 years ago, how complete are the records of the early plaques? Have you ever discovered a "lost" plaque or one you didn't know existed?

AskEnglishHeritage4 karma

The plaque to Agnes Arber which has gone up this week is our 940th.

Our earliest archives date from when the London County Council took over the scheme in 1901 – sadly no archives from the time of the Society of Arts administration of the scheme.

Personally not recently, but yes, it has happened. When English Heritage first took over the scheme from the Greater London Council in 1986 – we didn’t know that an early London County Council plaque on Aubrey House, W8, was even there. Installed by the LCC, nine years later, the owner asked them to remove it, as it had become ‘a perfect pest’; he believed that the councils initials led some to view the house as public property, and complained that ‘drug sodden hippies and their attendant prostitutes’ were coming into the grounds. A sign ‘Private’ was put up completely covering it. The plaque remained hidden for some 30 years and forgotten about – until 2007 when new owners uncovered it, and were happy to have the plaque on show. Now officially part of the scheme again. - Cathy