Blue Plaques in the East Midlands
Blue plaques on the outside of buildings will be well known to anyone who walks through London. Over the past 140 years around 800 such plaques have been erected, celebrating great figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived or worked. Now, the blue plaques scheme is being gradually extended to cover the rest of England. It was rolled out in the East of England in 2004, and in the East Midlands in 2005. What is it, how does it work, and how can individuals and groups contribute?
Many places have their own plaques schemes, often modelled on the London example, and generally commemorating locally important people. By extending its scheme, English Heritage is looking to commemorate local people of national or international importance, in their local context, and aims to work in partnership with local and regional groups.
What are the criteria for English Heritage plaques?
Firstly, anyone nominated must have been dead for at least twenty years, or to have passed the centenary of their birth. Living people cannot be commemorated.
Secondly, plaques can only be erected on the actual building inhabited by the nominated figure, not the site where the building once stood. This rules out a number of potential candidates, but English Heritage feels it is important that plaques highlight the connection between the famous person and the building in which he or she lived or worked, a link lost when the building has been demolished.
Thirdly, buildings marked with plaques must be visible from the public highway. In other words, plaques cannot be put on buildings which are set well back from the road.
These three criteria are relatively easy to establish, but English Heritage lays down other criteria to help establish the suitability of an individual for commemoration. The rules state that a nominated individual should be considered eminent by members of their own profession or calling, should have made an important positive contribution to human welfare or happiness, should be recognisable to the well-informed passer by, should deserve national recognition, and should have resided in a locality for a significant period in time or importance, within their life and work. It should be noted that English Heritage will not put up more than two plaques nationwide to any one individual, despite the fact that some will have lived and worked in several places.
How does English Heritage decide on who to commemorate? Suggestions are all made by the general public and by interested societies and organisations. So, if there is someone you think meets all the criteria, including the need to be recognised as a national or international rather than just a local figure, read on. English Heritage staff look at the merits of all the people proposed, and then a small panel of specialists considers each case on its relative merits. English Heritage historians consult experts in areas where it feels extra information is required. If a candidate is approved by the panel, extensive research is carried out with the aim of establishing the dates of residence and selecting the address most suitable for commemoration. English Heritage staff then negotiate permissions, including planning permission, agree the wording of the plaque, have it made and, finally, co-ordinate an unveiling ceremony, if one is desired. This might be a low-key affair, or it might involve all sorts of famous people from Her Majesty The Queen downwards.
As a result, it is not a rapid process; indeed, it can take between 2 and 5 years from initial suggestion to the erection of a plaque. The first group of figures nominated for plaques in the East Midlands has recently been considered by English Heritage’s Blue Plaques Panel, and it is hoped that the first plaques could be erected during 2007/8.
How does one go about making a proposal? If an individual, or a group, have a particular person in mind, they need first to be sure that the basic criteria are met. It is simply a waste of everybody’s time to nominate a person who has only been dead a few years, or to make a recommendation when no house has survived.
So, if the individual satisfies the basic criteria, and if he or she really is of national importance, what is the next step? English Heritage invites anyone or any group to submit names. Proposers are asked to write to English Heritage, stating reasons why the person they are nominating is worthy of a plaque, and to give information about their life and achievements. The address of the nominated building also needs to be provided and, if possible, a photograph taken from the public highway. English Heritage suggests that, prior to making their nomination, proposers telephone the Blue Plaques Team on 020 7973 3794 / 3757, to check that they have gathered all of the required information. Once this has been confirmed, letters and any additional information should be sent to: Blue Plaques Team, English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London, W1S 2ET. Proposers will be contacted once a decision has been reached regarding their nomination.
Information leaflets were circulated in June when English Heritage first launched the Blue Plaques scheme in the East Midlands, which gave an initial closing date of 31 August 2005. However, the scheme is running on an ongoing basis in the East Midlands and English Heritage is happy to accept for consideration all proposals which meet the criteria. You can find out more about the scheme by logging on to www.english-heritage.org.uk/blueplaques.