25 February 2016

English Heritage reveals anniversary plans for Blue Plaques scheme

Comedian Tommy Cooper, food writer Elizabeth David and playwright Samuel Beckett are among those whose achievements and time spent living in London will be celebrated with English Heritage Blue Plaques in this the scheme’s 150th year, English Heritage have revealed.

English Heritage Blue Plaque to Agatha Christie

The anniversary of the London Blue Plaques scheme will also be marked with a weekend of special walking tours on 7-8 May 2016, a series of talks, a new book, a new range of Blue Plaques merchandise, and a Blue Plaques app.

Professor Ronald Hutton, Chair of the English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel, said: “Since 1866, these modest but distinctive blue roundels have reminded us of the people and places that made history.

“This year we will celebrate stars of the silver screen and stage, a much loved comedian, sporting legends, and one of the greatest writers of modern times. It’s a roll-call that underlines the wide range of talent who over the centuries have made London their home.” 

Blue Plaques will be unveiled in 2016 to, among others:

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
: The Irish Nobel Prize-winning playwright and author lived in London for three years in the mid-1930s during which time he was seeking literary work, and attending psychoanalysis at the Tavistock Clinic.  The plaque will mark the house in Chelsea, West London where Beckett was staying in 1934 when his first full-length work, a collection of interlinked short stories called More Pricks than Kicks, was published, and his lodging and living experiences of London were beginning to form his ideas for his first novel, Murphy (1938).

Tommy Cooper (1921-1984): Famous for his comedy act as a hapless and incompetent magician, the fez-wearing Tommy Cooper with his catchphrase “Just Like That!” was a much-loved household name. “I’m glad to be in the show”, he said at the Royal Variety Performance in 1964, “I couldn’t afford to be in the audience.” The new plaque will be installed at his former home in Chiswick, where he lived with his wife and two children from 1955 until his death in 1984.   

Laurie Cunningham (1956-1989): One of the first black footballers to play for the England team and the first to appear for England in a competitive international match (against Wales in 1979), Cunningham was a pioneer of black achievement in the sport.  The north Londoner also played for West Bromwich Albion and was the first British player to transfer to Real Madrid.

Elizabeth David (1913-1992): The finest English cookery writer of the twentieth century, Elizabeth David was instrumental in introducing post-war England to Mediterranean food. More than collections of recipes, her books are filled with evocative descriptions and personal memories transforming cooking from a matter of necessity to one of pleasure. She is the first cookery writer to be commemorated with a blue plaque. 

Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991): The greatest dancer of her generation, Margot Fonteyn combined a musicality, purity of line, and an acting ability to sensational effect. Her performances awakened a love of dance in thousands of people around the world. Her plaque will be installed outside her former flat in Covent Garden where she lived during some of some of her career-defining roles as Prima Ballerina of Sadler’s Wells Ballet, including Cinderella (1948) and Sylvia (1952).

Ava Gardner (1922-1990): One of the iconic movie stars of the twentieth century and often called the most beautiful woman in the world. Gardner appeared in over 60 films. In addition, her tempestuous affairs and three high-profile marriages – to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra – made her one of the most talked about celebrities of her day. 

Freddie Mercury (1946-1991): Charismatic and flamboyant frontman of the legendary rock band, Queen, Freddie Mercury was an extremely gifted performer, composer and music producer. In the mid-1980s he began a solo career in tandem with Queen and worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, from David Bowie to Michael Jackson. Born Farrokh Bulsara on the island of Zanzibar in 1946, Mercury’s plaque will adorn the house in Feltham where he moved with his family in 1964.

Bobby Moore (1941-1993): Professional footballer Bobby Moore was captain of the team that took England to victory 50 years ago this July in the 1966 World Cup, a triumph that propelled him to instant and lasting fame. Moore’s total of 108 England appearances stood as a record for many years. He made his first team debut for West Ham United in 1958 and in 1964 he skippered the team to victory in the FA Cup final, repeating the feat in the European Cup Winners’ Cup the next season. This will be the first Blue Plaque in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, marking the house where Moore developed into a footballer of great ability, and where he still lived when he wore the England shirt for the first time in 1962.

In 1866 the (Royal) Society of Arts founded what would become the blue plaques scheme “to increase the public estimation for places which have been the abodes of men who have made England what it is.” On 7 May that year, the precursor to today’s expert Blue Plaques Panel met for the first time; among the first people considered for a memorial plaque were Benjamin Franklin, David Garrick and Lord Nelson. 

On the weekend of 7-8 May 2016, English Heritage will celebrate the scheme’s 150th anniversary with a Blue Plaques weekend of special tours. Participants can stroll from Charing Cross to Covent Garden in the steps of some of our greatest personalities; take in the oldest surviving plaque and hear about some of the outstanding historical personalities of Piccadilly; explore Hampstead and its intriguing mix of past residents; or discover plaques to the most illustrious inhabitants of Belgravia, including the founder of the blue plaques scheme, William Ewart, and a host of other celebrated figures from the past - such as Mary Shelley, Ian Fleming and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 

Ahead of the birthday weekend, we will also launch our new Blue Plaques app which will help people to discover which of the more than 900 blue plaques is closest to them and to plot their own blue plaques tour across the capital. 

English Heritage is partnering with Product of Your Environment on a new range of Blue Plaques merchandise which will include beautiful bone china dinner plates, directly replicating the Blue Plaques for Jimi Hendrix, Dame Agatha Christie, Christabel & Emmeline Pankhurst, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Sigmund Freud and Kenneth Williams.

In September, English Heritage will publish the first official guidebook to London’s Blue Plaques. This handy but authoritative guide offers the reader a through-the-keyhole look at the extraordinary array of characters commemorated by the Blue Plaques scheme and the houses where they lived. 

The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl, the Blue Plaques Club, and members of the public.

History of London’s Blue Plaques Scheme
: The London-wide blue plaques scheme has been running for 150 years. The idea of erecting 'memorial tablets' was first proposed by William Ewart MP in the House of Commons in 1863. It had an immediate impact on the public imagination, and in 1866 the (Royal) Society of Arts founded an official plaques scheme. The Society erected its first plaque – to poet, Lord Byron – in 1867. The blue plaques scheme was subsequently administered by the London County Council (1901-65) and by the Greater London Council (1965-86), before being taken on by English Heritage in 1986.
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