From the outset the scheme aimed to celebrate the link between people and buildings. The form of a building can say a great deal about the character of the person who lived or worked there; indeed, buildings that may be quite unexceptional architecturally have been preserved because of their important associations, thanks to the Blue Plaques scheme – Oscar Wilde's home in Chelsea, for example, and van Gogh's in Stockwell. Blue Plaques do not offer any kind of special protection to buildings, but they do raise awareness of their historical significance and can therefore assist in their preservation.
Today, English Heritage's aim is to install up to twelve plaques a year and to ensure that they continue to be founded on detailed, professional historical research. Anyone can propose a plaque and all suggestions are considered if they meet the conditions for acceptance.
Propose a Blue Plaque
The scheme was first proposed in 1863 in the House of Commons by William Ewart MP. It gained immediate support and by 1866 the Society of Arts (which later became the Royal Society of Arts) had founded what we would recognise as the Blue Plaques scheme today.
Benjamin Franklin, David Garrick and Lord Nelson were all among the first to be considered for the honour, but the first plaque, erected in 1867, commemorated the poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street, Cavendish Square. One commemorating Napoleon III went up the same year; it is the earliest surviving plaque, because Byron's house was demolished in 1889.
Read more about the scheme's history
At an unveiling in Hampstead in 2003, the playwright David Hare told the assembled crowd that he believed the only honour worth getting was an English Heritage Blue Plaque, adding 'It is just a shame that they didn't get to know about it'.
Thanks to the generosity of one donor, the Blue Plaques scheme re-opened for nominations in June 2014. However its long-term future still relies on the support of those who value it the most – most especially since English Heritage became a registered charity this year.
Find out more about our
Blue Plaques Appeal and
make a donation today. Be a part of the scheme's future.
The iconic blue plaque design has regularly been experimented with over the years. Plaques have been made out of bronze, stone and lead, in square, round and rectangular forms, and have been finished in shades of brown, sage, terracotta and blue.
Each plaque is hand-made to order by a craft ceramicist – these beautiful objects are one of a kind.
Discover how the Blue Plaque design has evolved