The History of Blue Plaques
The renowned London blue plaques scheme began 150 years ago and is the oldest scheme of its kind in the world. Blue plaques have played an important role in the history of the conservation movement – the scheme pre-dates the foundation of both the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (1877) and the National Trust (1895).
Find out more about the history of London’s blue plaques below.
THE FIRST PLAQUES
The idea of a commemorative plaque scheme was first put to the House of Commons by William Ewart MP in 1863. Three years later the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts) took the scheme on. It erected two plaques in 1867. The first commemorated the poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street, Cavendish Square, in 1867, but this house was demolished in 1889. This makes the plaque to Napoleon III on King Street, Westminster, also erected in 1867, the earliest to survive.
THE SCHEME EXPANDS
The LCC’s successor, the Greater London Council (GLC), not only broadened the range of people commemorated but covered a wider area. It unveiled plaques in uncharted territory such as Richmond, Croydon and Redbridge.
Between 1966 and 1985, when the GLC was abolished, it put up 262 plaques, commemorating figures such as Sylvia Pankhurst, campaigner for women's rights, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, composer of The Song of Hiawatha, and Mary Seacole, the Jamaican nurse and heroine of the Crimean War.
Events at historical buildings were also marked by the GLC. One example was the former hayloft in Paddington where the Cato Street Conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Lord Liverpool and his entire cabinet was hatched in 1820.
In 1984 artisan ceramicists Frank and Sue Ashworth of London Plaques were appointed to make blue plaques, and they have been doing so ever since.