P is for ….

31 October 2013

….Plaques, generally blue in colour, which record the history and events of London, the capital city of England. Official plaques are nowadays administered by English Heritage (and have been since 1986) though the London blue plaques scheme has been running for over 140 years. Each plaque commemorates either a famous person who was born, lived or stayed in a particular building, an event which took place there, or an earlier use of the site.

The proposal to erect ‘memorial tablets’ was first made in 1863 by William Ewart MP, in the House of Commons. The idea had an immediate impact and in 1866, the (Royal) Society of Arts founded what would become the blue plaques scheme we know today. The first names considered included those of Benjamin Franklin, David Garrick and Lord Nelson. The Society erected its first plaque in 1867, commemorating the poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street, Cavendish Square. Sadly, the house was demolished in 1889. The earliest blue plaque to survive, also erected in 1867, commemorates Napoleon III in King Street, St James’s, pictured below.

In a unique way, plaques bring buildings to life, showing visitors the places where important people in history lived and worked, demonstrating the capital’s remarkable historical significance, and uniting the past and the present.

One man – Derek Sumeray – spent much of his retirement photographing plaques in London and resolved to write a comprehensive guide. This was published in 1999 by Shire Publications, just four years before Derek sadly passed away. His widow, Loretta, estimated that he devoted five years to the initial trawl, along with countless days in the British Museum Newspaper Library (when it was at Colindale). In 2010, John Sheppard revised and updated Derek’s publication and London Plaques is the only book to cover all of the plaques in the London and Greater London area – 304 pages worth of trivia! A must have for every bookshelf!

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