Official English Heritage scheme Blue plagues, could expand across England

The official blue plaque program honoring notable historical figures could be expanded beyond London to encompass the entire country of England.

The government proposes implementing a single national system for blue plaques, which are placed on buildings associated with famous individuals.

English Heritage's London program began more than 150 years ago. Local programs are now administered by councils and heritage organizations across the United Kingdom.

Lord Parkinson, the government's minister for arts and heritage, described London's blue plaques as "world-renowned."

He mentioned that everyone should be able to honour the figures who have shaped their community, which is why they are attempting to extend this opportunity to the entire country, so that people and buildings from anywhere in England can be nominated. 

A proposed amendment to the government's Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which will be debated in the House of Lords, would alter the current procedure for awarding blue plaques in London.

There are over a thousand blue plaques in London, with English Heritage enforcing strict eligibility requirements.

Recipients must have been deceased for at least 20 years and must have resided at the location for an extended period of time or during a significant period, such as when composing a seminal work or creating an important invention.

English Heritage did test out a countrywide program in the early 2000s, but the organization reported that it discovered that a significant portion of the terrain had already been covered, so it chose to focus its efforts just on the city of London.

On a regular basis, however, blue inscriptions organized by other organizations are affixed to buildings throughout the United Kingdom.

Plaques were erected in the summer to honor former England footballer Richard Pym in Topsham, Devon and Margaret Rope, one of the most distinguished stained-glass artisans in the United Kingdom, in Woodbridge, Suffolk.

The plates are occasionally altered, as was the case last week when a Cambridge tavern modified its blue plaque to also recognize the contribution of a lesser-known female scientist to the discovery of the structure of DNA.

However, because there is no overarching regulatory body at the national level, the criteria that are used to decide who and where gets a plaque are extremely subjective and vary widely from place to place.

Some communities have created memorials to remember the brief visits of prominent persons, such as the plaque that was placed in Norwich in 1971 to remember Muhammad Ali's visit.

The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport has proposed that Historic England, a public authority that is funded by the government, should be in charge of administering the project over the entirety of England, while English Heritage will continue to handle this responsibility in London.

Duncan Wilson, the head of Historic England mentioned that in developing a national blue plaques scheme that will celebrate heritage across England, they want to help people feel a stronger connection to the history that surrounds them and shed light on the people and places of the past that have shaped who they are. 

The government stated that the proposed modification to the program would allow individuals to research local history and nominate their own community figures.