On seemingly ordinary buildings across London you can spot circular blue plaques. But what exactly are they? These small but significant signs help peel back layers of history of Britain’s capital, bringing to life its extraordinary array of characters.
With the help of London’s Blue Plaque scheme, you can discover the window that helped JM Barrie write Peter Pan, or see where Mahatma Gandhi lived while he studied law…
What is the Blue Plaques scheme?
The world’s oldest – and most imaginative – heritage programme links remarkable people and historic moments with the buildings that hosted them.
The scheme’s roots date back to 1866, when it was founded by the (Royal) Society of Arts, “to increase the public estimation for places which have been the abodes of men who have made England what it is.” Nowadays it’s run by English Heritage.
Who is commemorated?
People from all walks of life! Writers, athletes, architects and politicians, ground-breaking scientists and wartime spies, nurses, feminists, philosophers, artists, teachers and body builders.
You can find plaques for such well-known names as Charles Dickens; Amy Johnson (the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia), PG Wodehouse, Bob Marley, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Dylan Thomas, Florence Nightingale, and John McDouall Stuart, the first explorer to cross Australia.
In fact, there are more than 900 plaques to tick off your list!
150 years old and counting
2016 marks the 150th anniversary of London’s Blue Plaque scheme and English Heritage is celebrating with the unveiling of new plaques, including ones dedicated to:
1. Freddie Mercury, the frontman of the rock band Queen
2. Nobel Prize-winning playwright and author Samuel Beckett
3. Ava Gardner, one of the 20th century’s most talked-about film stars
4. The captain of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team, Bobby Moore
5. Laurie Cunningham, one of the first black footballers to play for England
6. Elizabeth David, a 20th-century cookery writer. In fact, David’s will be the scheme’s first plaque dedicated to a cookery writer.
There will also be a series of Blue Plaque walking tours over the birthday weekend (7-8 May 2016). Join one to hear stories about London’s most illustrious personalities, such as Mozart and James Bond author Ian Fleming, and see the oldest surviving plaque (for Napoleon III, installed in Baker Street in September 1867).
Alternatively, download the new Blue Plaques app and plot a self-guided walking tour in the footsteps of the great and good.
5 of London's Blue Plaques you can't miss
1. The ‘Best Job Title on a Blue Plaque’ award has to go to Luke Howard: Namer of Clouds. The plaque to this pioneering meteorologist is on Tottenham Court Road.
2. You get 2 for the price of 1 on Mayfair’s Brook Street where plaques to musical masterminds from very different times sit side by side. George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix lived at numbers 22 and 23 respectively.
3. Another address bearing 2 impressive names is 29 Fitzroy Square, which was home to both George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf. In fact, the area of Fitzrovia is plastered with Blue Plaques dedicated to literary luminaries.
4. Not only is the plaque to Napoleon III the oldest official plaque still in existence – it was installed in King Street, St James’s in September 1867, it’s also the only plaque that was erected while the recipient was still alive and kicking.
5. The plaque to Harry Beck, the designer of the London Underground Map, is the only one to use a different font – the Underground’s new Johnstone typeface, naturally.