Have you ever walked past a property in London, noticed a blue plaque on its wall and wondered who it was? That’s because English Heritage traditionally ruled that to be eligible for a blue badge of honour on a former home, one has to have been dead for more than 20 years. But now the rules are changing in a bid to celebrate the living - as well as the deceased. And they don't have to be just blue anymore.
The tradition of the blue plaque dates back to the nineteenth century where the homes of various novelists, physicists and politicians were recognised as significant places in history. Today the homes of Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton and Madame Marie Tussaud have been awarded these blue badges but a new scheme by Southwark Council has various members of the public putting up their plaques of pride.
The scheme began two decades ago when John Gatenby of the British Comedy Society found that The Pink Panther actor Peter Sellers lived in the same area as him in Highgate. “We decided he ought to have a plaque,” said Gatenby. The community have supported the idea with Councillor Veronica Ward saying, “We feel it’s important to celebrate people from all walks of life, both past and present”. Since then human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, comedian Charlie Drake and ex- Arsenal player Kenny Sansom have been awarded the blue plaque.
It’s not just Southwark who’ve begun commemorating their community, Westminster have also started a green plaque Scheme. Although they have ruled that the recipient must be dead for a “sufficient time”.
Islington also chose green and have, in true northern style, awarded the radical rebels of history such as the Peasants Revolt in Highbury Barn and the first arts and culture centre for the black community, the Keskidee Centre.
Ealing’s Civic Society have also joined the plaque presentations by awarding daylight saving creator William Willett and the first Waitrose branch a blue badge.
One of the most controversial recipients is guitarist Jimi Hendrix renowned for his drug-taking, but Howard Spencer of English Heritage responded by saying that the first plaque was awarded to Lord Bryon in 1867… a frequent opium taker.
So, do those little blue badges of honour add value to a property? Unfortunately, it seems not: “They add interest but there’s no evidence that they bring extra cash,” says Spencer. So, for now property owners can simply enjoy the pride of a blue plaque and the knowledge of knowing a little bit of history – however recent - about their home.
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The tradition of the blue plaque dates back to the nineteenth century where the homes of various novelists, physicists and politicians were recognised as significant places in history.