The London blue plaques scheme, now run by English Heritage, is more than 150 years old – and is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world
In 1866 the (Royal) Society of Arts founded what would become the blue plaques scheme “to increase the public estimation for places which have been the abodes of men who have made England what it is”. There’s even an official guidebook to London’s Blue Plaques, published by English Heritage, offering a through-the-keyhole look at those commemorated by the Blue Plaques scheme and the houses they lived in. Blue plaques are a familiar sight right across Greater London, providing an intriguing glimpse into the capital’s past, but did you know these fascinating facts?
‘Namer of Clouds’ is a real profession
Luke Howard (1772-1864) was pioneering meteorologist who set out a system of classification for clouds – cirrus, stratus, cumulus and nimbus – which is still used today. His plaque is in Bruce Grove, Tottenham and was unveiled by TV weatherman Michael Fish in 2002. Other unusual occupations given on London plaques include: Code-breaker (Alan Turing); decipherer of Linear B script (Michael Ventris); South African Freedom Fighters (Ruth First and Joe Slovo).
Figures related to the London Underground use a special font
The ‘Johnston’ typeface – which was developed for London Transport in the 1930s and is still used by its successor, Transport for London – is used on four plaques associated with the London Underground. These plaques are for: Edward Johnston (the master calligrapher who gave the font its name); Harry Beck, the designer of the ‘diagrammatic’ tube map; Albert Henry Stanley, Lord Ashfield (‘First Chairman of London Transport’); and Frank Pick (‘Pioneer of Good Design of London Transport’).
There are 18 ‘double plaque’ houses
It’s unusual for houses in London to bear two official plaques, but there are currently 18 cases of double commemorations. Examples include 20 Maresfield Gardens (Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud) and 29 Fitzroy Square (George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf).
Not all blue plaques are blue
The famous blue roundel that we recognise today wasn’t established as the standard design until after the Second World War. Although the very first plaques were blue, plaque makers experimented with brown, terracotta, green, bronze, lead and stone plaques in the early years. Different shapes, including squares and rectangles, have also been used.
Many of the early plaques featured a laurel wreath in the design, a device that, going back to ancient Greece and Rome, has been associated with achievement and honour.