The blue plaques of London: An overlooked embellishment

Ask any visitor to London or a resident of the United Kingdom, they all have their all-time treasured landmarks or favored activities.

From the regal Buckingham Palace to the historic Tower of London, to the dramatic Changing of the Guard Ceremony and the revered British Museum with a collection of over 8 million works, they form a core part or a nucleus of London’s history and heritage.

Not to mention the vibrant West End plays and musicals, the exhibits and concerts in opulent palaces and well-attended halls, or even the red double decker buses and the Hackney carriages, fondly known as the London black cabs, which spice up the truly UK experience.

For foodies, they often bring up English Roast Beef, Shepherd’s Pie and Fish and Chips, which are go-to must-have dishes while in town.

Despite these hallmarks of culture and tradition — either permanent, mobile or edible — somehow, I wonder why my thoughts keep on wondering and wandering back to the Blue Plaques of London!

Each 20-inch round badge of recognition with blue background and white lettering, features the name, the year of birth and death, plus their relationship with the abode where it is erected.

These are commemorations which invite the passersby to delve into the lives of its illustrious past inhabitants. Affixed to the facades of buildings, it whispers fascinating tales of extraordinary individuals who have shaped London’s identity over the centuries.

Meticulously administered by the charity English Heritage, the plaques have since become synonymous with historical preservation.

The origins of this iconic tradition can be traced back to 1866 when the Society of Arts, now known as the Royal Society of Arts, initiated the concept of memorial plaques. The idea fully took off in 1867, when the first Blue Plaque was installed at the birthplace of English Poet Lord Byron, at 24 Holles Street. This inaugural plaque set the stage for an enduring legacy of remembrance.

These more-than-just-nameplates signify stories of exceptional individuals who have contributed to various fields of human endeavor. From renowned artists and writers to groundbreaking scientists and social reformers, the Blue Plaques celebrate the diverse accomplishments that have shaped London’s cultural, scientific, and intellectual landscapes.

The process of awarding is rigorous and impartial. A committee of historians, experts, and representatives from English Heritage carefully considers nominations, ensuring that the candidates recognized have made a significant impact on society.

The concerned individual must have been dead for 20 years or passed the centenary of their birth, be esteemed by peers of their field or have greatly aided humanity, plus have worked or lived in the pertinent building.

Foreigners and overseas visitors are likewise included in the selection process.

To be honored is akin to a major laurel, being immortalized in history. Though major names are always a standout, the council remembers lesser-known figures who have made a significant impact in their respective arenas, to include suffragettes and social reformers to musicians and architects.

While residing in the city for more than a decade, I played a self-made game where I challenged myself to know more about the personalities whose plates I usually passed by.

Walk with me through some notable figures who have been engraved on these memorial medallions:

Photograph courtesy of creative commons/Simon Harriyott (CC BY 2.0)
Charles Babbage’s plaque.

Charles Babbage (1791 — 1871)
A mathematician and astronomer, he is considered by some as the father of the computer. The plaque is located at Dorset Street, Corner of Larcom Street and Walworth Road.

Harold Bride Plaque
Photo by Open Plaques (CC BY 2.0)

Harold Bride (1890 —1956)
He was the wireless operator aboard the RMS Titanic during her ill-fated maiden voyage. He relayed messages to ships in the vicinity which allowed survivors to be rescued. He remained at his post until the vessel lost power. His is situated at 58 Ravensbourne Avenue, Shortlands, Bromley.

Anne Brontë Plaque
public domain

Anne Brontë (1820 — 1849)
She was an English novelist and poet and the youngest member of the Brontë literary family. She authored The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, considered one of the first feminist novels. Hers is positioned at Grand Hotel, Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

Charlie Chaplin Plaque
Photo by Simon Harriyott (CC BY 2.0)

Charlie Chaplin (1889 — 1977)
A comic actor and filmmaker, he is one of the masters of silent film and is treated as one of the most important figures in the industry’s history. His medal is posted at 39 Methley Street, Kennington, London.

Sir Henry Cooper Plaque
Photo by Tony Royden (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sir Henry Cooper OBE KSG
(1934 — 2011)
Undefeated in the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles for three years, he is the only boxer to have been awarded a knighthood. Spot his at 4 Ealing Road, Wembley.

Photograph courtesy of creative commons/Simon Harriyott (CC BY 2.0)
SIR Arthur Conan Doyle’s plaque.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(1859 — 1930)
A writer and physician, he is more popularly known as the creator of the pop culture character Sherlock Holmes, who has impacted the crime fiction scene since his conception. Sir Doyle’s green plaque
— an updated color scheme — is found at 2 Upper Wimpole Street.

John F. Kennedy Plaque
Photo by Spudgun67 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

John F. Kennedy (1917 — 1963)
Better known as JFK, he served as the 35th president of the United States from 1961 until his untimely assassination. His tribute is on 14 Princes Gate, London, where the family lived when the patriarch served as the American Ambassador to the Court of Saint James.

Karl Marx, 108 Maitland Park Rd NW5

Karl Marx (1818 — 1883)
The German-born philosopher is behind the 1848 pamphlet The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, which are defining pieces in the school of socialism and communism. His recollection is on 101-8 Maitland Park Road.

Joseph Paxton Plaque
Photo by George Wolfe (CC BY 2.0)

Sir Joseph Paxton (1803–1865)
He is the architect behind The Crystal Palace, which housed the Great Exhibition of 1851. He likewise cultivated the Cavendish banana, the most consumed banana in the Western world. His memento is on Chatsworth Estate, Derbyshire.

J. R. R. Tolkien Plaque
Photo by Carcharoth (CC BY-SA 3.0)

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973)
The one and only man behind the wildly popular Lord of the Rings books, which revitalized the fantasy genre and inspired many a writer to pick up a pen. His one of four — that’s right, he has a total of five — souvenirs may be seen at Sarehole Mill, Hall Green, Birmingham.

Nathaniel Hawthorne Plaque
Photo by Spudgun67 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)
An American novelist and short story writer, he is most known for the groundbreaking novel The Scarlet Letter. You can find him on 4 Pond Road, Blackheath.

Vincent Van Gogh Plaque
Photo by Spudgun67 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
A Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who is respected as one of the most influential figures in the history of art. His token may be seen at 87 Hackford Road, South Lambeth.

Jose Rizal (1861-1896)
How could we ever forget the Philippine National Hero’s very own recognition? His acknowledgment may be explored at Chatsworth Estate, Derbyshire, 37 Chalcot Crescent, Belsize Park, London, where he lived as he fended off criticisms on his character and the revolutionary Noli Me Tangere.

Spudgun67 (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Jose Rizal’s plaque.