Want a Blue Plaque? Here's how to guarantee you'll get one

Could you be the next Dame Margot Fonteyn? Image: Getty.

How are you planning to make it to posterity? A statue? A shrine? Pass on your genes to your stupid kids?

Nah, if you never want to be forgotten, what you really want is a blue plaque, mate. So here’s how to increase your chances of getting one:

Be dead

Sorry, you’ll never actually get to see your own blue plaque. The rules of the English Heritage Blue Plaque scheme state you must have been dead for 20 years, unless it’s been a century since you’ve been born. Occasional exceptions have been made for very notable people: Gandhi had only been gone for 6 years when he got his.

This wasn’t always the case: the oldest surviving (but not the first) Blue Plaque was dedicated to the then very much alive Napoleon III. Bloody typical: one rule for emperors…

Still, at least Napoleon III’s plaque is actually blue: there was a bit of experimenting before a standard size, material and shape was settled on. The oldest ones were mostly brown. Who wants a brown plaque?

Be a politician, a writer, a poet or a painter

Of the 357 different professions that English Heritage list in their catalogue of plaque-holders, these are far and away the most popular – so if you’re playing the odds write an illustrated poem about your time as an MP. The professions of clowning, plastic surgery and sexology, meanwhile, have only merited one plaque-worthy individual each.

Do whatever’s going to make you noteworthy in London

English Heritage only issues blue plaques within the capital, so do at least some of your notable activities at a London address.

A national scheme was trialled between 2000 and 2005, erecting plaques in Birmingham, Merseyside, Southampton and Portsmouth, but it was decided that non-English Heritage plaque schemes were doing enough commemorating already. Yeah, because a blue plaque that’s not from the original, “official” scheme is definitely just as good. And your mum thinks you’re special.

Do it somewhere that isn’t going to be knocked down

When the scheme started in 1867, the first plaque was placed on Lord Byron’s former home near Cavendish Square. Sucks to be Byron: the house was knocked down in 1889, and the rules say the plaques can only “survive in a form that the commemorated person would have recognised”, which presumably precludes the John Lewis that sits on the site from getting one.

Or be too controversial

Karl Marx has a plaque at 28 Dean Street – but it was not his first. In the 1930s, a plaque was put up on an address he’d lived in in Kentish Town: it was almost immediately vandalised. A replacement was issued: it was almost immediately vandalised. The then-current owner of the house (long since demolished) decided against trying again.

A pretty sure-fire method: invent the blue plaque

Hampton library bears a plaque dedicated to one William Ewart, a 19th century member of parliament who made the unfortunate decision to share most of his name with the much more famous William Ewart Gladstone, Britain’s most self-flagellating Prime Minister.

This is a shame, as Ewart was quite a good politician: he was instrumental in creating public libraries, legalising the metric system and getting rid of capital punishment for stealing cows. And in 1863, he stood up in parliament and raised the question of whether memorials might be placed on “Residences Of Deceased Celebrities”, as Hansard charmingly puts it. William Cowper, the man in charge of such things, broadly agreed, but wondered if people might get confused and think that the dead celebrities still lived there.

In the event, nothing governmental was forthcoming, but the matter was taken up by a committee of the Royal Society of Arts. And finally, four years after Ewart’s suggestion, it started putting up plaques. Eventually the London County Council took it over: it then passed to the Greater London Council, until Thatcher killed that and the scheme was passed to English Heritage.

Ewart didn’t get his own plaque until 1992, and has to share it with the 18th century tenor, John Beard. The absolute loser.


So obviously don’t live anywhere any other person of historical interest has ever lived

And risk only getting half a plaque? There are a few buildings in London that have two separate plaques, but even then, do you really want to share the limelight of architectural eternity?

Failing any of that: just give up and make your own bloody plaque

While the English Heritage scheme is the original and best, there’s absolutely nothing to stop you putting up one of your own (well, on property you own, as long as it isn’t listed).

In fact, part of the point of the scheme was to encourage others to start doing it: the lazy laissez-faire Victorians at the Royal Society of Arts didn’t want to be lumbered with the task forever.

There are around 900 “official” plaques – but the crowdsourced plaque directory openplaques.org lists over 11,000 in the UK alone. Many local councils and arts organisations run schemes these days: EH’s blue plaque committee will even sometimes specifically recommended that people who didn’t merit one of their plaques try for a “lesser” plaque.

Of course, if you’ve done nothing to actually merit the plaque, future property owners might take a chisel to it. So best get cracking on whatever bit of politics, poetry or sexology that’s going to see you preserved forever in white on blue.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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What do new business rates pilots tell us about government’s appetite for devolution?

Sheffield Town Hall, 1897. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

There have been big question marks about any future devolution of business rates ever since the last general election stopped the legislation in its tracks.

Not only did it not make its way to the statute book before the pre-election cut off, it was nowhere to be seen in the Queen’s Speech, suggesting the Government had gone cold on the idea. (This scenario was complicated further recently by the introduction of a private members’ bill on business rates by Conservative MP Peter Bone, details of which remain scarce.)

However, regardless of the situation with legislation, the government’s announcement in recent days of a pilot phase of reforms suggests that business rates devolution will go ahead after all. DCLG has invited local authorities to take part in a pilot scheme which will allow volunteer authorities to retain 100 per cent of the business rates growth they generate locally. (It also notes that a further three pilots are currently in operation as they were set up under the last government.)

There are two interesting things in this announcement that give some insight on how the government would like to push the reform forward.

The first is that only authorities that come forward with their neighbours with a proposal to pool all business rates raised into one pot across a wider geography will be considered. This suggests that pooling is likely to be strongly encouraged under the new system, even more considering that the initial position was to give power to the Secretary of State to form pools unilaterally.

The second is that pooled authorities are given free rein to propose their own local arrangements. This includes determining, where applicable, a tier split (i.e. rates distribution between districts and counties), a plan for distributing additional growth across the pool, and how this will be managed between authorities.

It’s the second which is most interesting. Although current pools already have the ability to decide for some of their arrangements, it’s fair to say that the Theresa May-led government has been much less bullish on devolution than George Osborne in particular was, with policies having a much greater ‘top down’ feel to them (for example, the Industrial Strategy) rather than a move towards giving places the tools they need to support economic growth in their areas. So the decision to allow local authorities to come up with proposed arrangements feels like a change in approach from the centre.


Of course, the point of a pilot is to test different arrangements, and the outcomes of this experiment will be used to shape any future reform of the business rates system. Given the complexity of the system and the multitude of options for reform, this seems like a sensible approach to take. But it remains to be seen whether the complex reform of a national system can be led from the bottom up. In effect, making sure this local governance is driven by common growth objectives, rather than individual authorities’ interests, will be essential.

Nonetheless, the government’s reaffirmation of its commitment to business rates to devolution and its willingness to test new approaches is welcome. Given that the UK is one of the most centralised countries in the western world, moves to allow local authorities to keep at least some of the tax revenue that is generated in their area is a step forward in giving places more autonomy over how they spend their money. That interest in changing this appears to have been whetted once more is encouraging.

There are, however, a number of other issues with the current business rates system which need to be ironed out. Centre for Cities is currently working on a briefing of the business rates system, building on our previous work in this area, and we’ll be making suggestions as to how the system can be improved.

Hugo Bessis is a researcher for the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article originally appeared.

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