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.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

How getting a dog made me hate London less

A dog called Martha. Image: Jamie Ross.

I never have been anything but a staunch hater of London. Growing up in what a friend from Chicago called “a forest reserve”, my entire life has been split between a suburban one in a leafy town near Dayton, Ohio and an urban one, spent in stupidly pretty, and still fairly leafy, Edinburgh. I moved to London for a hot second in 2016, hated my job as well as my surroundings, and left, pretty much immediately.

And then, almost two years later, I was offered my current role at the New Statesman, and I packed up my shit and dragged my reluctant boyfriend with me to do it all over again. I sort of enjoyed my summer in London – but I felt strongly that living in the city would never feel like anything other than a necessary evil.

I live in – this is your moment to laugh and call me a posh prick – Notting Hill. It’s a decent location, has more trees and parks than other parts of the city, and, most importantly, is the closest I could get to replicating my old neighbourhood of Stockbridge in Edinburgh, which I loved dearly. But even this isn’t enough to entirely counteract the fact my physical surroundings, on my commute to the office by the Temple, made me feel constantly claustrophobic and stressed. London is cold and unfriendly, compared to many parts of this country, and it is filthy – not in a snobby, prissy, precious fuckhead way, but in a “My life expectancy has probably dropped by three years breathing in this polluted air and stepping on broken glass” way. For my first few months in London, in the middle of the heat wave, walking the streets was like walking through an endless sludge: this was not a city I liked nor one I, really, wanted to live in.

Until I got a puppy.

The one condition my boyfriend imposed when he agreed to trudge down to London with me was that we find a flat where our letting agreement said that we could have dog. So, three months after our move, we got Martha, a twelve-week-old black cockapoo.

Getting her changed our lives in a lot of ways. It’s made it impossible for us to leave the house without having a human being on attendance to watch her like a hawk. It means I now have to wake up at 6:45am every day, weekends included, so that she can take a shit. She has improved our lives remarkably - I mean, we have a living floof doing sweet and adorable shit in our house – but she has changed things a lot.

And the thing I least expected this goddam dog to change has been the way has made me feel more integrated into this godforsaken city: she’s made me appreciate London, even with its downsides.

Actually, something else happened, without which I don’t think my point of view would have changed. Almost immediately after getting Martha – and I mean, like, within hours – I contracted a disgusting cold. The day after that cold cleared up, I got violent conjunctivitis, like the disgusting seven-year-old I am, which took a week to get over.

These two illnesses, combined, lasted around two weeks, so I was trapped at home for roughly seven days of the ten I would normally have been at work. That meant I was around to relieve the puppy burden from my home-working boyfriend.

I was tasked with dragging my puss-filled eyes out to let our dog have a run around, and to get her to piss every couple of hours. This new responsibility forced me to explore the neighbourhood that, for the three months previous, I had generally ignored. What I thought was the worst timing known to man was, not to exaggerate, life-changing. I’m not sure I would have come to this realisation about my new home had it not happened.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Another great day at the park! Pic by fellow small creature @esther.dominy.

A post shared by Martha The Dog (@heythereitsmartha) on

Happy City by Charles Montgomery is a book all about how urban planning can make or break our wellbeing – what commutes, cars, bikes, and greenspace do to our mental health. One portion of the book is spent debunking the idea that the sheer amount of greenspace in an area is what makes us happy. Montgomery argues that it’s actually the regularity of greenspace that makes a real difference – it’s not just how much grass and trees there is in the city you live in, but how often you get to see it.


Pre-Martha, my exposure to grass amounted to the occasional lunch in a garden and a visit to Hyde Park once or twice a month. But within a matter of days of getting a dog, I learned that I had not one, not two, not three, but five (five!) piss locations within five (again: five!) minutes of my house. Some were suitable for little more than the aforementioned – but others gave her enough room to run after sticks, leaves, tennis balls, and, her favourite, other dogs, so that she’d be pleasantly exhausted for the rest of the day. What I originally thought was just an expanse of buildings and pavement stretching from my flat to Hyde Park was actually filled with pockets of green spaces that made this trash-laden hell-hole feel a lot less oppressive.

Spending time at parks where other dogs also go to piss meant I started to make relationships with other dog-owners too. For the first time in any place I’ve lived in outside of my home town, I actually started to meet my neighbours, and learn about things that were happening in my neighbourhood, that I would never otherwise never known about. I now know Tiggy, Rex, Bubba, and Charlie, as well as their respective owners. I also know about good pubs, family-run restaurants, and free events that are far better than the deeply average, pretentious brunch place recommended to me by The Culture Trip. My neighbourhood has feeling like a dead space between Tesco, my bus stop, and the tube, to a place I can see as a respite from the rest of this stressful city, full of people I know and new places I’d have otherwise not thought twice about.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Me and some new friends from the other day! Hoping for some more social time this weekend 

A post shared by Martha The Dog (@heythereitsmartha) on

And taking her out at the same time every day, around the 7am mark, means we then almost always run into the same people. A very sweet kid walks to school around the same time and always smiles at her. We see the same woman with her dog, who always greets Martha with aggressive barking, ultimately ending in a congenial ass sniff. We let her jump up at the incredibly patient builders doing construction on a building at the end of our street.

This morning ritual, seeing my neighbourhood when it’s not rammed with tourists but is quiet and reserved for people who live or work nearby, has become a way to decompress at the start of every day. And as a woman, being up and out when it’s often dark, but seeing people I now recognise, means my neighbourhood has become less intimidating. For the first time in London, I feel safe and comfortable even late at night.

Beyond the confines of my neighbourhood, Martha has made me see London, not for what it does for me, but for what it provides for her. Never have I ever had such an appreciation for London’s public transport system than when I got my dog, who wears a big stupid grin at all times when riding the bus. (Her internal monologue honestly appears to be an endless loop of, “ALL OF THIS STUFF WOW MORE STUFF OH GOD REALLY COULD THERE ACTUALLY BE MORE STUFF HELLO EVERYONE HI OH HI WOULD YOU LIKE TO PET MY HEAD?”)

Even long journeys are now a delight, because watching your puppy be amazed, fascinated, and happy at all times, eventually passing out from exhaustion at all the energy expended, is incredibly heart-warming. Faced from the bus, London, even at its busiest, feels far better with my dog than on my own: her pure, unadulterated excitement is enough to make holding a wild animal on a packed motor vehicle worthwhile.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

dad taught me love • dad taught me patience • dad taught me pain

A post shared by Martha The Dog (@heythereitsmartha) on

I’m almost certain I will never love London. I don’t think I will ever feel charmed enough by the charming parts to outweigh the onslaught of the, often, literal shit it brings with it. Not everything about having a dog in London is great, of course: there is trash everywhere, trash I used to pass nonchalantly but now have to heave my dog away from in case she eats a used condom or even another dog’s shit. And, obviously, living in a city is probably never great for an animal compared to, say, a suburb or the countryside.

But through my dog I’ve learned what’s actually around me, not just what I narrowly perceive on my begrudging walk to work. Doing that has made London feel a lot less like my own personal hell. Slowly, Martha is making London like some kind of twisted, imperfect, home for me.

Sarah Manavis is the digital culture and tech writer at the New Statesman. She tweets as @sarahmanavis.

Martha Ross-Manavis is small and cute dog. You can follow her on Instagram at @heythereitsmartha.