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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High streets and shopping malls face a ‘domino effect’ from major store closures

Another one bites the dust: House of Fraser plans to close the majority of its stores. Image: Getty.

Traditional retail is in the centre of a storm – and British department store chain House of Fraser is the latest to succumb to the tempest. The company plans to close 31 of its 59 shops – including its flagship store in Oxford Street, London – by the beginning of 2019. The closures come as part of a company voluntary arrangement, which is an insolvency deal designed to keep the chain running while it renegotiates terms with landlords. The deal will be voted on by creditors within the month.

Meanwhile in the US, the world’s largest retail market, Sears has just announced that it will be closing more than 70 of its stores in the near future.

This trend of major retailers closing multiple outlets exists in several Western countries – and its magnitude seems to be unrelated to the fundamentals of the economy. The US, for example, has recently experienced a clear decoupling of store closures from overall economic growth. While the US economy grew a healthy 2.3 per cent in 2017, the year ended with a record number of store closings, nearly 9,000 while 50 major chains filed for bankruptcy.

Most analysts and industry experts agree that this is largely due to the growth of e-commerce – and this is not expected to diminish anytime soon. A further 12,000 stores are expected to close in the US before the end of 2018. Similar trends are being seen in markets such as the UK and Canada.

Pushing down profits

Perhaps the most obvious impact of store closures is on the revenues and profitability of established brick-and-mortar retailers, with bankruptcies in the US up by nearly a third in 2017. The cost to investors in the retail sector has been severe – stocks of firms such as Sears have lost upwards of 90 per cent of their market value in the last ten years. By contrast, Amazon’s stock price is up over 2,000 per cent in the same period – more than 49,000 per cent when considering the last 20 years. This is a trend that the market does not expect to change, as the ratio of price to earnings for Amazon stands at ten times that of the best brick-and-mortar retailers.

Although unemployment levels reached a 17-year low in 2017, the retail sector in the US shed a net 66,500 jobs. Landlords are losing longstanding tenants. The expectation is that roughly 25 per cent of shopping malls in the US are at high risk of closing one of their anchor tenants such as a Macy’s, which could set off a series of store closures and challenge the very viability of the mall. One out of every five malls is expected to close by 2022 – a prospect which has put downward pressure on retail real estate prices and on the finances of the firms that own and manage these venues.

In the UK, high streets are struggling through similar issues. And given that high streets have historically been the heart of any UK town or city, there appears to be a fundamental need for businesses and local councils to adapt to the radical changes affecting the retail sector to preserve their high streets’ vitality and financial viability.


The costs to society

While attention is focused on the direct impacts on company finances, employment and landlord rents, store closures can set off a “domino effect” on local governments and businesses, which come at a significant cost to society. For instance, closures can have a knock-on effect for nearby businesses – when large stores close, the foot traffic to neighbouring establishments is also reduced, which endangers the viability of other local businesses. For instance, Starbucks has recently announced plans to close all its 379 Teavana stores. Primarily located inside shopping malls, they have harshly suffered from declining mall traffic in recent years.

Store closures can also spell trouble for local authorities. When retailers and neighbouring businesses close, they reduce the taxable revenue base that many municipalities depend on in order to fund local services. Add to this the reduction in property taxes stemming from bankrupt landlords and the effect on municipal funding can be substantial. Unfortunately, until e-commerce tax laws are adapted, municipalities will continue to face financial challenges as more and more stores close.

It’s not just local councils, but local development which suffers when stores close. For decades, many cities in the US and the UK, for exmaple Detroit and Liverpool, have heavily invested in efforts to rejuvenate their urban cores after years of decay in the 1970s and 1980s. Bringing shops, bars and other businesses back to once derelict areas has been key to this redevelopment. But today, with businesses closing, cities could once again face the prospect of seeing their efforts unravel as their key urban areas become less attractive and populations move elsewhere.

Commercial ecosystems featuring everything from large chain stores to small independent businesses are fragile and sensitive to change. When a store closes it doesn’t just affect employees or shareholders – it can have widespread and lasting impacts on the local community, and beyond. Controlling this “domino effect” is going to be a major challenge for local governments and businesses for years to come.

Omar Toulan, Professor in Strategy and International Management, IMD Business School and Niccolò Pisani, Assistant Professor of International Management, University of Amsterdam.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.