English heritage blue plaques to tell working class stories

An English Heritage blue plaque in Pall Mall, London. Photo: PA.

By Aine Fox, Pennsylvania

A women’s suffrage organisation, Britain’s first professional landscape gardener and a mostly self-taught physicist are among those to be commemorated with blue plaques this year.

English Heritage said it aimed to tell the stories of London’s working class with its 2022 awards, as it also announced the restoration and transformation of what it described as three of the country’s most important historic sites .

The organization’s chief executive said the focus for the coming year will be on ‘bringing history to life’, as they invest millions of pounds in conservation projects and celebrate the 1900th anniversary of the construction of Hadrian’s Wall begins.

A landmark in York, a historic house in west London and a Roman fort in Kent will all reopen later this year after major renovations, English Heritage said.

Following a £5million project to conserve and transform the interior of York’s 800-year-old Clifford’s Tower, it will reopen in April, with some hidden rooms opening for the first time since the site was destroyed by fire in 1684.

National Lottery funding has helped restore a historic house in Marble Hill in Twickenham, west London, and its nearly lost garden, for reopening in May, while a refurbished museum at the Roman fort and the he Richborough Amphitheater in Kent will feature never-before-seen artefacts from the site in the fall.

Among the blue plaques is one that marks the headquarters of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Westminster in the run-up to the Representation of the People Act 1918.

A plaque will also be installed at the former home in Camden, north London, of physicist, mathematician and electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside, who English Heritage says was almost entirely self-taught, having left school at 16.

They praised his “extraordinary achievements in the theory of wired and wireless telecommunications technology” which they said were achieved “without the benefits of educational or social privilege, and despite being left almost entirely deaf by scarlet fever suffered in childhood”.

Britain’s first professional landscape gardener, Fanny Wilkinson, will have a plaque unveiled at her former home in Bloomsbury, central London, and at the site of the famous 1888 match girls’ strike at the former Bryant factory and May in Bow, east London will also be marked.

Anna Eavis, Director of Conservation and Secretary of the English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel, said: ‘Many of the stories we are telling this year are those of working class London.

She added: “I am particularly excited about the match girls plaque. This strike, organized by a group of destitute young women, mostly between the ages of 15 and 20, has such an important place in labor history unionized and the women’s movement as a whole.

Kate Mavor, chief executive of English Heritage, said there would be “something for everyone” this year.

She said: “This year, we are focusing on what we do best: bringing history to life for millions of people.

“English Heritage cares about the country’s incredible and inspiring collection of historic sites and in 2022 we are delighted to open even more and share more of their stories.

“We are using a new design to transform a landmark in York, displaying never-before-seen treasures from our collection, celebrating the Romans and bringing a Georgian villa back to life in London.

“In short, there is something for everyone this year at English Heritage.”