A Blue Plaque: The Sign of A Legacy

By Oliver Burns

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January 14, 2016|

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  • ondon has been long been a hub of talent and success with famous residents ranging from actors and politicians to scientists, poets and authors. With many of history’s greatest personalities such as Shakespeare and Beau Brummell having lived in our capital, it seems only fitting that London should pay homage to these and similar residents who have elevated London’s globally significant status through the ages. A Blue Plaque displayed on the façade of a building commemorating a historically significant person is quite common place for us when walking through the streets of London today, however this was not always the case.
Image via The Times & London Life.

The origins of the quintessentially British Blue Plaque dates backs to the late 19th Century when the concept was first proposed to the House of Commons by William Evert, MP. The scheme gained immediate support and by 1866 The Royal Society of Arts had founded what we would recognise as The Blue Plaque scheme.

The residences of Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the USA, David Garrick, actor and play write and Lord Nelson, army chief and commander were the contenders for the first honour which was eventually awarded to the home of Poet Lord Byron at his birthplace on Cavendish Square, London.

During the 20th Century, the management of the plaque system changed numerous times. The first change of hands came about at the turn of the century, in 1903, where The London County Council overtook. From 1945 onwards, the administration was controlled by The Greater London Council (GLC) where the scheme remained the same although it broadened the range of people eligible for commemoration, to include less formally recognised professions such as sports people and members of the less traditional arts, as well as the inclusion of select neighbouring boroughs. English Heritage took over the scheme in 1986 and has ever since run it along similar lines to its predecessors making very few significant changes.

Images via University of London.

To be eligible for an English Heritage Blue Plaque the person concerned must:

– Have been deceased for 20 years or have passed the centenary of their birth. Fictional characters are not eligible.
– Be considered eminent by a majority of members of their own profession; have made an outstanding contribution to human welfare or happiness.
– Have lived or worked in that building in London (excluding the City of London and Whitehall) for a significant period, in time or importance, within their life and work; be recognisable to the well-informed passer-by, or deserve national recognition.

Image via London Guildhall

With the infamous blue plaque commemorating where famous people have lived, worked and contributed to society from, the scheme’s main objective at the time of origin was to celebrate the architecture of London’s streets and the diversity and achievements of its past residents. Although this is still the case today, the relevance of the scheme has evolved to include conservation. Whilst a blue plaque does not offer legal protection to a building, it does raise awareness of their historical significance and therefore can assist in their preservation, increase desirability and adding value in real terms; such as was the case of the home of Oscar Wilde in Chelsea.

Image via Oliver Burns

London through modern times has maintained its reputation as a historically significant and politically sound global city attracting wealthy foreign buyers and international investment. The ‘blue plaque effect’ further strengthens this sentiment and attracts potential buyers to secure a piece of history that is seen as unique and one of a kind with the hope that these properties will present a sound long term investment opportunity presenting higher rates of return.

This has proved to be particularly true and relevant for Oliver Burns when developing the Blue Plaque property and former home of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister, to create our award winning and record price breaking residential scheme – Walpole Mayfair. Another example of commercial value add can be seen when assessing the home of the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which went on the market for £35m in her year of passing despite selling for £4.16m twelve months prior.

With fashion and architecture going in and out of style, there is one thing that is timeless and withstands the test of time, success… for which the blue plaque stands and is likely to be around in blue for years to come.

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