St Albans has no scheme for recognising individuals who lived in the city and have contributed to the wider community. There are a handful of plaques around the city but there is no consistent format for these and no process for approving new plaques. In many towns and cities, the Civic Society acts as the organiser for plaques and here in St Albans, the steering committee of Conservation 50 has proposed that a group be formed to establish a blue plaque scheme for St Albans.
In 1866 a British politician, William Ewart, thought it was important to mark the homes and workplaces of famous people and so started the Blue Plaque scheme. Initially, it was administered by the Society of Arts and limited to London. Now it is run by English Heritage who, apart from a brief period at the turn of the millennium, have also confined their Blue Plaques to Greater London. However, recognising their popularity with the public, similar schemes, established by a variety of organisations, have appeared around the UK. Although many have retained the standard appearance, circular shaped plaques with blue backgrounds, there are now a wide range of commemorative plaques, in different shapes, materials and colours.
St Albans does have a few plaques, attached to buildings, marking their association with well-known men and women of the past, but they have been put up in an arbitrary manner rather than as part of a unified scheme. Given the city’s rich history and the numerous famous people, from all walks of life, that have lived here, the absence of plaques and information about famous residents and historical events is a missed opportunity to celebrate St Albans’ heritage: for example, there is nothing to indicate the offices or seed hall on Holywell Hill of one of St Albans most important citizens, Samuel Ryder, mayor and instigator of one of golf’s most significant competitions, the Ryder Cup! On several occasions over the years the Civic Society has been asked, “How can ‘blue plaques’ be set up?”; and there have been attempts by agencies to establish a systematic process to erect plaques but these, sadly, have not worked out.
Who can be commemorated on a Blue Plaque?
Individuals or organisations commemorated on a plaque should be of national or international stature, or of outstanding local importance.
They may have achieved national or international prominence in any field, including (but not limited to) academia, architecture, the armed services, the arts, commerce, education, engineering, industry, the law, literature, medicine, music, philanthropy, politics, religion and science. Or they may have made a major contribution to the development of St Albans or the well-being of its citizens.
The Panel will not approve plaques for fictional or legendary characters, or for people still living. We are aware that English Heritage blue plaques in London are awarded only after the recipient has been dead for twenty years. Clearly, their decision is based on the value of hindsight which is best assessed by distance from an event. We deliberated on this and concluded that we will not set a specific time limit but take a view based on an objective evaluation of the importance of the subject and allowing sufficient time for a period of calm to descend, unburdened by emotions. There is no limit on the amount of time a person, group or organisation should have spent at an address or in a particular locality. In general, though, the connection should be as long as possible (certainly running into months and years, rather than days or weeks).
How can I get a plaque put up?
- Any organisation or individual can suggest a person to be honoured with a plaque.
- The Blue Plaques Panel role is to approve plaque nominations and provide advice and support in erecting them.
- The Panel will require evidence that the individual being honoured had any connection with the building for which the plaque is proposed. You will also be asked to state your views as to why the person deserves a plaque.
- The design of Blue Plaques must be approved by the Blue Plaques Panel. They are made to a standard design, with a specific typeface, as it is important for our plaques to be readily identifiable.
- A plaque must not advertise any company, product, organisation, website or app.
- Plaques must be placed in accordance with local planning laws and other regulations, and only one plaque will normally be placed on any building.
- Before a plaque can be erected, the owners of the building in question have to give their written consent and any other relevant permissions need to be obtained. This may involve approaching more than one party: the owner of the freehold as well as the tenant.
- Once a plaque has been installed, it becomes part of the property to which it is fixed and is thus owned by the property owner.
- Groups or individuals proposing a plaque may offer to cover the cost of its manufacture and installation.