Many were up in arms last week when English Heritage announced that, apart from existing commitments, it would be suspending its blue plaque activities. It was reluctantly taking this step, we learned, because of the severe cut in its grant from Westminster. It had “stood down” its advisory team, comprising Stephen Fry, Andrew Motion and Bonnie Greer (yes, I wondered too!). Much gnashing and wailing of teeth ensued in the press (kicked off by the Guardian, who got its sums completely wrong. Bless), and also on Twitter and Facebook. You’d have thought that all the EH blue plaques were to be torn off the very walls they adorned.
I don’t think we should be overly concerned.
First, it could be argued that we have too many plaques on our streetscape already. If it pleases your worship, I offer you this:
Further comment superfluous. But in case you’re in thrall to the miracles of Homeopathy, it’s very near South Kensington tube station.
Second, English Heritage don’t have a monopoly on memorial plaques. Just some of the organisations which have put up plaques over the years include London County Council, Greater London Council, Dead Comics Society, City of Westminster, Mayor of London, Hayes Literary Society, The Corporation of the City of London, National Art Collections Fund, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charities Foundation, London Borough of Southwark, John and Ruth Howard Charitable Trust. And on and on. What’s more, attractive as the EH plaques are, some of the others are equally and indeed more so. And in a variety of shapes, colours, sizes. We need variety, and London does higgledy-piggledy rather well.
I’m particularly fond of this world-weary item, provenance apparently unknown.
Third, if we have to have new plaques, it doesn’t have to be English Heritage who takes care of matters. Its ugly sister, the National Trust, is apparently willing to step into the breach. Furthermore, subject to listing, ownership and possibly by-laws I’m not aware of, you can do your own plaques if you have a mind to. Just last summer, the Historic Kilburn Plaque Scheme, led by Ed Fordham (LH Member) put up a plaque to George Orwell.
Finally, I’d like to point out that I’m a fan of English Heritage, in fact I’m a very recent joiner. They run their properties well and have delightful staff. I can see that George Osborne’s Big Cut will give them a nasty headache. But we don’t really need new English Heritage blue plaques particularly urgently one way or another in my view; I suspect they have used this suspension as much as a publicity stunt as anything, and rather successfully, so it would seem. We needn’t get our knickers in a twist.