The London Blue Plaque Guide

Nick Rennison, The History Press

Spotting blue plaques on the walls of (sometimes very unassuming) buildings is one of the great joys of walking round London. Most of them are at least partly self-explanatory, but others can be quite obscure.

We have a fair few of them in and around Greenwich and Blackheath (and one lonely plaque in Charlton) even if there aren’t as many round our neck of the woods as, say, Chelsea, finding one still brings that little frisson of excitement for me.

I’ve never actually had a guide to them before. There are a couple on the market, including a very sumptuous-looking hardback, which, presumably, is for armchair perusal, but Nick Rennison’s paperback is one for the back pocket as you walk around.

Each blue-plaque recipient is listed alphabetically and gets a paragraph or so, with a short potted history, plenty for a day-walk – if you’re that interested you can look ‘em up when you get home.

At the back, there are several ways of looking up plaques, the most useful of which, for me, is the plaque-by-postcode list (which does flag-up the paucity of plaques in SE London as opposed to elsewhere…) It unfortunately helped me find the Greenwich omission – poor old Viscount Wolseley, whose plaque is on Ranger’s House, is listed in the index, but he doesn’t get a paragraph in the main book. The rest of the local guys do get their full measure.

The 2009 edition is as complete (with that one omission) as Rennison could make it as of January this year. English Heritage adds one or two plaques per month, so a guide can never be completely up to date, but he’s done his best and has included a few unofficial plaques too – there are other schemes where individuals or groups erect plaques to people, often where the very strict rules of Blue Plaques don’t allow an official one.

An obvious example of this is the stone plaque to Ignatius Sancho on the wall of Greenwich Park, unveiled a couple of years ago, a fascinating character whom I’ll get around to talking about some time, but unable to have a blue plaque because the house where he lived doesn’t exist any more (no excuse for a similar eminent black Greenwichian, Olaudah Equiano – the house he lived in does still exist…) Sancho’s plaque isn’t included in Rennison’s guide and I really think there is a gap in the market for those unofficial plaques.

Some are blue, some are china, some are square (often in the City) some are octagonal. Some were erected by the council like the green plaques in Westminster, some (like the mysterious Helena Pare Lydia Mott ) are rococo stone plaques, others are home-made wooden ones. I don’t know of any guide to them all. Maybe there’s a blog waiting for some doughty individual…

Generally, The Blue Plaque Guide is a useful buy – it fits in a (large) pocket and has just enough info to pique the interest for research back home. As usual, Waterstones ever-expanding London section has it in stock…

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