By Haydn Brown
I have a thing about Blue Plaques. For me each one is a pin prick which alerts me to interesting people, intriguing buildings and places, all of which would otherwise be buried in the past and in dusty tomes. I never past a new one without stopping and reading the inscription, else I fear I will miss some detail of importance otherwise.
I found out some time ago that the blue plaque idea was born in London and that the first plaque appeared there in 1866. Now known as the world famous ‘London Blue Plaques’ and administered by English Heritage. Someone once made the observation that the blue plaque scheme celebrates people who were associated with a city or place where they appear and whose original buildings survive. It is not only people and buildings that the Plaques celebrate, but also events and a whole lot more – that’s partly why I like them so much. For me, the interpretive mount creates a window, a portal, to the past and suspends a possible boring or anonymous visual impression, transporting me to another and more evocative place.
The Plaques in Norwich aren’t a new invention either. In the past, the city used to have what could only be called a confusing array of media items and then in the 1970’s Norwich, supported by a donation from a local philanthropis, produced its own high impact initiative of 100 ‘standardised green Plaques’ covering various people, events and buildings. However, this turned out to be a one-off project that was not sustainable; the materials could not stand the test of time and most items ended up vandalised and were not replaced. Other initiatives also proved short lived. Since those early days, certainly from around 2006, the current blue ones gradually began to appeared here and there, refreshing my walks around and through the city. Their quality was clearly superior to the old green ones, the content more relevant and better displayed. This appealed to me for everyone of them had a local distinctiveness.
I have ałso noticed over time that whoever is responsible has not jûst thrown the plaques up willy nilly, there seemed to be a plan! So, a little while ago I investigated and found that plaques are sited in ‘zonal’ areas, at present there are, I believe, five – The Norwich Lanes, The Cathedral Quarter, Ełm Hill, the Castle Quarter and Timberhill. I do hope more will follow, as and when funds are available of course. I want to be surprised and educated with nuggets of, what is to me, hitherto unknown information. So far, the plaques have reminded me of Sarah Glover and my early music training days, also introduced me to the fact that the celebrated actor Sir John Mills went to school in Norwich. Last but not least is The Orford Cellar, the once popular city centre pub which featured local bands and local luminaries such as Jimi Hendri and Geno Washington in its heyday; a time when I simply passed by on my way from the shops and on to the bus station.
I’m sure I haven’t seen every plaque currently in situ – but I will given a little more time. Nevertheless, I’m someone who always wants more; so here’s to further blue plaque zones coming on stream in Norwich. Maybe – I wonder, Over the water or Riverside or King Street?