There are a number of ‘blue plaque’ schemes running in Britain and across the world that commemorate a link between a building and a person of historical importance. Of these the best known is the English Heritage scheme, more properly termed The Indication of Houses of Historical Interest in London.
The scheme originated in 1863 when the Society of Arts (now Royal Society of Arts) took up a suggestion made by William Ewart MP. At first the plaques were whatever shape and colour was deemed best for the building in question. The iconic round blue design was not formalised until 1921, by which date the scheme was being run by London County Council. It was later run by the Greater London Council (GLC) and now by English Heritage. On average about 12 plaques are erected each year.
One purpose of the scheme was to protect historically important buildings. While planning authorities are reluctant to allow demolition of blue plaque buildings, the plaques do not offer any formal or legal protection. In fact, almost 100 of the 950 blue plaque buildings have been lost. The oldest survivor is the 1867 plaque to Napoleon III in King Street, London.
Answered by: Rupert Matthews, historian and author