Blue plaques are no longer confined to City Streets. Here’s the latest to appear in West Leake, commemorating the arrival of basketmaking as a new cottage industry two centuries ago. You may remember I wrote a few months ago about our friend Ed visiting and discovering that his ancestor (another Ed) had been that entrepreneur. One of the reasons its such a good story is that these villages in south Nottinghamshire have adapted and survived many economic fluctuations. Most residents now commute or ‘work from home’ (or, let’s be honest, the overwhelming majority may well be Baby Boomers and their parents all drawing their pensions), but basket making isn’t the only local industry that has ebbed and flowed in our history. Hosiery is ubiquitous in the East Midlands, so the parish registers and census returns are peppered with the acronym ‘FWK’ – not a rude word but an abbreviation for ‘framework knitter’. And during the late Victorian Depression the local Curate opened up the first Gypsum mine as a job-creation scheme. Saint Gobain now owns the mines and plasterboard works.
I prefer blue plaques to those laminated lecterns that appear with local history stories or pictures of wildlife to watch out for in our parks: they look as if they’re preaching at us. But an elegant blue plaque, you can take it or leave it as you pass by. In fact, if you pass by at 30 with your eyes on the road, you’ll probably miss it. The way to take it in is on our summer evening walk from East to West Leake to visit the Pit House or Star . I’m wondering what the next plaque might be.
Have you come across blue plaques in unexpected places outside London? How about plaques commemorating your own ancestors? How did you feel about it?
Are there places you think a blue plaque ought to go up? Or people that should be remembered by one?
Since blogging this, fellow blogger Andrewskindred picked up the thread and pondered whether a kind of virtual blue plaque might take over from both the enamel disk and the laminated lectern. Here’s my response:
There are already local history apps which can tell you far more than a blue plaque or a lectern ever could about locations you are passing through. In Letchworth in 2014 I enjoyed a demonstration of such an app being developed by the Herts at War project. As we walked along Common Road, past houses that had been newly built for the construction workers of the Garden City, not long before the outbreak of war in 1914, we were told at every doorstep who had lived there, what their war record had been, whether they returned. The one that stuck in my memory was the story of a man who had survived the Armistice of 1918 but had subsequently been posted to Russia and was lost there during Peacetime. I cannot find this app advertised on the Herts at War website: it was an idea that deserved to flourish. Has it been done elsewhere?