20 blue plaques across the East
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Royalty, authors, pop stars, suffragettes, mayors and eccentrics. All these characters and many more are remembered by blue plaques across the region, often installed on their birthplace, home, or somewhere else closely connected with their life.
There isn’t just one plaque scheme, but a host of different initiatives, run by councils, local history groups, charities and others. Criteria for who should be honoured with a plaque can vary from place to place.
The very first plaque was put up to mark poet Lord Byron’s birthplace in London in 1867, but it was later removed when the building was demolished. However, the idea caught on quickly, and now there are plaques across the country. Some are not actually blue, though, with plaques of various other colours also installed in different parts of the area.
Margery Allingham, Tolleshunt d’Arcy, Essex
East Anglia has been home to many famous writers, including Allingham (1904-1966), who is known as one of the queens of crime-writing from the Golden Age of detective stories. She is often listed together with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh as the “big four”, Allingham is best-known for her stories featuring eccentric upper-crust sleuth Albert Campion, which often take place in Essex and Suffolk.
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Allingham also wrote a book about her home village, Tolleshunt d’Arcy, during the Second World War, The Oaken Heart, although she changed the name of the village to “Auburn” in the book.
Constance Andrews, Ipswich
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Leading local suffragette Constance Andrews (born 1864) was one of four women honoured with blue plaques in the town in 2016. Ipswich Women’s Festival Group worked together with the Ipswich Society to research the women and put up the plaques, following concern over a lack of plaques celebrating the achievements of women in the town.
The plaque has been installed on Arlingtons Brasserie in Museum Street, where Constance led the 1911 Votes for Women protest against the census. About 30 women spent the night in the Old Museum Rooms to boycott the census, in a “No Vote, No Census” protest. The following week, Constance was imprisoned for a week for refusing to pay for a dog licence, as part of a national campaign against tax without a vote.
John Ball, Colchester
Colchester’s 14th-century radical priest John Ball led the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Last year saw the first “John Ball Day” held in his honour, including the unveiling of a plaque in his memory by the Bishop of Colchester and Labour peer and Essex University Chancellor Shami Chakrabarti.
The plaque was previously on the wall of a house in John Ball Walk and was removed at the request of the resident, put into store and then lost. Colchester Civic Society located it, restored it and it has now been installed in John Ball Walk.
The Beatles, Norwich
Most memorials to the world-famous group may be in their home city of Liverpool, but there is also a blue plaque to The Beatles in Norwich. This is one of a series of plaques put up by the EDP and Norwich School of Art and Design highlighting surprising aspects of our region’s cultural history. It is attached to Grosvenor House, Prince of Wales Road, in memory of their only concert in the city, at the Grosvenor Rooms.
The Fab Four played to a packed room on May 17 1963, with a queue stretching all the way back to ABC Cinema. Their fee for the performance was just £250.
Benjamin Britten, Aldeburgh and Lowestoft, Suffolk
Composer Lord Britten’s (1913-1976) name is closely associated with Aldeburgh, where he founded the famous annual festival. A blue plaque has been placed on the Crabbe Street site of Crag House in the town, where he lived and worked. This plaque was unveiled in 1978, two years after his death.
To mark Britten’s centenary in 2013, a blue plaque was also unveiled on the wall of his Lowestoft birthplace, 21 Kirkley Cliff Road on south Lowestoft seafront.
Blur, Chappel and Wakes Colne, Essex
One of the most recent events recalled by a plaque in East Anglia is the first gig by rock band Blur in 1989.
A plaque has been placed on the goods shed at the East Anglian Railway Museum’s Chappel & Wakes Colne railway station. The band was formed in Colchester, hometown of members Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon. Originally known as Seymour, they performed at a birthday party at Wakes Colne, with a maximum capacity of just 150.
They also returned 20 years later in 2009 for another gig, which quickly sold out, not surprisingly. The black plaque was installed by the Performance Rights Society for Music in 2009, as the first in a series of music plaques.
Edward Bright, Maldon, Essex
The “Fat Man of Maldon” is commemorated with a plaque on the houses where he lived and died, from 1721-1750, in the town’s High Street. A famous local character, he was a candle merchant and grocer, but was best known for his amazing size. He was said to be the fattest man in England, weighing 47.5 stone. Local folklore recalls a gamble where it was claimed that 700 men could fit into one of Bright’s waistcoats. The bet was allegedly won by getting seven men from the Dengie Hundred (a local area) to fit into the coat.
The blue plaque recalling Bright’s life was installed by the Maldon Society and Maldon District Council.
Priscilla Buxton, Cromer, Norfolk
Slavery abolitionist Priscilla Buxton (1808-1852) was one of three local figures honoured with new blue plaques in Cromer in 2017. She was a niece of prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, and shared her family’s passion for social reform. Priscilla was co-secretary of the London Female Anti-Slavery Museum. She worked closely with her father, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton.
Together with author Amelia Opie, she helped to organise the largest ever petition to abolish slavery, with 187,000 signatures, which was presented to parliament in 1832.
Her descendant, wildlife film-maker Cindy Buxton, was one of the family members at the unveiling of Priscilla’s blue plaque, which is on Cromer Town Council offices in North Lodge.
Edith Maud Cook, Ipswich
“The first woman pilot in Britain was born here, 1st September 1878.” That’s the wording on the plaque installed in honour of pioneering aviator Edith Cook at her childhood home in Fore Street, Ipswich. Edith was a balloonist and parachutist as well as being a pilot. She first took the controls of an aeroplane in France in December 1909, after travelling there to attend an aviation school near the Pyrenees. Edith completed more than 300 descents for the Spencer Brothers, balloonists and showmen. Sadly, she died after a parachute jump from a balloon in Coventry in 1910.
Edith’s plaque is one of a number installed by the Ipswich Society. Their website has details of all those they have installed around the town, as well as some installed by other organisations.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Happisburgh, Norfolk
Sherlock Holmes fans tracing scenes connected to the sleuth often travel to north-east Norfolk, to see the setting of famous story The Adventure of the Dancing Men, written in 1903.
Author Conan Doyle wrote the story during a visit to the Hill House hotel in the village. He enjoyed the atmosphere so much that he became a regular visitor to the Norfolk coast.
An EDP blue plaque recording how Conan Doyle wrote his story during a stay at the hotel was unveiled by MP Norman Lamb in 2006.
Charles Dickens, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
There are many plaques around the country recording places linked with Dickens (1812-1870), including two sites linked with his hugely popular novel Pickwick Papers. The plaque in Ipswich, installed by the Ipswich Society, is on the wall of the former Great White Horse Hotel, saying “The novelist stayed here as did his ‘Mr Pickwick’.” The hotel is the scene of one of the funniest sections of the novel, where Mr Pickwick gets in a muddle in the hotel’s corridors and ends up in the wrong bedroom.
Another plaque was unveiled in 2012 at The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds, where Dickens stayed three times, to mark the author’s bicentenary. It also launched a blue plaque heritage trail around the town.
Albert Einstein, Roughton, Norfolk
World-famous for his theory of relativity, the scientific genius once found a temporary home in a remote hut in Norfolk. After the Nazis came to power, Hitler attacked what he called Einstein’s “Jewish physics” and put a bounty of £1,000 on his head.
Einstein escaped by accepting a position at Princeton in New Jersey. But, on his way to America, he stopped off in Norfolk for a rest in September 1933, courtesy of MP Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson. Einstein stayed in a wooden hut on farmland on Roughton Heath, closely guarded in case Nazi bounty hunters came looking for him.
This dramatic episode in Einstein’s life is recalled in a plaque at the entrance of the New Inn pub, again put up by the EDP and Norwich School of Art and Design.
The story inspired Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach.
Pablo Fanque, Norwich
Pablo Fanque, whose real name was William Darby (1810-1871), was the first black British circus proprietor. He was born in Norwich, and his circus was a highly popular Victorian attraction for 30 years, with himself as a performer. His name is instantly recognisable to Beatles fans because he is mentioned in a line from the song Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite, on the famous album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The plaque in his memory is on the wall of the John Lewis department store in All Saints Green. It was erected as part of the Discover Norwich series of plaques around the city. So, as well as the plaque to The Beatles, the city also has another plaque with a unique Beatles link.
Elizabeth Fry, Norwich
Prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780 to 1845) was a member of the Quaker Gurney family who founded what became Barclays Bank. Sometimes referred to as the “angel of prisons”, she worshipped at the Friends Meeting House in the town and worked tirelessly to improve prison conditions.
Elizabeth was horrified by conditions when she visited Newgate Prison in 1813, and campaigned for changes in the law to make treatment of prisoners more humane.
She also visited prisoners and carried out a wide range of humanitarian work. The blue plaque honouring Elizabeth Fry is in Upper Goat Lane, and is one of the Norwich Lanes plaques.
Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Halesworth
One of the greatest British botanists and explorers, Hooker (1817-1911) was born in Halesworth, and succeeded his father as director of Kew Gardens. Last year, there were celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth, including exhibitions, presentations, walks and talks. There is also a Hooker trail around the town.
A stone plaque to Hooker is on the wall of Hooker House in Quay Street, where he was born. There is also a plaque to his father, Sir William Jackson Hooker. A coloured montage was also unveiled at Hooker House for the bicentenary.
T.E. Lawrence and Sir Frank Whittle, Port of Felixstowe, Suffolk
A pair of plaques was unveiled at Felixstowe port in 2010, after being installed by the Felixstowe Society in memory of two celebrated figures who were both stationed there during the 1930s. Jet pioneer Sir Frank Whittle worked at RAF Felixstowe as a seaplane test pilot. Lawrence of Arabia served as an aircraftman first class at Felixstowe in the 1930s, under the pseudonym “T.E. Shaw”, and played a key role in developing RAF high-speed rescue launches, which proved their worth during the Second World War.
King Louis Philippe I, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
A plaque on Angel Hill is one of several stone plaques which were put up in 1906/7. It records that Louis Philippe (1773-1850) stayed in the town. Louis Philippe ruled from 1830 to 1848, but was forced to abdicate in 1848. He then moved to the UK and lived in exile.
However, following the launch of the blue plaque trail in the town in 2012, local historian and Bury Society committee member Martyn Taylor revealed that Louis Philippe might never in fact have visited the town. He said there were also question marks over plaques commemorating Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe and Sir Thomas Hanmer, a speaker of the House of Commons.
John Peel, Great Finborough, Suffolk
A plaque in memory of legendary DJ John Peel (1939-2004) was unveiled by his wife, Sheila Ravenscroft, in his home village of Great Finborough in Suffolk last year. It was one of 47 plaques installed across the country to mark BBC Music Day, after the final list was whittled down from nominations made by BBC local radio listeners.
It was installed at the Pettiward Hall, where John (original name John Robert Parker Ravenscroft) was involved with helping youth groups. There is also a creative arts centre carrying John’s name in nearby Stowmarket. Mrs Ravenscroft said at the unveiling: “It is such a brilliant way to honour him. It is really rather nice, and I will pass it several times a day with a smile.”
Wallis Simpson, Felixstowe, Suffolk
The most famous ‘resident’ of Felixstowe was Wallis Simpson (1896-1986), later the Duchess of Windsor, who lived in the town for just six weeks in 1936 while waiting for her divorce at Ipswich Assizes. Edward VIII used to visit her there, with his plane landing at Brackenbury Cliffs.
The then Mrs Simpson hated Beach House, the five-bedroom seafront house where she stayed, However, the Felixstowe Society has put up a plaque to mark the spot where the house once stood in Undercliff Road East.
Jane Taylor and Ann Taylor, Colchester
Sisters Jane and Anne Taylor wrote a collection of poems for children, and the plaque describes them as “Authors of ‘Original Poems for Infant Minds etc’.
However, they are now best-known for the song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, which was written by Jane. The plaque was installed by the then Corporation of Colchester on the houses where they lived in West Stockwell Street from 1796-1811.
Jane and her sister Ann previously lived at Lavenham in Suffolk before moving to Colchester.
Campaign to get a blue plaque for dancer
While many interesting and influential characters across the region have been celebrated with blue plaques, there are some who have as yet missed out.
A campaign was launched last year to get a plaque put up in Norwich to honour Vernon Castle, the city-born father of modern dancing and First World War flying ace who was killed while training pilots in America in 1918.
Vernon (original surname Blyth) and his wife Irene were portrayed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a 1930s movie. Norfolk historian Philip Yaxley has described them as “perhaps the first showbiz superstars the world had ever seen.”
Vernon does have a room in the Millennium Library named after him, but Mr Yaxley said last year: “We should have a more visible reminder of a great son of Norwich.”
He has called for a plaque to be installed at the Premier Inn Norwich Nelson, where the young Vernon lived with his family, at the Great Eastern Hotel in Foundry Bridge.
Mr Yaxley said that Whitbread has now agreed in principle to the plaque being on the Nelson Norwich Premier Inn, and the Regal Experience, the Wymondham classic film group, has agreed to fund it.
Vernon’s half-nephew, who holds his Croix de Guerre and lives in Kent, is also willing to contribute.
Norwich City Council is also supporting the campaign to finally put up a plaque to remember and honour the dancing airman who, although he was a huge star in America, never forgot his Norfolk roots. Hopefully the ceremony will take place later this year.