English Heritage blue plaques to tell working class stories

English Heritage has announced its 2022 plans, which include the reopening of three important historic sites.

17 February 2022

A women’s suffrage organisation, Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener and a mostly self-taught physicist are among those to be commemorated with blue plaques this year.

English Heritage said it aims to tell the stories of London’s working class with its 2022 awards, as it also announced the restoration and transformation of what it described as three of the country’s most important historic sites.

The organisation’s chief executive said the focus for the year ahead will be on “bringing history to life”, as they invest millions of pounds in conservation projects and celebrating the 1,900th anniversary of the start of the building of Hadrian’s Wall.

The Roman fort at Richborough in Kent
The Roman fort at Richborough in Kent will reopen in the autumn (English Heritage/PA)

A York landmark, a historic house in west London and a Roman fort in Kent will all reopen later this year after significant refurbishment works, English Heritage said.

Following a £5 million project to conserve and transform the interior of 800-year-old Clifford’s Tower in York, it will reopen in April, with some hidden rooms being opened for the first time since the site was gutted by fire in 1684.

National Lottery funding has helped restore a historic house at Marble Hill in Twickenham, west London, and its all-but-lost garden, for reopening in May, while a refurbished museum at Richborough Roman fort and amphitheatre in Kent will display previously unseen artefacts from the site from the autumn.

Among the blue plaques are one marking the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies’ headquarters in Westminster during the run-up to the Representation of the People Act 1918.

A plaque will also be installed at the former home in Camden, north London, of physicist, mathematician and electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside, who English Heritage said was almost entirely self-taught, having left school at 16.

They praised his “extraordinary achievements in the theory of wired and wireless telecommunciations technology” which they said were achieved “without the benefits of educational or social privilege, and in spite of having been left almost entirely deaf by scarlet fever suffered in childhood”.

Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener, Fanny Wilkinson, will have a plaque unveiled at her former home in Bloomsbury, central London, and the site of the famous match girls’ strike of 1888 at the former Bryant and May factory in Bow, east London, will also be marked.

Anna Eavis, curatorial director and secretary of the English Heritage blue plaques panel, said: “Many of the stories we are telling this year are those of London’s working class.”

She added: “I am particularly excited by the match girls’ plaque. This strike, organised by a group of impoverished young women, mostly between 15 and 20 years old, holds such an important place in the history of unionised labour and the women’s movement as a whole.”

Kate Mavor, English Heritage chief executive, said there will be “something for everyone” this year.

She said: “This year we’re focusing on what we do best: bringing history to life for millions of people.

“English Heritage cares for the nation’s incredible and inspiring collection of historic sites and in 2022 we’re excited to be opening up even more of them and sharing more of their stories.

“We’re using new design to transform a York landmark, displaying previously unseen treasures from our collection, celebrating the Romans as well as bringing a Georgian villa in London back to life.

“In short, there’s something for everyone this year at English Heritage.”

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