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Saturday, 2 January 2010

The beginning

Where to begin? Where to begin? OK an explanation. I live in an historic city, Cambridge, that's the original Cambridge. We have a River Cam there are bridges hence Cambridge. Cambridge boasts a rather niggardly 11 blue plaques considering the legion of the great and the good who have lived and studied in the city, I work within spitting distance of two Blue Plaques. The Blue Plaque Scheme was initiated in 1863 by William Ewart - an advanced Liberal MP who did much to amend the list of punishments seen as worthy by the british judiciary to denote "those houses in London which have been inhabited by celebrated persons..." It's a scheme that although presently administered by English Heritage has to be initiated by members of the public nominating an individual, the arcane process of selection can take up to six years and only a third of those nominated are granted the honour of a plaque. It's been imitated across the world and I think a valid one. Its an idea that combines interests of mine a mix of history, geography and learning pointless (can any learning be pointless?) facts. So when I visit the metropolis I take my camera along and keep my eyes peeled. Its quite a exercise bringing up some amazing juxtapositions - Jimi Hendrix living next door to Handel on Brook Street and also some amazing markers of the shifting nature of British life - ain't it a shocker how many of these people were immigrants or whose parents were immigrants. (Yeah Nick Griffin I'm looking at you here!) In addition I guess I like the Blue Plaque scheme as a reaction to the modern idea of celebrity and also against recentism that very human sense that the past fades as it recedes into history - under English Heritage's aegis any candidate for blue plaquage has to have been dead for 20 years or have been born over a hundred years ago (or both) which hopefully provides a little perspective on an individuals achievements or lack thereof. And some of those Blue Plaques commemorate those who we should remember rather more readily. Do you know who Dr Ernest Jones was or what William Henry Barlow's part in the industrial revolution was? Sic Transit Gloria and all that...

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