Blue plaques and what they mean for a property owner

31 January 2022

Blue plaques can be found on buildings throughout London marking where prominent historical figures have lived and worked. The scheme was founded in 1866 and is now run by English Heritage. Similar schemes are run outside of London by local authorities and organisations. English Heritage requires that a plaque is only erected if the person had a close association with a building. Nearly 1,000 plaques can be found throughout Greater London. From 1965, the well-known blue circular plaque has been used but there have been various designs and colours used in the past [1].

Erection of a plaque: English Heritage has an application process for proposals of new blue plaques. There are standard criteria and proposals are considered by a panel of experts. That being said, the owner of a building ultimately holds the decision as to whether a plaque is erected. For example, a plaque erected in 1937 at Karl Marx’s property in Chalk Farm was frequently damaged and replaced. The owner of the property rejected a third plaque [2]. The erection of a plaque affects the structure of a building and so if a proposal is made in respect of your property, your written consent must be obtained before the plaque can be put in place.

Responsibility for and significance of a plaque: As a plaque becomes a part of a building, it can be seen that the property owner is responsible for its maintenance. However, often in practice, the group who arranged a plaque’s installation deals with this and will upkeep the plaque for you. Although a plaque could bring with it maintenance responsibilities, because of their historical significance, plaques can also be seen to create more attraction towards a property due to the story they bring with them. According to English Heritage, plaques do not create any legal protection for a property but can help to raise awareness of its historical significance and in turn help to preserve it. 

Building works that affect a plaque: You may wish to alter your property or demolish the whole or part of your property in a way that will affect a plaque. Planning authorities may, but are not under an obligation to, take the plaque into consideration when approving your plans. If works are to take place which affect the existing location of the plaque, it will usually be moved to another part of your building. The organisation who deals with installation and maintenance of the plaque will most likely deal with its removal and re-erection. If your building is entirely demolished, there is no longer a link between the person and the property in question. In this case, the plaque could be re-installed on the new building, perhaps noting the previous building that stood on the site, or it may be moved to another building which is linked to that person. 

Removal of a plaque: More recently, a question has been raised regarding whether a plaque can be removed if it points to connections with slavery, colonialism or racism. English Heritage set up a working group in 2016 aiming to bring more diversity and equality to the blue plaque scheme. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, which saw protestors seeking to remove statues and similar structures depicting historical figures linked to the slave trade, English Heritage have stated that they are reviewing plaques as part of their working group initiative but have no specific plans to remove any [3].  A plaque is of course a part of your building but it nevertheless remains important to engage with the organisation that installed and/or maintains the plaque before taking action, and to ensure careful removal so that no damage is caused to either your building or the plaque.

About the author

Katie is an Associate in the Real Estate team specialising in residential property, having joined the firm in June 2020.

Katie has a wide range of real estate experience, including both contentious and transactional matters. Katie has acted for developers and housebuilders, corporate investors, and high net worth individuals.


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