South London Memories: Blue plaques will now feature more women

English Heritage has vowed to increase the amount of blue plaques in London edicated to women.

The move comes in response to research conducted by property rental firm Holiday Cottages, writes Rafi Mauro-Benady.

It shows 13 per cent of London’s blue plaques are dedicated to women – 137 out of 1,058, compared to 85 per cent which are dedicated to men, and 2 per cent to significant objects and buildings.

In South London, Merton has the highest proportion of plaques commemorating women – with four of its 10 plaques dedicated.

This is followed by Lambeth which has four of its 26 plaques devoted to females.
Greenwich, Croydon, and Bexley have no plaques celebrating women at all.

One explanation for this is that until very recently women were not present in public life, or even allowed to contribute to public life.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said: “The London blue plaques scheme is more than 150 years old and the dominance of plaques to men reflects a historic blindness to both the role women have played in our society and the type of roles deemed worthy of celebration.”

Margaret Lockwood was one of Britain’s biggest 1940s film stars. She was best known for her roles in The Lady Vanishes (1938) and The Wicked Lady (1945) but also enjoyed a successful stage and television career. She is celebrated with a blue plaque at her childhood home, 14 Highland Road in Upper Norwood.

She admitted that having only only 14 per cent of the total of more than 950 plaques dedicated to women is not good enough.

Her views are echoed by academics such as Professor Mary Evans from the London School of Economics’s department of gender studies.

She said the low numbers of blue plaques for women is largely due to the way in
which society traditionally measured success and fame.

She said difficulties faced by many women in entering the kind of world where people are publicly acknowledged also plays a part.

Prof Evans said: “We should look for more famous women.”

She added society should also expand its definition of how success should be measured.

She said: “It’s not just the well known who should be recorded.

“We should also look for women who have made significant but largely unacknowledged public contributions in education, health services, community work, and so on.”

English Heritage said: “In 2016 and 2018, we launched appeals calling for more nominations for remarkable women from the past; this led to an increase and since 2018, well over half of the figures shortlisted by our panel of experts have been to women.

“We are keen to build upon this increase and welcome further public nominations for women of outstanding achievement.

“Figures suggested must have been deceased for at least 20 years and have an identified London address still standing that could potentially bear a plaque.”

Professor of sociology at Goldsmith’s College Anna Carlile said plaques should also include women from wider backgrounds.

She said: “I hope those responsible for making those choices stay focused on the need not only to include more women, but to include more black, Asian and transgender people across the capital, too.”

Prof Carlile said plaques have a broader and deeper meaning than simply being marks on walls.

“Representation matters, you can’t be what you can’t see and so I think we need our young people to be able to see diverse people being celebrated as they walk around their city.

“For example, Evelyn Dove was the first black female singer on BBC Radio, and an international jazz star; Olive Morris campaigned for the rights of black people in South London, founding the Brixton Black Women’s group; and Dr John de Verdion was a trans man who emigrated to London from Berlin in the 19th century, and worked as a language teacher, book seller and secretary.

Their courage to thrive in challenging times should be recognised and celebrated.”



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