Looking at 20 more of East Anglia’s blue plaques and the stories they tell
PUBLISHED: 11:30 30 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:30 30 April 2018
Archant Norfolk © 2014
Once you start to think about blue plaques, you find yourself spotting them everywhere. Many towns and villages in East Anglia have a fascinating selection of plaques in memory of interesting individuals, long-lost landmarks or important local events.
Despite being widely known as “blue” plaques, they come in many different colours.
Following on from our previous feature about 20 plaques in the area, Paul Davies, chairman of Great Yarmouth Local History and Archaeological Society (GYLHAS) got in touch to highlight the 86 blue plaques which have been installed in the town over recent years.
He said: “Commemorative plaques are an excellent way to identify historic buildings and historical associations, which might not otherwise be evident. They appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds, both to residents and visitors alike.
“It is clear that in the borough of Great Yarmouth, the blue plaques have captured the public imagination and, perhaps, have increased local pride. Some of the public go on a ‘Blue Plaque Trail’ with their cameras and the more ardent do further research.”
The society has published two books on the plaques. The first book is sold out, but the second book is available from Cobholm Miniatures, 14 Broad Road, Great Yarmouth, open from Wednesday to Saturday.
Our latest selection of plaques starts with a look at some in Great Yarmouth, before moving on to other towns in the area.
Jack Cardiff, Great Yarmouth
This legendary cinematographer and director, who lived from 1914 to 2009, was the son of music hall entertainers in Great Yarmouth, and had a career spanning more than 50 years.
After starting as an actor in the silent era, he went on to become a camera operator and then a cinematographer. He was best-known for his stunning colour photography, for films ranging from A Matter of Life and Death and other films directed by Powell and Pressburger to John Huston’s The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.
He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2001. A plaque in memory of Jack Cardiff was unveiled at his birthplace, 2 Standard Place, in 2014, to mark his centenary.
Captain Charles Pearson and Emma Maria Pearson, Great Yarmouth
A brave father and daughter are commemorated with two plaques on their former residence in South Quay, both installed in 2012. Captain Pearson was born in London in 1784 and served under Admiral Nelson. He was the mayor of Great Yarmouth during troubled times and in 1851 he read the Riot Act to striking seamen of the town.
His daughter, Emma Maria Pearson (1828-1893), was the first Red Cross nurse to work in a war zone, and received medals from both sides for her work running field ambulances during the Franco-Prussian war. She was also a writer and novelist.
Body-Snatchers, Great Yarmouth
While many plaques might highlight the great and the good of our region, this unusual plaque in Great Yarmouth is quite the opposite!
It commemorates the crimes of Thomas Vaughan, who snatched at least 10 bodies from the St Nicholas’ Churchyard in 1827, sent them to London and sold them for dissection by surgeons. This plaque, on the railings of St Nicholas Church near the main gate, was put up in 2011.
Roger Crompton Notcutt, Woodbridge, Suffolk
A blue plaque was unveiled last year at the former Suffolk home of the founder of Notcutts Garden Centres, celebrating 120 years since the company was established in the town. The plaque is on the front of The Old House in Cumberland Street, where the founder lived for almost 30 years, which is now Notcutts’ offices.
Roger Crompton Notcutt founded the company in 1897 after doctors advised him to pursue an outdoor life, due to ill health. In 1934, he presented the National Trust with four acres of woodland at Kyson Hill, overlooking the river Deben, to be preserved in perpetuity.
Edward FitzGerald, Woodbridge
One of the most famous residents of Woodbridge was poet Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883), who translated the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a selection of poems originally written in Persian.
Born in the nearby village of Bredfield, FitzGerald spent all his adult life in Suffolk. The Woodbridge Society put up a plaque in his honour at his former home in Little Grange, Pytches Road, in 2009, as one of a set of eight. Other plaques included tributes to Norman Heatley, a pioneer in the production of penicillin and anti-slavery campaigner John Clarkson.
Pilot Cinema, King’s Lynn
Not all commemorative plaques are blue, and King’s Lynn has a large number of green plaques, many of which tell the story of historic buildings or recall former buildings.
One of these, in Keeble Court, marks the former site of the Pilot Cinema, from 1938-1983. The plaque, donated by King’s Lynn Civic Society in 2014, includes a detailed description of the cinema’s history. It recalls how it was launched by “colourful local character” Ben Culey, and opened with Walt Disney’s Snow White, while the final film shown there was Gandhi.
Samuel Cresswell, King’s Lynn
A grey plaque on Bank House Hotel in King Staithe’s Square pays tribute to Arctic explorer Samuel Gurney Cresswell (1827-1867), who was born there. A Royal Navy officer, Captain Cresswell was the first Naval officer to cross the entire Northwest Passage, the sea route linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Canadian Arctic Islands.
He took part in two search missions to try to find explorer Sir John Franklin, who had disappeared while trying to chart the famous Passage. Cresswell was the grandson of prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. The plaque in his memory was put up by King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council.
Dodie Smith, Finchingfield and Sudbury
A pair of plaques in north Essex and west Suffolk record a surprising connection with classic children’s book and Disney favourite The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Dodie Smith (1896-1990) wrote the famous tale in 1956, calling the dog hero after her own pet, Pongo.
Author Dodie Smith, whose full name was Dorothy Gladys Smith, had a home in the village of Finchingfield, near Braintree, and played host to Walt Disney there when he visited her to arrange the animation deal for the famous book. A plaque was unveiled there in 2010.
Dodie Smith frequently visited Sudbury, and included a mention of the town in her story, telling how Pongo and the Dalmatians paused as they crossed the bridge into town. A plaque featuring this passage is on the old water fountain at Market Hill.
Lady Eve Balfour and Alice Debenham, Haughley, Suffolk
Two pioneers of organic food received recognition when a blue plaque was unveiled at Haughley, near Stowmarket, in 2013. Lady Evelyn “Eve” Balfour and Alice Debenham launched the Haughley Experiment, the first scientific comparison of organic and chemical-based farming, in 1939.
Four years later, Lady Balfour published the organics classic, The Living Soil. The women’s work led to the founding of the Soil Association in 1946, which now supports more than 4,000 producers. Their plaque, which was funded by Aspall Cyder, is at the original headquarters of the Soil Association, at Walnut Tree Manor.
Bath Hotel Suffragette Arson, Felixstowe
Many memories of suffragettes and their campaigning are being recalled this year, marking the 100th anniversary of most British women getting the vote in 1918. Two suffragettes, Evaline Hilda Burkitt and Florence Olivia Tunks, were convicted of arson after burning down the Bath Hotel in Felixstowe in 1914.
A century on, the event was commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque, put up by the Felixstowe Society, in 2014, on the front wall of Cautley House. Local author Dick Moffat wrote a book about the women, A View of Felixstowe from the Bath.
Mary Whitmore, Ipswich
The first woman mayor of Ipswich, Mary Whitmore was one of four women commemorated with blue plaques in the town in 2016. This was part of a project to honour women who have helped shape the town by Ipswich Women’s History Group, working alongside the Ipswich Society and Ipswich Borough Council.
Mary Whitmore served as the town’s first female mayor from 1946-47, and was seen as a champion for women’s suffrage and public health. She was honoured with an MBE in 1951 for her contribution to public services. The plaque in her memory is above the entrance to Ipswich Town Hall.
Lady Ellenor Fenn and Sir John Fenn, Dereham, Norfolk
Pioneering 18th-century educator Lady Ellenor Fenn (1743-1813) was honoured in 2013 with the unveiling of a blue plaque at her former Norfolk home.
Born at Westhorpe in Suffolk, she was a writer of children’s books and an important early advocate of child-centred education.
Her plaque, at Hill House in Dereham, is alongside the plaque dedicated to her husband. Sir John Fenn is famous for transcribing, editing and publishing the Paston Letters, the largest collection of private correspondence and documents surviving from the Middle Ages.
Dr Ruth Bensusan-Butt, Colchester
Colchester’s first female doctor was commemorated with a plaque in 2016, on the front of the Minories in Colchester, where she lived and worked from 1915 to 1957. Dr Bensusan-Butt (1877-1957) trained in London and moved to Colchester in 1910.
She was a Fabian and a suffragist, who was involved in a number of areas in Colchester, including a role in setting up the town’s first maternity hospital.
Rosemary Jewers, from Colchester Civic Society, said at the time of the unveiling: “Besides doing her best for her patients – she is remembered as a very forthright, formidable, rather frightening, GP but one who was prepared to move mountains if the need arose.”
Frank Daniell, Colchester
One of the most prominent blue plaques in Colchester is the one to artist and portrait painter Frank Daniell, on East Hill, recording that he lived both there and in the High Street. The artist is best-known for his works picturing mayors and prominent people in the town. Colchester Civic Society unveiled the plaque in 2014, the society’s 50th anniversary year.
Daniell also painted landscapes and travelled around Europe painting church interiors. Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service has 22 of his paintings.
The Wild Man, Norwich
A plaque on a city-centre Norwich pub tells the strange story of how it may have got its name.
The plaque, on the pub in Bedford Street, says: “The Wild Man pub is thought to commemorate Peter the Wild Boy (c.1711-1785), a feral child who was, for a time, kept by King George I as a curiosity. In 1751 he mysteriously turned up in Norwich and was briefly imprisoned in the Bridewell as a vagrant before being returned to his guardians in Berkhampstead in Hertfordshire.” This is one of the Norwich Lanes blue plaques.
Thomas Paine, Thetford, Norfolk
One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Thomas Paine (1737 to 1809) is famed as the author of The Rights of Man, and as inspiring the rebels to declare independence from Britain in 1776.
As well as a statue to Paine in the town centre, there is also a green plaque on the Thomas Paine Hotel in White Hart Street. It records how Paine played an important role in the French Revolution and also in American politics, and is regarded as a hero in America.
Jenny Lind, Norwich
Musical and social history are combined in the green plaque in Pottergate, Norwich, in memory of the “Swedish nightingale”, famous opera singer Johanna Maria Lind (1820-87), better known as Jenny. She donated money raised from her concerts in Norwich in the 1840s, and the plaque is on the original site of the infirmary for sick children which she established in 1853.
It was transferred to Unthank Road in 1900 and later became the Jenny Lind Children’s Hospital, within the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Norwich was only the second city in the country to have a children’s hospital, thanks to the famous singer’s generosity.
Joseph Priestley, Needham Market, Suffolk
Famous scientist and dissenting clergyman Dr Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) is usually credited with discovering oxygen, although there are also rival claimants.
He is remembered with a blue plaque in Needham Market, which was his first parish, from 1755-58. According to his biographer, Robert Schofield, Priestley yearned for urban life, but he did present a series of scientific lectures about use of globes during his time in Suffolk. The plaque is on the wall of Christchurch, in the High Street.
Rose Mead, Bury St Edmunds
Artist Rose Mead (1867-1946) was one of seven people honoured by a new plaque when Bury St Edmunds’ blue plaque trail was launched in 2012 by the Bury Society.
The plaque is in Crown Street, where she had her studio. Mead studied in London and Paris and was a colleague of Augustus John and she painted landscapes, street scenes and still lifes as well as portraits. There is also a plaque in Bury to fellow artist Sybil Andrews, who gave her name to the town’s Sybil Andrews Academy.
Sex Pistols and The Clash, West Runton, Norfolk
Punk bands might be an unusual theme for a blue plaque, but they are celebrated in one installed at West Runton, in between Cromer and Sheringham.
The local pub, The Village Inn, has a plaque on its wall remembering former venue the West Runton Pavilion. The plaque recalls how West Runton Pavilion “hosted concerts by legendary pop, rock and punk artists from Chuck Berry, T-Rex and Black Sabbath to the Sex Pistols and the Clash, before its demolition in 1986.” This plaque was erected by the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich School of Art & Design.
Call to honour strike school couple with plaque
Following our previous article about blue plaques, reader Pauline Crowe suggested that there should be a plaque in Burston, near Diss in Norfolk, to honour Annie and Tom Higdon.
She wrote: “I wonder if there could be a blue plaque put on the school where they taught, the strike school or the cottage where they lived, in Burston. They were active socialists and the Burton Strike School Rally takes place every September to commemorate their work and the longest strike in history.”
The school was at the centre of the longest-running strike in British history, between 1914 and 1939.
The strike started when local teachers Annie and Tom Higdon were sacked following a dispute with the area’s school management committee, after they refused to let children leave school to help with the harvest.
Parents supported the couple and refused to send children to the official county school, in preference to sending them to the Burston Strike School which was set up as an alternative.
Although there may be no blue plaque to the couple, the Burston Strike School is now a museum, and secretary to the trustees Shaun Jeffery said: “The school itself is a memorial to them and the public involvement.”
He said everyone coming to Buxton visited the school to learn more about the strike, and large numbers came to the annual rally.
The strike school displays the original plaque which carries the names of all the original strikers. These were the scholars who refused to attend the council school and went to the strike school.