'Infamous, not famous': School slated for plan to honour traitor

Donald Maclean, the former British diplomat, who was publicly exposed as a spy for the Russians in 1

Donald Maclean, the former British diplomat, who was publicly exposed as a spy for the Russians in 1951, although US and British intelligence agencies had long suspected him. - Credit: PA

A school's bid to erect blue plaques celebrating some of its famous former pupils has come under fire for not including enough women - and for honouring a spy who betrayed Britain.

Gresham's School, in Holt, is seeking permission to put up 25 blue plaques on the Old School House in the market place.

The project aims to "commemorate prominent Old Greshamian’s by linking them to the original building of Gresham’s School".

But the scheme has been criticised for including just one woman and Donald Maclean, one of the Cambridge Five spy ring who leaked British secrets to the Soviet Union during the Second World War and Cold War.

Holt's Gresham's School wants to put up 25 blue plaques commemorating a number of its former pupils, including, from...

Holt's Gresham's School wants to put up 25 blue plaques commemorating a number of its former pupils, including, from left, Olivia Colman, James Dyson and WH Auden. - Credit: PA/Central Press Photos

Don Birch, a North Walsham councillor, who has written to Gresham's to ask it to reconsider honouring Maclean, said the spy's inclusion "tarnished" the accomplishments of others on the list and sent the wrong message.

He said: "I was completely incensed that they are going to honour a traitor with a blue plaque - everybody else on that list is amazing."


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Mr Birch said: "The reality is he sent scores of British agents to their deaths.

"I just don't think [Gresham's] have thought it through. I don't think they should abolish him from the school's history but I don't think he should be honoured with a blue plaque. He's infamous, not famous."

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The project has also been criticised for its lack of female representation by Rosie's Plaques, a group which placed unofficial hand-made blue plaques celebrating women around Norwich in 2019.

Rosie's Plaques Credit: Supplied by Norfolk Arts Awards

Rosie's Plaques Credit: Supplied by Norfolk Arts Awards - Credit: Archant

Siobhan O'Connor, a spokesperson for the group, said: "It seems a little bit disappointing and sad that Gresham's can only come up with one woman.

"I know they have had women [at the school] for less time but it's back to the same old story of lots of white men."

Ms O'Connor said, by not including more women on the list of pupils to commemorate she felt Gresham's had missed a "golden opportunity to celebrate women".

She said: "There's a real sparsity of statues and plaques for women, not just in Norwich and Norfolk but around the country.

"This would have been a golden opportunity for them to redress the balance and be a little less backwards-looking."

The Old School House in Holt, the building is currently used by Gresham's Nursery and Pre-Prep

The Old School House in Holt, the building is currently used by Gresham's Nursery and Pre-Prep. The school is seeking permission to put 25 blue plaques commemorating former pupils on building. - Credit: Google Maps

Gresham's has been contacted for comment.

The school previously said the project was "the initial phase" of a project to recognise "high profile figures who were educated at Gresham’s" and "largely focused on the deceased and older Old Greshamians".

The school started accepting girls in 1971.


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