Blue Plaque

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Finding your way round Chester isn't that difficult, and there is much helpful signage to help identify routes and locations, as well as to give some information on local history. However, the signage has accumulated over very many years and there is a possibly bewildering variety of styles. This page is a brief guide to what sort of signs and waymarks can be found in Chester, with some links to where further information can be found (especially in this wiki).

"Fake" Blue Plaques are easy to generate.

A blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person, event, or former building on the site, serving as a historical marker. The term is used in the United Kingdom in two different senses. It may be used narrowly and specifically to refer to the "official" scheme administered by English Heritage, and currently restricted to sites within Greater London; or it may be used less formally to encompass a number of similar schemes administered by organisations throughout the UK. The "official" scheme traces its origins to that launched in 1866 in London, on the initiative of the politician William Ewart, to mark the homes and workplaces of famous people.

The "genuine" blue plaques are never made of metal, but are ceramic, two inches thick and handmade by master ceramicists in Cornwall. Funded solely by donations, they cost almost £4,000 each to make and install. For the "official plaques" a panel of historians meets three times a year to decide, from the hundreds of suggestions from the public, which should be shortlisted, and months are spent researching each person’s eminence and genuine association with the property in question, in order to whittle the shortlist down to about ten a year. There’s no law against any of putting up a blue plaque wherever you like, as long as the owner of the property agrees and it’s not against planning regulations.

Various other "blue plaque" schemes generally copy the English Heritage format with white lettering on a blue ground, although some of those in Chester have a white portion at the top.

There is other "informative" signage in Chester. These sometime feature hilarious errors - the "best" example being that at Parker's Buildings which swaps around the images of Parker and Douglas. Even where there are errors the signage is a useful and often very effective way of communicating aspects of the history of a locale as opposed to other methods such as leaflets or websites. Physical signage has the advantage over web-based information that it can be accessed without doing anything other than walking past and noticing it. In many ways these physical signs are a natural successor to the "coats of arms" which adorn many buildings in Chester. Compared with other cities Chester probably has significantly more "signage" than many. The city also has a "Wayfinding and Signage Strategy" based on two main themes: "Chester and the River Dee" and "Same space, different place".

The suggestion has been made to renew much of the signage so as to have a consistent style. However, that might detract from some of the more "quirky" features of some of the signage, which often says something of the time at which it was put up, and the views which were held at those times.

"Blue Plaques" in Chester

A series of cast metal blue plaques are located around the city. Many of these concentrate on buildings and other structures rather than on people and events. The styles and colours of these "blue plaques" vary considerably. As for people there are some ommissions, but often because the building where the person lived has vanished - the artist Louise Rayner being one notable example.

Eastgate Street

Bridge Street

Watergate Street

Northgate Street

Other Blue Plaques

Miscellaneous Signs (some of which are wrong)

As noted above there is some "history" signage in Chester other than the "blue plaques". Unfortunately, such signage needs to be quite robust as it is sometime vandalised. Such signage of of considerable benefit to both residents and visitors although little may be added in the near future given the possible use of GPS-related software on mobile devices. However, signage itself may become a "historic" artifact, sometimes preserving a view of the past which has changed. Sometimes, mistakes made in the signage may become curiousities in themseleves, as in the example of the signage at "Parker's Buildings" on Foregate Street which has the images of John Douglas and Cecil Parker swapped around: somewhat ironic as the two did not get on. Other errors may creep in because of later revisions of history: an example being updates from archaeology such as the dating of various parts of the City Walls.

Information boards do not only include the "official" ones set up by the local council. There are several plaques and boards around Chester set up by the Institue of Civil Engineers and others. There are also some even less official boards which have been installed when various premises were refurbished.

One extensive series of markers ate those used by the Millennium festival trail along which each site is celebrated with its own unique "way-marker", created by artist Michael Johnson. These are generally set in the pavement and are made of bronze and enameled. There are also some coin-sized "arrow" markers set into the pavement which are supposed to provide a guide from one "millennium" marker to the next, but these can be incredibly difficult to spot even if you know what they are supposed to be.

As well as modern "information signs" there are also some older ones. These can be quite hard to spot and in some cases difficult to read. Almost at the back of St Olave, in St Olave Street is a stone slab notifying us that the church benefited from "Queen Anne's Bounty"; and, tucked into a corner between Commonhall Street and Whitefriars is a plaque marking the site of some Roman remains.

Gallery of signs and waymarks

Some of the signage has its own associated story. One good example is the stone plaque on the "Recorder's Steps". This informs us that the steps were built in 1700 for the convenience of Roger Comberbach, who was "Recorder" of the city. However, the date carved into the stone is wrong as the steps were built in c.1720-22, at least a year after Comberbach died in 1719. The plaque was errected much later and may have taken its information from one of the early guidebooks on Chester. As regards the steps, these read like a game of "Chinese Whispers", with each guidebook copying the previous one and slightly changing some fact until the actual history became quite distorted.

Another example of a story behind a marker is the that at the Chester Electric Lighting Station. The building had been due to be demolished after "planners" originally decided the Electric Lighting Station in New Crane Street was not worth saving as part of The Old Port redevelopment. The "Canal Basin Community Forum" collected hundreds of names for a petition and were eventually successful in seeing a part of the facade preserved in 1999. The campaign to preserve the building facade is briefly mentioned on the signage and more can be found on the Virtual Stroll website.

Quick Recognition ("QR") codes made an appearance in Chester as signage in 2011, when tourism body "Visit England" trialed their use in Leicester, Shrewsbury, Chester, Rochester and Rutland. The QR codes were linked to online text, audio and video about specific locations. In Chester the technology provided an insight into the city's Roman past, as well as nearby shopping opportunities. No doubt the signage and waymarkers in Chester will continue to evolve, especially as developments in technology allow markers and signs to be linked to other sources of information, both about what the marker relates to and often the equally interesting reasons as to why the marker was put there at all.

Sources and links

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