I was back up North recently, and as we were passing through Haslingden, I took the chance to see if I could find the street where my mother was brought up, which I remember from visiting my grandparents when I was very young. Finding the street proved to be relatively easy, though I could not remember which house it was. However my attention was drawn to a blue plaque on a house at the at the end, which turned out to be dedicated to Robert Scott who won a Victoria Cross in the Boer War. It turned out that he lived until 1961, and I wondered if he ever walked past me in the street whilst I was being pushed around in my pram. A bit of research revealed that it was unlikely. Haslingden was the place of his birth, but when he retired from the Army in 1923, he moved to Ireland, the birthplace of his parents and joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary a year after its formation. In 1939 he tried to rejoin the Manchester Regiment, but was rejected as being too old, but did manage to join the RAF and perform ground based security tasks. There is a lot more to discover and the Museum of the Manchester Regiment website does a great job of bringing to life the men behind the medals. Possibly because this was in my mind, I noticed that on the nearby Commercial Hotel there was also a plaque, this one commemorating a visit from Winston Churchill on his return to England after escaping from a Boer PoW. camp. In 1900, he was not yet a famous politician, and was there in his capacity as a war hero to open a Volunteers Bazaar in the town hall, although the voting for the general election was taking place at the time, and he would win his first parliamentary seat in the nearby town of Oldham.
Intrigued by these snippets I looked up to see if there are any local pubs with plaques, and discovered that the Swan Hotel in Downham has one claiming that two kings had stayed there. It is well documented that in 1646 Charles I fled from the siege of Oxford and travelled westward, stopping in Downham before putting himself in the hands of the Scottish army besieging Newark, so a stay in the Swan is clearly plausible but although King John visited in 1216 the present building had not been constructed, so any claims on his behalf are more speculative.
In Lynn, the Dukes Head has a plaque which records the frequent visits to the hotel of Sir Robert Walpole, the local MP and Prime Minister, whilst there is a plaque on 29 King Street, known as Shakespeare House which was once the Shakespeare Public House.
The former Retreat pub has a plaque commemorating the visits of Ralph Vaughn Williams during his search for English folk songs in 1905, when it was known as the Tilden Smith, and there is also one on the Bank House recounting its various uses. In all there are 59 plaques around Lynn of various colours and perhaps it would be a good idea for a tourist guide to be produced with more information and raise awareness.
In Norwich they have gone one better.
When the St Andrews Tavern changed hands, it was also re-christened. The blue plaque on the building will tell you that the building was once the premises of the hat maker Rumsey Wells, famous the world over for his ‘Doggie Caps’, and the pub now proudly bears his name.