What is Open Plaques?
Open Plaques is 'the museum of the street'.
It is a community-based project started in 2009 which documents, catalogues and promotes commemorative plaques (often blue and round) installed on buildings and other public landmarks in the UK and beyond.
The service brings the people-powered history that plaques encapsulate to life - and to a larger audience - by making its website and database the definitive and most comprehensive resource about these historical markers. In turn, the data and resources produced by the project aim for wide distribution and re-use, and are available for free to all under a Public Domain declaration.
As well as telling you where they are, we aim to tell you who is commemorated on them, what those people are notable for, and what their connection is with the places where their plaques are installed. We've been able to uncover this data through a process of automatic natural language parsing and painstaking research by our team of volunteer co-curators (if you spot a mistake, tell us).
We've gathered the data from a small number of the known organisations which have established and maintain plaque schemes globally. As the plaques by their very nature are public information, we're keen for more organisations to share their plaque data so it can be included, forming a complete database and a unified map of the plaques' locations. Please get in touch if you'd like your plaques to be included.
You can also get more regular updates and stories about the project on our blog or leave a comment there.
How can you add plaques and photos?
Individuals can add plaque listings and information directly to the site, and add photos to the listings via Flickr or by emailing them to us. When adding photos via Flickr, change your photo license to Creative Commons, add the relevant plaque ID to the photo's tags and make sure that you un-check the 'hidden from search' setting. See our Contribute page and Flickr instructions blog post for more details on this.
The service and the data are in constant development. If any member of the public knows of any plaques not listed in our database (try searching the site first), we'd love to hear about them, or better still make your mark and add them to the website!
What kind of plaques can be contributed?
Our focus is plaques that connect a specific location (eg. a building) to people or events from the past, and we also feature plaques that commemorate notable buildings, due to their historic nature or the architect who designed them.
The purpose of collecting the plaques is to uncover the direct history of places. General plaques not denoting anything specific from history, and also memorial plaques to people or events that have no connection to the immediate vicinity of the plaque fall outside our remit. Plaques erected primarily to denote the opening of buildings and businesses are also beyond the scope of the service, as are ones solely noting a burial site or grave.
If you're not sure if your plaque meets the criteria of Open Plaques, email us the text of the plaque inscription or a copy of any photo you have, or send us a link to the photo if you have already published it online, and we'll let you know.
RSA Catalyst Fund support
In 2010 Open Plaques received a Catalyst Fund seed funding grant from the RSA to run an event which would further the development of our website as an open source community that supports education and learning purposes. The Open Plaques Open Day which followed was generously hosted at the Centre for Creative Collaboration in London on 25th September 2010.
Projects using Open Plaques data
- plaque data has been added to Findery
- An Open Plaques iPhone app produced by Radical Robot.
- "Digital Heritage 2013: Interfaces with the Past" at York University
- A Blue Plaques - London and United Kingdom iPhone app produced by Jason Dunne
- A Kindle ebook London's Blue Plaques in a Nutshell by Bill McCann.
- The Histonauts2 game - a digital treasure hunt to map the urban past, held as part of Manchester Histories Festival 2012
- Digital Traces and Physical Places Tweasure Hunt community event held as part of Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival on 1st April 2012
- The CultureCode Hack, Newcastle 2012
- An open challenge to produce Optical Character Reading software as part of the AI Cookbook
- WhereCamp EU 2011, Berlin
- PlaceWhisper, an iPhone app (forthcoming)
- History Hackday 2011, held at the offices of The Guardian in London, UK
- Data to load into a TomTom satnav
- Over the Air 2010
- Five Pound App #22 2010
Email us if you've used the data, even if just for an unpublished hack, we love to hear about your successes.
We are always happy to chat about plaques and have been featured in
- The Sunday Times Property Section
- BBC's Mark Forrest Radio Programme
- BBC News web site article Famous faces: Do places rush to honour their celebrity sons and daughters?
How to get a new plaque put up
We get a number of enquiries about getting a plaque put up. We don't create any ourselves (yet) but are the worldwide register for plaques.
Anyone can erect a plaque as long as they have the building owner's permission, it isn't a listed building, and are prepared to pay for it to be made. Check your local area to see whether the local council or civic society has an active plaque program and approach them with your nomination. Alternatively, there may be a national society that might be interested. Or you can go it alone. Many people have.
We have a short list of suppliers that we can recommend if you contact us. If you do go ahead please say that we sent you as one day we might want to make when ourselves.