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Out of the blue

The family of makers behind London's famous blue plaques

London’s famous Blue Plaques celebrate their 150th anniversary this year. According to English Heritage, which took over running the scheme in 1986, they ‘celebrate the architecture of London’s streets and the diversity and achievements of its past residents’.

The idea was first proposed in 1863 in the House of Commons by William Ewart and was later backed by the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts). The earliest plaques were made by Minton, Hollins & Co. However, the blue ceramic that has become so familiar wasn’t used as standard until 1921 – before then they had also been made from bronze, stone and lead. In 1938 an unnamed student at Central School of Arts and Crafts came up with the modern design.

English Heritage aims to install 12 plaques a year and, since 1984, they have all been made by the Ashworth family – comprising husband-and-wife team Frank and Sue and their son Justin – from their Cornwall workshop. Their company, aptly called London Plaques, has created over 200 blue plaques celebrating such figures as John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Alfred Hitchcock.

For those interested in finding out more about their process we heartily recommend a beguiling short film from Huck magazine that captures the family discussing their life making together. Our favourite scene shows Sue leaning over her son as he works, explaining emphatically but tenderly (as only a mother can) exactly where he is going wrong. ‘If you’re working with family it’s the nature of the beast that you’re going to have criticism or interference,’ he concludes.