The Wakefield Civic Society Blue Plaque Scheme
There are a few myths about ‘blue plaques. Contrary to what you might think, there’s no national blue plaque scheme. Anyone can put up a blue plaque and all sorts of organisations and individuals do so – including local councils, civic societies and Rotary clubs, for example. You don’t usually need permission to put a plaque on your own property (although it’s worth checking with your local council, particularly if you want to put a plaque on a listed building as some councils require you to apply for Listed Building Consent). Perhaps most interesting, not all ‘blue plaques’ are blue!
Strictly speaking, when we talk about ‘blue plaques’, what we are talking about are commemorative plaques – plaques of any colour, shape or size used to commemorate the life of an individual (or individuals), or a particular event from the past, or to tell the story of a building with an interesting history. Sometimes, a plaque might link a number of these themes together – for example, drawing attention to a building at which a certain event happened that was attended by noteworthy people.
The first blue plaques were put up in London in 1866. There are now over 900 of these distinctive, circular blue plaques in the capital and it is thought that this is the oldest ‘blue plaque’ scheme in the world. Today, the scheme is run by English Heritage who took over responsibility for it in 1986 but it is restricted to London. However, the success of the London scheme has inspired many others and it is perhaps not surprising that many schemes follow the lead set by the one in London by choosing to use circular blue plaques with white lettering but you will see plaques in black, red, green and brown, for example and in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Wakefield Civic Society started putting up blue plaques in 1995 and we have gone on to put up nearly 50 blue plaques in and around the city. There are a handful of plaques put up by others but the Civic Society’s scheme is now seen as the main scheme in Wakefield and it is to the Society that people tend to submit nominations for new blue plaques.
When someone comes to us with an idea for a blue plaque, we first of all have to consider whether or not the person, event or building being put forward is suitable: we don’t, for example, usually put up plaques to commemorate notoriety! And we are selective about which buildings and which associations we mark with a blue plaque – some buildings might, for example, have had connections with a number of famous people and events, so we have to make sure that we are commemorating the most appropriate story as we cannot festoon buildings with multiple plaques. Once we are happy that the nomination is sound, we then have to obtain permission from the owner of the property where we want to put the plaque and, if the building is listed, we have to approach the council to obtain Listed Building Consent. Finally, there is the not inconsiderable matter of how to pay for the plaque – as a small charity, the Society cannot afford to pay for all the plaques on our list of nominations so we have to seek funding for each one we do (approximately £400 per plaque). We receive quite a few nominations each year so it tends to be the ones that come with an offer of funding behind them. You can find out more about how to make a nomination for a blue plaque on our website – https://www.wakefieldcivicsociety.org.uk/
The Nellie Spindler Nomination
It was back in 2011 that we first became aware of the Nellie Spindler story. One of our guest speakers, local resident Janet Miller, who had been in nursing herself, came to talk to our members about her collection of nursing memorabilia. Janet told us about what had happened to Nellie and suggested that we consider putting up a blue plaque to her. As with other nominations, we added Nellie to our list – which is where she stayed until 2017, the 100th anniversary of her death.
Our interest in the ‘Nellie story’ was rekindled when two of our members, Lesley and Brendan Harrison, returned from holiday to say that they had visited Nellie’s grave at the Commonwealth war graves cemetery at Lijssenthoek in Belgium and pointed out to us that it was such a remarkable story that, given it was the centenary of her death, now would be a good time to put up a plaque – but where should we put it?
An online search revealed that there are three addresses in Wakefield associated with the Spindler family: 90 Carlton Street (where Nellie was born in 1891, and 74 Cleaver Place and 104 Stanley Road where the family moved as Nellie was growing up.
The house at Carlton Street has long since been demolished – it’s now a commercial site. Similarly, the house at 104 Stanley Road has been demolished – the area was redeveloped sometime in the 1960s with council flats above a parade of shops. One of those flats is number 104 Stanley Road, but, clearly, it’s not the place where Nellie and her family lived and it’s not quite in the right spot either (although very close to the original house). So that left 74 Cleaver Place – could we find it and use that for the plaque?
Now, I’ve lived in Wakefield all my life and I’d not heard of it. I looked at various old maps of Wakefield and I couldn’t find it. In the end, I made an appeal for information on Facebook where there is a page (the Wakefield Historical Appreciation Site) dedicated to memories and photos of Wakefield. Fortunately, someone responded – Anne-Marie McFarlane came forward to tell me that she used to live at 106 Stanley Road, one of a terrace of six houses that had been called Cleaver Place! Yes, it looked as if the houses on Stanley Road had at some point been renumbered and 74 Cleaver Place was actually the same house as 104 Stanley Road! Anne-Marie had grown up in the house next door to where the Spindler family had lived, although long after the Spindler family had gone.
So, we needed to find out where Nellie’s family home had been. It turned out that the parade of shops that now stands in Stanley Road was built more or less where the back gardens to Cleaver Place would have been and that the current car park in front of the shops is where the houses would have stood. As it happened, the properties are today owned and managed by WDH (Wakefield District Housing) and an approach to them for permission to put up a plaque was viewed favourably – and they even agreed to provide funding to cover the cost of the plaque! This meant that we had everything in place to take the project forward and the plaque was ordered from the manufacturer we use – Leander Architectural in Buxton.
Unveiling the Plaque
Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s been a lot of local interest in the Nellie Spindler story and Wakefield Cathedral was holding a special service to remember Nellie on Remembrance Sunday, 12th November 2017. It was agreed that we could unveil our plaque as part of the service when three members of Nellie’s family would be present.
A few days later, people assembled once again, but this time outside the shops in Stanley Road for a short ceremony to dedicate the plaque, now fixed in place, and to speak about the life and times of Nellie Spindler.
Such was the interest in the event that both BBC and ITV sent local news crews along to film the event and local press were also there to record the story for the newspapers. Nellie’s story lives on.
Kevin Trickett MBE,
President, Wakefield Civic Society