|Danny Coope's work in progress|
We might know a little about the last family to live in our house before we moved in, but who lived there over 100 years ago? What did they do? Where were they from? I remembered that online census data would help me find out and I decided to expand my fascination with my own house to include my whole street (Grosvenor Park Road) and hit upon an Art Trail piece, part installation/part history lesson.
Alternative blue plaques are nothing new of course (Gavin Turk etc) but I'm producing a lookalike series of them to commemorate the ordinary, and not so ordinary folk that occupied the houses on this one street many years ago.
Spending hours on the internet, poring over pages of information and creating a spreadsheet of residents over the six censuses available (not very artful I grant you, but quite beautiful in its way). It's been tough honing my selection of potential candidates. All this information raised more questions than I could answer. What is xylonite? What did a compositor do? I want to include so many snapshots of peoples' lives that full-size ceramic blue plaques are out of the question!
The real blue plaques first appeared in 1867 courtesy of the (Royal) Society of Arts as an 'Indication of Houses of Historical Interest in London'. And they've sometimes been brown! Modern plaques are handmade for English Heritage by independent craftspeople. Made from clay slip the plaques are generally 19½ inches (495mm) across and about 2 inches (50mm) thick. They are slightly convex, rather than perfectly flat, which makes them self-cleaning. The inscription is created using a specially devised font, piped onto the plaque, like icing a message on a birthday cake I imagine. Then it is glazed in blue with white lettering. Find out more here.
My plaques have been put together with Indesign software, using a similar font. My final challenge will be to have them printed as professionally and economically as possible since there are so many, and I risk repetitive strain injury cutting them all out. But I'm looking forward to knocking on doors, meeting the neighbours I haven't yet met, and hoping they'll be happy to take part with me.
I'm sure the census has always been seen as intrusive and expensive, but praise be! This piece wouldn't exist without it. And I hope I've captured the original spirit of the scheme as an Indication of Houses of Historical Interest in Grosvenor Park Road. A glimpse of the social history that could be hidden on everyone's street.
Grosvenor Park Rd will be transformed into the street of blue plaques, Friday 2 - Sunday 11 September, 24 hours a day