Swindon has plaques, of course, and some of them might even be painted blue, but until this year the town had never had a scheme to install the traditional, standardised blue plaques commonly used in other towns and cities to mark historic sites, writes Graham Carter, editor of Swindon Heritage magazine.
This changed in the spring when Swindon Heritage launched its blue plaques project and paid for the first of what they hoped would be many to be installed across the town.
The honour of being the first went to Edith New, the Swindon-born suffragette who was at the forefront of the campaign for votes for women. Her plaque was unveiled at her birthplace in North Street, Old Town.
Then, in September, there was a double unveiling of new plaques as brothers Harold and Norman (‘John’) Starr, pilots who were both killed in the Second World War, had their birthplace marked – the former Regent Hotel, now the site of the Savoy in Regent Street.
These plaques, which cost more than £300 each to cast and install, were financed by crowdfunding.
And Swindon Heritage have wasted no time in launching an appeal for funds for a fourth plaque, this time dedicated to actress and movie star Diana Dors, who was born in Swindon in 1931.
But, as project manager Noel Beauchamp explained, some preparation needs to go into each plaque before the appeal for funding can be launched. He said: “We have the next two or three plaques lined up but we can’t reveal who they are for, nor where they will be installed, until we have the permission of the properties’ owners. Our experience so far is homeowners are enthusiastic and proud to have one on their wall, but we have to check first.”
And in the case of Diana Dors, there was an extra step required, before the plan could get off the ground.
“We were keen to put a plaque on Diana’s birthplace,” said Noel, “but there was a problem: nobody was quite sure where it was. We know she was born in the Haven Nursing Home in Kent Road, but it is long gone, and none of the sources we consulted pinned down where in the street it had been.
“So we had to do some detailed research to prove the correct address.”
There was a reason for choosing Diana Dors for plaque number four. Noel added: “After unveiling plaques to a suffragette and a pair of war heroes, we felt it was important to emphasize that the plaques are intended to reflect all aspects of Swindon’s heritage. We want to celebrate the impact on Swindon and the world that a range of people had, and we also thought it was important to reclaim Diana, who became an international star, as ‘Our Diana’.”
The response to the latest plaque has been excellent, and Noel is on track to meet his target of unveiling it before Christmas.
But he is keeping the location close to his chest until just before the unveiling, as well as the identity of the person who has been lined up to unveil it. So watch this space for details, and for news of future plaques, as more plans are revealed in 2017.