Help honour figures from Scotland’s past

James Watt commemorative plaque
James Watt commemorative plaque

Historic Environment Scotland is asking members of the public to help commemorate unrepresented figures from the past through its commemorative plaque scheme.

Since the scheme was launched by predecessor body Historic Scotland four years ago, 43 plaques have been awarded – 39 of these went to men, 16 to women (some plaques included multiple women) – there has yet to be a single plaque awarded to minority or ethnic figures from the country’s history.

HES is now asking people to help redress the balance by identifying buildings with a connection to under-represented figures from our history.

Recent plaque recipients have included comic actor Stan Laurel, who grew up in Glasgow, war poet Wilfred Owen, who taught at Tynecastle School in Edinburgh, and steam pioneer James Watt, who has a plaque on his former workshop in Kinneil, Bo’ness.

But the scheme has also celebrated less well-known figures like social reformer Mary Lily Walker, romantic novelist D.E. Stevenson, and missionary Jane Haining.

Thomas Knowles, head of grants at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “We’ve been very aware of the recent debate about the way history is commemorated in Scotland and more widely, with 90 per cent of plaques being awarded to white males. Although all were deserved recipients, they only represent a small part of our multicultural society.

“As Scotland’s lead public heritage body we are trying to change the idea that heritage is a ‘closed shop’, encouraging people to let us know which local historic figures are important to them, and why.

“It’s clear that traditional methods of commemoration, like plaques and statues, have long been the domain of white, middle class, males – and that the contribution of women, ethnic and minority groups, and even working class men has been largely unrecognised – so this is something we want to help change.

“2017 is the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, so there could no better time to raise awareness of the less-celebrated aspects of our heritage, and for striving to make our heritage accessible and beneficial to more people than ever before.

“With that in mind, I would encourage anyone and everyone to contact us with their plaque nominations.”

Applications can be submitted by visiting www.historicenvironment.scot/commemorative-plaque-nomination.