The blue plaque and the unmanned lectern

Heath at the eastern end of Chasewater Country Park

Peter Foden  identifies those tilted tables that tell you about the history or wildlife of the place you are looking at as lecterns, apparently preaching at us.  An idea I find appealing.


Peter prefers blue plaques and I agree; they are less obtrusive, but convey sufficient information for the curious to find out more. Here is a local example that stands beside the end of the Anglesey Branch Canal, beneath the dam at Chasewater:


The key information is: “Site of No. 1 pit of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company. Known as ‘The Marquis’. Opened 1849, Closed 1856.”

So this is a post-industrial landscape. The blue plaque and its mounting is unobtrusive and unnoticed by many passers-by – I have seen them not noticing. If it were not for a smattering of clues one would be hard pressed to know of the absolute dominance of more than a hundred years of coal mining, of pit buildings, winding gear, railways, steam trains, spoil heaps, and canal boats, men shouting, engines roaring, metal clanking.

Nearby is a lectern, perched on a high point, appropriately as though on a pulpit, which, like many has been vandalised.


In essence it tells us that cattle have been introduced to graze young trees and scrub to preserve the lowland heath. This is a precious landscape, it says, because 90% of such habitat has been lost since 1800. Apart from the long gone coal mines and their acoutrements this is the landscape that my grandfather and his grandfather, and travellers like John Wesley, knew: a blasted heath with few trees and no shelter from the bitter Siberian wind and driving snow.

At first sight, looking up from the lectern, as though to address the now absent cattle, the grazing is largely successful. However, turn around and see that the basin forming the outfall from the reservoir overflow is succumbing to the natural climax vegetation. Birch is slowly displacing the reeds that once filtered mine water of its heavy metals before release into the natural water course.


But this is a man-made landscape, even where not touched by coal mining. Many sources tell us that the extensive woodland of Cannock Forest was cleared at the behest of King Charles so that he and his chums could mount their horses and career across the open land in pursuit of deer and other creatures. Where the land is untended the wildwood reclaims its ancient hold.


The plaque will outlive the lectern. Partly because it is unobtrusive, mainly becase it is metallic. But what might be the future of the blue plaque or some technological replacement?

It would be simple enough to incorporate a website address, a QR code, or some other device to facilitate further study. For those with relevant gadgets this could be on the spot, in space-time. Perhaps there will one day be a blue plaque app that alerts carriers of smart phones, or other social media enabling technologies, to the content of the plaque as they pass. This, without breaking the headlong rush to work, revealing all about the thing they just passed, but had no time to see. They forget it all until they repass tomorrow, and tomorrow …

Or maybe when you walk through a damp meadow or dive beside an atoll you will see or hear how this and that plant or coral grows, if any survives. Will there be an advanced Brave New World in which everyone has a reader implanted, the unltimate in instant knowledge? Not QR, but ZZ. What? No quiz shows! No television! Ah, the novel, the poem, the creative mind. And those places with no ZZ? World Heritage Sanity Parks! (Perhaps I should trade mark that?)

3 thoughts on “The blue plaque and the unmanned lectern

  1. There are local history apps which can tell you far more than a blue plaque or a lectern ever could about locations you are passing through. In Letchworth in 2014 I enjoyed a demonstration of such an app being developed by the Herts at War project. As we walked along Common Road, past houses that had been newly built for the construction workers of the Garden City, not long before the outbreak of war in 1914, we were told at every doorstep who had lived there, what their war record had been, whether they returned. The one that stuck in my memory was the story of a man who had survived the Armistice of 1918 but had subsequently been posted to Russia and was lost there during Peacetime. I cannot find this app advertised on the Herts at War website: it was an idea that deserved to flourish. Has it been done elsewhere?


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