AV大平台professor of sports history joins prestigious panel for new national blue plaque scheme

A sports historian from AV大平台 Leicester (DMU) is to be part of a panel of experts which will decide who will be commemorated by the new national blue plaques scheme. 

For more than 150 years, London’s world-famous blue plaques have helped to celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of the capital and the people who have passed through it. 

Daphne Steel

(Photo credit: Historic England)

 It was decided late last year by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that there should now be a national scheme to celebrate people through history who made an important contribution to human welfare and happiness across England – and Professor Martin Polley, Director of DMU’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC) has joined a panel to help decide who should be honoured. 

Professor Polley said: “The work we are doing to roll out the scheme nationally will help to celebrate the lives of significant people beyond their communities. It will honour some people who are internationally famous along with pioneers whose stories deserve to be better known. 

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on more nominations for the unsung, the overlooked, and other people whose life stories can tell us so much about British history in the round.  

“While I will have a special role in relation to sportsmen and women who are nominated, it’s great to be working on all areas of history.” 


The scheme, which will be developed and led by Historic England, will recognise that every place has a unique story to tell, and help to showcase the importance of heritage across the country. 

The first blue plaque was unveiled in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, on Friday, February 23, to honour Daphne Steele who was the first black matron in the NHS. 

Daphne arrived in Britain in 1951 from Guyana. Despite the challenges she faced, she helped to break down barriers and paved the way for nurses from a wide range of backgrounds to play a vital part in running the National Health Service.  

Her appointment as matron in 1964 attracted national attention and acted as a turning point in the history of the NHS.  

The next two blue plaques outside London will be dedicated to the music icon, songwriter and humanitarian George Harrison, and to Clarice Cliff, regarded as one of the most influential ceramists of the 20th century, to mark their contributions to national life. They will be unveiled in the coming months.  

Professor Polley said: “I’ve always been interested in commemorative plaques. I remember seeing blue plaques on buildings in London when I was a child, and asking my father about the famous people who had lived in these places that were local to me. 

“I think this was one of my first ways into thinking about history. 

“This work ties into my long-term interest in life stories, and in making people’s biographies better known. I’ve been doing this for years writing many entries for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, where I’m one of the reviewers who decide which sports people should be included. 

“I’m also involved in the biographical stories that ICSHC colleagues contribute to Leicester City FC’s matchday programmes.” 

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “The national expansion of the famous blue plaque scheme is all about recognising people who made their mark on national life, wherever they happened to live. 

“I look forward to celebrating more such inspirational figures, including Clarice Cliff and George Harrison, in towns and cities across the country in the coming months.” 

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “Our national blue plaques scheme is a fantastic opportunity to tell the stories of inspirational people, like Daphne, who have helped make the world a better place.  

“Blue plaques are well known and loved. They help people and communities feel pride and connection to their local and national heritage.  

“This summer, we will be inviting people across England to nominate the individuals they believe deserve a blue plaque and I look forward to seeing the stories this uncovers.” 

Professor Polley’s fellow panel members are Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and Interim Chair Professor Ronald Hutton, journalist, broadcaster and writer Samira Ahmed, academic, author and cultural commentator Professor Sarah Churchwell, University of Manchester Professor of Literature and Culture Professor Jerome de Groot, 20th century LGBTQ historian Professor Alison Oram and director, producer and writer Susie Thornberry. 


Posted on Tuesday 5 March 2024

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