Art project gathers memories for part of ‘blue plaque’ plan

Artist Susan Grant with the prototype memory plaques. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Artist Susan Grant with the prototype memory plaques. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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TO have a plaque bearing your name put up on the streets of your hometown, you usually have to accomplish something pretty extraordinary.

The honour is commonly reserved for elite sports- people, eminent artists or writers, world-changing politicians, disease-curing scientists or great intellectuals.

But the experiences and memories of everyday people are set to be immortalised on the streets of Dalkeith as part of an arts project inspired by the 146-year-old Blue Plaque scheme, which is run south of the border by English Heritage and has been copied across the world.

Dalkeith residents have been asked to submit their significant memories of places or people in the town, and dozens will then become permanent memorials on Dalkeith’s heritage trail.

It could see a plaque put up in memory of the first dance Sandra McLean shared with her husband-to-be Alan in the town’s Corn Exchange in June 1962.

A memorial to the time Dionne Telfer, now 16, lost her mum in Woolworths as a young child could go on display at the building where the store once stood, and the site where Craig McKinney, then an apprentice engineer, connected phone lines could also be commemorated.

Leith-based artist Susan Grant has organised the project, called I Woz Here Dalkeith. She has been to primary schools as well as old people’s homes to find a wide selection of stories.

Ms Grant said: “The idea is to elevate everyday memories. We’ve had people telling us about meeting spouses at local drinking halls, memories of buying pies from shops that closed long ago, and one of the children told us about a time he was pulled through the street in the snow on a sledge. One of my favourites was the story of someone’s great-grandfather who used to manage the cinema and take his dog on the bus to work with him. He would send the dog home on the bus alone and the driver would make sure it got off at the right stop.”

The 35-year-old, who is currently artist-in-residence for Midlothian Council, added: “We’ve got to get planning permission but the plaques will be permanent. Some, if not all of them, will be blue. We’ve been working with ideas to explore identity, and I’ve always liked the idea of subverting the Blue Plaque scheme.”

So far, around 150 memories have been submitted. Peter Laidlaw, 77, from The Braids, has contributed his recollections of going to the shows as a small boy. “For many years after the war, the shows were a big thing in Dalkeith, they had roundabouts and swings and music,” he said. “At the time we had known nothing but austerity, and this was something completely new, we had never seen something like this before – it was like being at Las Vegas.”

Agnes Wright Marshall, who grew up Dalkeith in the 1920s and became one of the first women to play football in Scotland, representing her country as well as Leith-based Lady Dynamos, may receive a memorial.

St Nicholas Church Hall, where “record hops” were held before the advent of the discos, has also been put forward.

The project is supported by Midlothian Council’s Arts and Creativity team, Dalkeith Townscape Heritage Initiative, Creative Scotland Lottery, Heritage Lottery Fund, Dalkeith Business Renewal and Historic Scotland.

It is hoped that between 20 and 30 plaques will be put up by the end of the year. Anyone who wishes to submit a memory can do so at

An inspiration

The Blue Plaque scheme was founded in London in 1866 and has inspired many imitations across the world.

It commemorates the link between notable historic figures and the buildings in which they lived and worked.

Robert Louis Stevenson has a plaque at his former home in Hampstead, close to the ex-residence of another of Edinburgh’s sons, Alastair Sim, where a plaque was unveiled in 2008.