Belfast Telegraph

Sir Edward Carson denied 'blue plaque' by English Heritage

By Lesley Houston

The founding father of unionism has been denied a commemorative blue plaque by one of the UK’s best known historical groups.

Sir Edward Carson, whose statue looms over Stormont and who famously led Ulster Protestants against Home Rule in the early part of the 20th century, has been deemed unworthy of the emblem by English Heritage.

The selection panel said Carson, a barrister who defended the Marquess of Queensberry against Oscar Wilde's libel charge, was not chosen for the honour as his career “in British politics was not sufficiently outstanding to justify commemoration”.

It leaves Carson in the odd situation of being honoured in Dublin — where Trinity College named an annual lecture after him — but not in London.

English Heritage issues around 12 plaques each year and is chaired by historian Professor Sir David Cannadine. Some 850 have been erected across London.

English Heritage has strict rules on who is eligible for a plaque. They include having to have “made some important positive contribution to human welfare or happiness” or being a household name.

Among plaques erected this year are those commemorating novelist Graham Greene, and the “developer of office copying machinery” David Gestetner.

However, Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist whose unorthodox methods helped cure King George VI of his stammer — as portrayed by Geoffrey Rush in the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech — was also denied a plaque.

Logue had adopted London as his home in 1924 and later died in the city in 1953.

Local historians have expressed surprise at Lord Carson’s denial of the national honour.

Former Belfast Lord Mayor and historian Dr Ian Adamson described Carson as “an outstanding character in Ireland and the British Isles”.

“He was a politician in an Irish sense but also in a British sense and certainly was one of the most outstanding characters at the early part of the 20th century so I would have thought that would have been enough,” he said.

“He was also an outstanding barrister and a very cultured man, as well as a politician.”

Sinn Fein’s Tom Hartley said Carson played such a key role in Irish politics that “you just can’t get past” him.

“Edward Carson is a key political figure in the whole period of Irish politics running into the third Home Rule crisis and played a key role in the context of unionism at the beginning of the 20th century.

“I may disagree with his politics but what I can’t disagree with is the fact that he was a very big historical figure.

“Whether unionist or nationalist or republican you can’t undo what happened in history and we must engage with that history, with that past, and in that context of the history of Ireland, you just can’t get past Carson,” Mr Hartley said.

Describing him as “a Dublin man” who actually played hurling he said Carson “reflected the complexities of what we have in Ireland”.

Background

Regardless of English Heritage’s view on the significance of Carson, he was held in sufficient reverence in his day to merit a British state funeral in 1935. He was the first signatory of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant against Home Rule in 1912.

Five 'unknowns' that passed the test

Carson may not have passed the English Heritage test, although the five people listed below have been recognised by English Heritage — but just who are they?

Topham Beauclerk (1739-1780) — pronounced 'Bo-Clare' — was a celebrated wit, the only son of Lord Sidney Beauclerk, great-grandson of King Charles II and a friend of authors Dr Johnson and Horace Walpole. Beauclerk entertained Dr Johnson at his home for a number of weeks and appears several times in Boswell's Life of Johnson, who is reported to have said when Beauclerk was ill: “Sir, I would walk to the extent of the diameter of the earth to save Beauclerk”.

William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) , a wealthy banker, art collector and patron of American artist Whistler. He married Rachel Agnes Lucas in 1861. They had three sons and seven daughters including Agnes Mary ('May'), Cicely Henrietta, Helen, Grace, Emily, Rachel. and Jean. He is said to have fallen down the stairs of his mansion to his death and it was rumoured he was pushed by a disgruntled butler.

Dame Henrietta Barnett, née Rowland (1851-1936) was an English social reformer and author who also founded the Hampstead Garden Suburb. She and her husband, Samuel Augustus Barnett, founded the first 'University Settlement' at Toynbee Hall in the East End of London in 1884. A believer in the power of education to effect social change, she helped establish the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants in 1875 and the Children's Country Holiday Fund in 1884.

Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was an Indian nationalist, freedom fighter, philosopher, yogi, guru, and poet. He joined the Indian movement for freedom from British rule and for a duration became one of its most important leaders before developing his own vision of human progress and spiritual evolution. The central theme of Sri Aurobindo's vision was the evolution of human life into life divine. Sri Aurobindo synthesized Eastern and Western philosophy, religion, literature, and psychology in writings. Aurobindo was the first Indian to create a major literary corpus in English.

Joseph Michael Gandy (1771-1843) was an English artist, visionary architect and architectural theorist, most noted for his imaginative paintings depicting Sir John Soane's architectural designs. He worked extensively with Soane both as draughtsman and creative partner from 1798 until 1809 when he set up his own practice but with little success. His work included the Phoenix Fire and Pelican Life Insurance Offices in London; Doric House at Sion Hill in Bath; and the remodelling of Swerford Park house in Oxfordshire. Commercially he was a failure but his published and exhibited work was largely a critical and popular success.

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