All walls should have blue plaques…..

…because a lifetime ago someone important lived here.

Blue plaques on the walls of buildings signify that something important happened here. Or that someone who left legacy to history/culture/politics, once lived here.

They remind us that history is about people and events and experiences, and inventions. Not just wars.

We owe so much to the people who went before us: the explorers, scientists, suffragettes, musicians, politicians, social reformers and writers..

And yet, over time many of their names and their contribution to society may have been forgotten.

We forget.

Walking through streets where there is a blue plaque on a wall is a gateway not just to history but to other people stories and lives.

Somehow they seem that much more real to us because we know they walked down this same street.

We can imagine them leaving this house to go to work in the pursuit of greatness, discovery and innovation.

This was their neighbourhood.

This home was the centre of their family life.

We may know them as significant and iconic figures, thinkers and do-ers. Their colleagues, friends and fellow activists would visit them here in this house.

Of course to talk science, politics, literature, religion, social reform and music but also… house-prices… education… and the cost of living.

If these walls could talk what would they reveal?

Perhaps the true story behind how that piece of music or invention was finally resolved.

Or the dramas, whispered secrets, revelations and epiphanies of soirées, salons, parties and meetings once held behind these closed doors.  

What did they really say, think and do?

But also how did they sound, interact and move and behave?

These walls were witness to it all.

Separated only by ‘time’ we can now access the homes of many eminent people.  Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill.

Dr. Samuel Johnson’s home, the Charles Rennie Mackintosh   Hill House (designed for the Black family) or John Lennon’s childhood home.

Jimmy Hendrix and Handel, Agatha Christie, Beatrix Potter, Sir Francis Drake, J.M.W. Turner and Charles Dickens among many others.

Once privately owned, these places all now in the public domain. For a small fee, we can visit these homes – where once we would have had to be in their circle.

Within the boundaries of these walls, in this room, we can stand in the same space as they once did.

When we are inside these walls, in the interior, we get the full immersive experience: how the sun shines into the room, the scale of the space, their wealth, style, how the space sounds and smells.

Of course these people were not just ‘great’ or ‘famous’. Here, they slept, ate and interacted with their families – just as we do in our own homes.

Now, we can walk through their door. Stand by their fireplace and perhaps stretch out on a chair that might have been theirs.

When we can get a physical sense of how they lived somehow they seem more real.

They are no longer just a voice from the distant past but someone who lived their everyday life in this place.

The National Trust  is much more than just about restoring old buildings to create a mummified museum of artefacts and structures.

Yes, they preserve and protect heritage and history. But they also sustain crafts, culture and skills that might otherwise be lost to the nation.

Sites and venues that might disappear, or kept in private hands, are now open for everyone to visit.

And, because of that, The National Trust enables us to have meaningful and wide contact with material and physical experiences outside of our everyday life.

That is: landscapes and buildings and artefacts of different styles from different ages.

Without the work of organisations such as the National Trust we might live with no real sense of what went before.

In such a class-based society we might never know what it is actually like to be inside the grounds and walls of a stately home.

Because of the NT, we can get a glimpse of what old wealth looks like – and what it buys.

We can also see exactly how it reflects the social constructs of the era; one lifestyle ‘upstairs’ and a very different lifestyle ‘downstairs’.

Public interests are constantly shifting.

The BBC TV series “Who Do You Think You Are” traces personal stories based on lineage. It highlights the richness of stories and wider values and experiences of people from all walks of life. Given that more people lived in impoverished circumstances than not, their stories are part of history too.

It makes sense to preserve the everyday spaces of living memory.

In The Museum of the Home the most popular homes are also the most recent.

Unsurprisingly, people are much more excited about seeing a typical room set from the 1950’s  –  than the Jacobean period.

Seeing and experiencing these rooms again ‘for real’ can prompt rich memories of people and places and events.

The space acts as a powerful trigger to re-live the minutiae and details of everyday life. It reminds us that life is not just about ‘big events’ and ‘ important people’.

An immersive experience creates a meaningful dialogue. It enables people to connect and empathise  and to feel less like an outsider, or a passive viewer.

The word ‘museum’ still conjures up a stymied, stale environment.

Whereas, finding out more about the stories of how people lived through wars, famines and everyday life is a history that we can all relate to. Perhaps more so than the remote worlds of Kings and Queens.

Being able to access these homes at first hand inspires our imagination. It enables us to ‘see’ something beyond what is physically there.

When we get to ‘feel’ and to ‘ touch’ and to ‘smell’ and ‘move around’ a place we get a stronger sense what it might have been like to be there many years ago.

And to be that person.

In the 1960’s, George Best left Belfast to find fame as a footballer with Manchester United.

The Best family home – the home where his father lived until he died –  is now an Airbnb.

To be clear: this is by no means a beautiful home – or the most luxurious or up to date Airbnb.  But for longstanding fans, an overnight stay here must be a very strong and special experience.

Here, they can ‘connect’ with George as he was in his early days as a budding talent. That is: as a boy who came from an ordinary working class home. 

In this place, which looks much the same as when he lived there, he was grounded in family life. A humbling reminder of a time in his life before he became the football legend we remember today.

Much like our fascination for the homes of film stars, when we can visit the homes of our personal heroes it is a very gratifying experience.

Brontë home exterior walls

Haworth, in West Yorkshire, is the home of the Bronte sisters. It is place I wanted to visit for long time.

The parsonage is set is a hilly and well preserved village of Haworth. It is not a film set, this is a real place steeped in the sisters’ lived experience and, of course in their stories.

The parsonage is maintained by the Brontë society and recreates the rooms with some of the original furniture as they when they lived there with their father.

Visitors have the opportunity to ‘ experience’ the space, moving from room to room. It gives you a feel for what it may have been like for Emily, Anne and Charlotte in the very place where they wrote their incredible books.

It is the same house, but with modifications over the years it is not exactly as they lived.

However, the layout of the main rooms is the same in scale and situation and as a visitor being able to move up the same stairs they used it gives you a warm sense of them ‘living’ in this place.

Brontë home interior

The museum attached has acquired many of the Bronte sisters original artefacts, their dresses, letters, personal effects.

Even though visitors cannot touch these things it still gives us a level of intimacy and a sense of their being. A material connection to women who left behind such a remarkable legacy – from within these walls.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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