Have you ever noticed a blue plaque? They are placed on buildings and points of interest all over the country to commemorate and provide information about influential people from history – like a small history lesson wherever you go. You are bound to have seen one at some point in your life. Small and often easy to miss, the idea was first acted upon in London in 1867 when a plaque was placed at 24 Holles Street to commemorate the birthplace of Lord Byron. Since then, English Heritage have aimed to average 12 new plaques across greater London each year and with each small addition another historical figure is remembered. The blue plaque idea has spread across the country, popular to the point that wherever you go you’ll see one.
There are several blue plaques in Falmouth, and they’re in places that almost every student is guaranteed to have walked past. One on Killigrew Street for Cornish Miner Poet John Harris, one on Kimberley Park Road in honour of Scientist Robert Hunt, and a (admittedly not blue) stone commemorating the connection between Charles Darwin and Falmouth.
I’m a history student, so of course I’m biased. But for me, the blue plaques found in Falmouth and across the country represent a vital effort to maintain strong links with history, and how important it is to foster a connection between our stories and those of the people who walked Falmouth’s streets before us. Though, to many students Falmouth is just a seaside student town with slightly below average nightlife it actually has a rich history as an important town in the South-West, and has been the backdrop against which more than one famous historical characters and events have played themselves out.
Everybody knows the Packet Station Wetherspoons (if you don’t, where have you been?), but less well known is where its name comes from. Between 1688-1850 Falmouth was one of the most important towns, not just in Great Britain but all of her empire, as the Royal Mail appointed it a Packet Town. This meant that all communication between Britain and the empire (and there was a LOT) came through Falmouth. The docks were the busiest part of the town, and in 1805 one of the most important messages in British history came through them: the news that the Battle of Trafalgar had been won and that Lord Nelson had died were carried into Falmouth on the HMS Pickle and then taken to London on what is now known as the Trafalgar Trail. As well as the connection to Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar, Falmouth’s Packet Town history means it is also able to lay claim to Charles Darwin. After 5 years at sea collecting the data which would lead him to his theory of evolution, Darwin and the HMS Beagle returned to England, docking at Falmouth in 1836.
My intention here is not to give a history lesson – it may have taken me 19 years, but I do understand that not everybody loves History as much as I do – but rather to point out that even in a smaller town like Falmouth, there is always something interesting to be found. If, with just a quick Google, Falmouth can be found to have a rich history which links it to one of the most important battles and certainly the most important scientific discoveries, it begs the question – what else are we missing? How many streets, buildings or parks have we walked through oblivious of those who came before? Falmouth’s history is a fascinating one and one that does not start and end with the Battle of Trafalgar or the HMS Beagle. Looking into the history of the place I live now, I began to wonder about the histories of the other places I’ve lived or visited before. Through just a bit of research and interest there is so much that you can discover about a place, and I suppose my argument is that once you learn a little more, a place like Falmouth can take on a lot more meaning and become a lot more interesting.