History Makers

History makers is not a project in a traditional sense, but an ongoing digital collection of stories from our site, monuments and plaques that we select to celebrate memorial days and history months with. This page provides a hub to learn more about all the history makers we highlight.

Graphic of a group of history makers in bright colours

Womens History Month

Over March we celebrated Women’s History month with some of our favourite female history makers!

Noor Inayat Khan

Noor was born in Moscow but grew up in London before moving to Paris. Her whole family moved back to England to join the fight against fascism, and enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1940.

In 1943 Noor flew to France to become a wireless operator, codename ‘Madeleine’, working undercover with the SOE. Noor was eventually captured and tortured, after refusing to give information she was sent to Dachau and executed.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Born in 1858 Emmeline is a well known suffragette, what you might not know about her is that at the start of World War One she established an adoption home for children born to single mothers.

At the time this was highly radical, as having a child before  marriage was still seen as a shocking and shameful thing. She even adopted four of these children herself even though she was nearly 60.

Graphic of Lily in black and white

Lily Parr

Lily Parr was a women’s football trailblazer, in 1919 Lily began her football career, aged only 14. In her first season with Dick, Kerr Ladies, she scored 43 goals! She played both male and female teams and was said to have a harder shot than any male player.

Women’s football continued to grow in popularity until 1921, and her team even toured America and France.

Eleanor of Castile

Eleanor of Castile was a Spanish princess who married the future King Edward I. Unlike many others theirs seemed to be a happy marriage and they’re thought to have had 15 children.

After she passed away crosses were erected at every place her funeral procession stopped on the way back to London. There were also candles lit at Westminster Abbey that burned (and where replaced) for two and a half centuries, that’s 250 years!

Ada Lovelace

Ada learnt science and mathematics, which was unusual for women at the time. At 19, she married William King, who, became the Earl of Lovelace, giving Ada the title Lady Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace.

It was the ‘Queen of 19th-Century Science’ Mary Somerville, who encouraged Ada to further pursue her career in maths, and who first introduced Ada to Charles Babbage’s idea for a new calculating engine, which led to Ada’s best known work!

LGBTQ+ History Month

To celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month we’re looking at the lives of some of Englands Pioneering LGBTQ+ figures who have played an important part in our cultural heritage and history, and the lives of those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Gwen Lally

Gwen Lally was England’s first female pageant master! Renowned for her striking appearance and masculine style of dress, Gwen challenged gender roles in both her career and appearance. Though it is not known how Gwen identified in relation to her sexuality, she is a remarkable and important part of LGBTQ+ British History.

Derek Jarman

Born in 1942, Derek Jarman was a film-maker, artist, and prominent figure in OutRage!, a gay rights activist group that campaigned against Section 28, a Local Government Bill which banned local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality’.

In 1987 he publicly announced that he was HIV positive, becoming one of the first public figures in the UK to talk openly about his illness at a time when HIV was often referred to in derogatory terms.

Vita Sackville-West

Vita Sackville-West was a ground-breaking, award-winning writer and poet. Writing 8 full-length novels and 5 plays by the age of 18!

Vita rejected the notion of what traditional relationships looked like and despite marrying Harold Nicolson engaged in relationships with men and women throughout her life, notably Virginia Woolf. Her confidence in her own sexuality and identity allowed her to live a very full and passionate life.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing was a mathematician and ground-breaking pioneer of computer science and artificial intelligence, famous for his role in cracking the German Enigma code during the Second World War.

In 1952 Alan was prosecuted for his relationship with another man, this prosecution lead to him being labelled a security risk making it near impossible for him to continue with his work.

Holocaust Memorial Day

To mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2021, the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we shared how British soldier and English Heritage blue plaque holder, Charles Coward, became a ‘Light in the Darkness’ for many.

Charles Coward

In 1943 Charles was sent to Auschwitz, where he lived in the British POW section, which was separated from the main camp.

He saw how brutally Jewish prisoners were treated by the Nazis, and vowed to help as many as he could, risking his own life in order to smuggle Jewish prisoners out. As well as sending coded letters to the British government about what was going on, it also seems he swapped identities with a Jewish inmate and spent a night in the concentration camp.

Black History Month

To coincide with Black History Month 2020 we celebrated a selection of pioneering black figures whose achievements and legacies have shaped our culture.

Laurie Cunningham

Laurie Cunningham was born in 1956 in North London, the son of two first-generation Jamaican immigrants. In 1979 he became the first black footballer to play for England in a competitive match. Whilst he undoubtedly paved the way for future black footballers, he also became the first Englishman to play for Real Madrid, who paid just shy of a million pounds for him in June 1979.. that’s £5,097,539 in today’s pennies!!!

Dido Belle

Dido was born in 1761, the illegitimate daughter of Maria Bell, a young black woman, and Sir John Lindsay, a Royal Naval officer. At the time the transatlantic slave trade was at its height, and Britain’s economic prosperity relied on slave labour in the Caribbean and Britain’s American colonies.
She spent much of her life at Kenwood House in a time when it was unheard of for a mixed-race, illegitimate child to be brought up within an aristocratic household. Belle’s position in history in this way is almost unmatched.

John Archer

John Archer was the first black person to hold a senior public office in London. Born in Liverpool in 1863 to a Barbadian ship’s steward and an Irishwoman, John went on to lead a trailblazing career in British politics when he was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913.
Throughout his career, he opposed policies which would negatively impact the poor, including cuts in unemployment benefits and speaking out against a proposal to create a workhouse for Battersea’s young, unemployed constituents.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole was a pioneering nurse and a heroine of the Crimean War. Born in Jamaica, Mary was the daughter of a Scottish soldier and a Creole hotelkeeper. When the Crimean war broke out in 1853 Mary left the Caribbean for England, where she hoped to offer her skills as a nurse.
Upon her arrival, Mary’s efforts to be recruited as a nurse were rebuffed by Florence Nightingale’s team. Undeterred she set out for the Crimea on her own and went on to serve near the frontline, reportedly tending to the wounded whilst under fire!

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, most widely known for composing The Song of Hiawatha, is not to be confused with Samuel Taylor Coleridge of poetry fame… Born in Holborn in 1875, the son of a Sierra Leonean student, and brought up in Croydon by his white English mother.
Coleridge-Taylor had successful career composing music, he was also an active conductor in London and New York, and spent several years teaching at Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music.
In 1975 Samuel became the first black recipient of a blue plaque!

National Poetry Day

To celebrate National Poetry Day 2020 we looked at some LGBTQ+ Poets and Writers who have challenged public perception of sexuality and gender.

Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall b.1880 was a writer who rebelled against the oppressive social prejudices of the early 20th century.
Radclyffe wore men’s clothes and went by the name John. Their novel ‘The Well of Loneliness’ was banned in 1928 shortly after publication because of its depiction of a lesbian relationship. Despite this, the book has now been translated into over ten languages and has been continuously in print.

Oscar Wilde

Perhaps the most famous LBGTQ+ poet in literary history, Oscar Wilde refused to deny his love for Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, and in doing so sacrificed his freedom.
Wilde was sent to prison for two years for crimes of ‘indecency’ relating to his sexuality. Homosexuality was not made legal in the UK until 1967, but the legacy of Wilde and other’s tried for the same ‘crime’ stood up to the face of injustice and a prejudiced system of law.

Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon b.1886, was a decorated war hero and poet whose honest accounts of trench warfare have helped shape our understanding of what life was like for soldiers on the frontline during the First World War.
But what most don’t know is that after being discharged from the Army due to injury, Sassoon refused to adhere to the mainstream, hetero-centric expectations of the early 20th century, having a 6-year relationship with artist, socialite and crossdresser, Stephan Tennant between 1926 and 1932.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was a pioneering figure whose novels subverted norms of gender and sexuality in the first half of the 20th century.
In 1928 her novel Orlando, a story about a gender-fluid time travelling aristocrat, was published and dedicated, by Woolf, to her lover and friend Vita Sackville-West.