Press release: First black NHS matron, Beatles icon and pioneering ceramist to receive first official blue plaques outside London

Department For Culture Media Sport

February 23
12:01 2024

  • Beatles guitarist George Harrison and ceramist Clarice Cliff set to receive the next two blue plaques under the national expansion of the scheme
  • Public nominations for local figures to get blue plaques to open in the summer

A woman who made history by becoming the first black matron in the NHS is the first person to be commemorated with an official blue plaque outside London.

Daphne Steele, the first black matron in the NHS, is being honoured with the first blue plaque in the new national scheme which is delivered by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, together with representatives of Historic England and the son of Daphne Steele, celebrated the trailblazing NHS matrons life by unveiling the plaque at the former St. Winifreds maternity home in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.

Daphne arrived in Britain in 1951 from Guyana. Despite the challenges she faced, she helped to break down barriers and paved the way for nurses from a wide range of backgrounds to play a vital part in running the National Health Service. Her appointment as matron in 1964 attracted national attention and acted as a turning point in the history of the NHS.

The next two blue plaques outside London will be dedicated to the music icon, songwriter and humanitarian George Harrison, and to Clarice Cliff, regarded as one of the most influential ceramists of the 20th century to mark their contributions to national life. They will be unveiled in the coming months.

These first three plaques outside London will help to inform the new national scheme, made possible thanks to a change in the law last year. This summer, nominations will open so the public can put forward their own suggestions of people who should be recognised in their local area.

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

Daphne Steele made a huge contribution to our National Health Service not just through her work here in Ilkley, where she delivered hundreds of babies a year, but in paving the way for so many others from a wide range of backgrounds to play their vital role in that cherished national organisation.

I am delighted that she can be commemorated with the first official blue plaque outside London, and hope her story will continue to inspire people across Yorkshire and far beyond.

The national expansion of the famous blue plaque scheme is all about recognising people who made their mark on national life, wherever they happened to live. I look forward to celebrating more such inspirational figures, including Clarice Cliff and George Harrison, in towns and cities across the country in the coming months.

Robert Steele, Daphne Steeles son, said:

My mother saw herself as a nurse and midwife. As far as she was concerned, she was just getting on with her job. She would be speechless, mind-blown, to see a plaque dedicated to her and to know that she had made such a difference to so many people.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said:

We are delighted to dedicate the first Historic England blue plaque to Daphne Steele, a quiet revolutionary who, nearly sixty years ago, changed history when she became the first black matron in the NHS.

Our national blue plaques scheme is a fantastic opportunity to tell the stories of inspirational people, like Daphne, who have helped make the world a better place. Blue plaques are well known and loved. They help people and communities feel pride and connection to their local and national heritage.

This summer, we will be inviting people across England to nominate the individuals they believe deserve a blue plaque and I look forward to seeing the stories this uncovers.

Chief Nursing Officer, Dame Ruth May said:

It is wonderful that Daphne Steele is being honoured with the first official blue plaque outside of London Daphne had a remarkable career in nursing, midwifery and as a health visitor, and like so many from the Windrush generation, she made an enormous contribution to the NHS.

This is a fitting tribute to an inspiring woman who no doubt paved the way for many other nurses and midwives to follow in her footsteps when she became the first black matron in the NHS.

Health Minister, Andrew Stephenson said:

Daphne was an inspiring and dedicated midwife, and I am delighted to see her pioneering contribution to the NHS recognised in this way.

I hope this blue plaque ensures more people from all backgrounds hear her story and are inspired to join the NHS.

Our NHS is as diverse as its ever been and its Long Term Workforce Plan will see us continue to recruit more staff from diverse and traditionally hard-to-reach backgrounds, for instance by boosting the number of nursing and medical apprentices entering the health service.

The national expansion of the official London Blue Plaque scheme was announced in September 2023. A change in the law underpinning the scheme was made through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023.

For the past century and a half, the official blue plaques scheme has been London-only. While there are a number of local schemes operating across the country, this expansion will see one cohesive, official scheme, run by Historic England, operating equally across England.

The expansion is an opportunity for people to research their own local history and nominate figures from their communities who have helped define the towns, villages and cities in which they live.

If successfully nominated, the buildings where local figures lived, worked or stayed will be marked with a blue plaque, which will shine a spotlight on our shared heritage across the country.


Notes to editors:

  • The inscription on the plaque reads: DAPHNE STEELE. 1927-2004. Guyanese nurse and midwife. Pioneering Black matron in the NHS lived and worked here.

About the new national blue plaque scheme, run by Historic England

  • The new national blue plaque scheme was announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in September 2023
  • From early summer 2024, the public will be invited to submit their own nominations
  • The eligibility criteria for nominations follow similar criteria to the English Heritage scheme: at least 20 years must have passed since the candidates death, they must have made a significant contribution to human welfare or happiness, at least one building associated with the figure must survive in a form that the commemorated person would have recognised and must be visible from the public highway
  • Together with people across England, the Historic England blue plaque scheme will celebrate individuals who have made the world a better place

About the London blue plaque scheme

  • Londons famous blue plaques link people of the past with buildings of the present
  • The London blue plaques scheme was started in 1866 and is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world. English Heritage has run the London blue plaques scheme since 1986 It has inspired many similar schemes in the UK and around the world

About Daphne Steele

  • Daphne Steele was born in Guyana - then known as British Guiana in October 1927
  • She travelled to England in 1951 at a time when the newly formed National Health Service (NHS) was keen to recruit staff from across the British Empire
  • She enrolled on a nursing course at St Jamess Hospital, Balham, South London, and completed her nursing training in 1953 and midwifery training in 1954
  • Over the next ten years, she worked as a nurse and midwife in America and then in Oxfordshire and Manchester, before applying for the post of matron at St. Winifreds maternity hospital in Ilkley
  • Her appointment as matron in August 1964 attracted national attention and acted as a turning point in NHS history
  • It was reported widely in national newspapers, along with photographs of Daphne and details of her role and salary of 1,230 per year
  • Becoming the first Black matron of an NHS hospital promoted hundreds of people to write to Daphne. She later recalled how she received about 350 letters from around Britain and around the world (Ilkley Gazette, 25 October 2001)
  • When St Winifreds closed in October 1971, Daphne found a new job working in Wharfedale childrens hospital in Menston and then retrained as a health visitor at Leeds University
  • She worked as a health visitor in Ilkley and Bingley, becoming a familiar and friendly figure to countless f

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