Honouring a founding hero

An early champion of the Octavia Hill Birthplace House project in Wisbech has been commemorated in a memorial to unsung heroes.

At an unveiling ceremony (on Sunday) at the home of the National Trust co-founder at 7 South Brink, members of the family of the late Norman Burgess, a former chair of the Finchley Society, gathered to witness a plaque in his memory take its place in Heroes’ Arcade.

Mr Peter Clayton, chairman of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust, explained that Mr Burgess, who served as a borough councillor in Finchley and chairman of the education committee, had been playing a pivotal role in the setting up of a museum to an ink magnate at the time the Wisbech project was beginning to take shape and that a synergy involving the parallel ventures had been created.

 In Finchley Mr Burgess was a driving force behind the establishment of the Stephens collection at Avenue House , which was dedicated to the ink magnate, Henry ‘Inky’ Stephens of the Stephens’ Ink Company and set in landscaped gardens on a site once granted to the Knights Templar in the middle ages.

When then family of Octavia Hill moved away from Wisbech, the link with Finchley was created and she spent her childhood in the north London neighbourhood “leaping ditches and climbing trees”, as she herself recalled.

 The London connection is reinforced at the Heroes’ Arcade in the garden of the Birthplace House, which is based on a memorial at Postman’s Park, near St Paul’s Cathedral, dedicated to ordinary people who have performed acts of extraordinary heroism, and the Wisbech memorial in its turn celebrates local war heroes and national figures who might otherwise have been forgotten.

 Mr Clayton said:  “Norman was able to bring here coach loads of members of the Finchley Society, which supported us at a critical time when it was necessary to show how important Octavia’s work was beyond Wisbech.”

 The widow of Mr Burgess, Mrs Betty Burgess, who lives in Vines Avenue, Finchley, said:  “None of the family members attending the ceremony realized until today how much help and influence Norman provided at the beginning of the project up to his death in 2004.

 “They all said that there was so much to see and learn from the Birthplace House that another visit in the near future was a must.   It was a memorable day never to be forgotten by any of us.”

 Later this year the Heroes’ Arcade will form the cornerstone of a primary schools’ heroes’ project, which is being launched in September.

The unveiling of the plaque is among a number of events which have been bringing visitors from around the country to the Birthplace House, with members of the National Trust Leicester Association calling in on Saturday (May 13), staff and volunteers from Anglesey Abbey coming on Monday (May 15) and the Dereham local history group paying a visit on Tuesday (May 16).