On Wednesday, 20 November 2019 the Right Honourable Lord Mayor, Councillor Jos Clark unveiled a blue plaque at the entrance gate to Badminton School, Westbury Road, Westbury-on-Trym. The plaque celebrates the writer and philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch.
Iris Murdoch (1919–1999) attended Badminton School as a boarder from 1932 for six years and went on to become an internationally-recognised polymath, renowned as both a novelist and philosopher. She won the Booker Prize in 1978 and was made a Dame in 1987. She has been described as ‘a national institution’, ‘one of the finest minds of her generation’: a writer whose novels, though complex and literary, sold like thrillers. She became so well known that a film made about her was simply entitled ‘Iris’.
Iris Murdoch maintained contact with Badminton School throughout her life. She began her long literary career with the school magazine and while a pupil edited an anthology of poems by Bristol schoolchildren, even persuading W H Auden to write the foreword. It is clear that the school, where she was head girl, was the major formative influence on her. It is entirely appropriate that a blue plaque should record her time in Bristol.
Organising blue plaques can be surprisingly complicated, with much discussion about plaque wording and location. But not with this plaque: the organisation was superb and the Blue Plaques Panel would like to thank Headmistress Rebecca Tear and the staff of the school, particularly Natasha Bishop, Lucy Griffith, Rebecca Robertson and estates manager Les Palmer.
The unveiling was carried out by the Lord Mayor accompanied by her consort Stephen Williams and attended by the headmistress, senior staff of the school, a number of the pupils and special guests, including a former headmaster of the school.
Unusually, this unveiling had a prequel. On 3 October Badminton School held an Iris Murdoch day, with a range of activities including a public lecture, and a special school assembly where the Iris Murdoch plaque was first revealed, displayed on an easel.
Since the Civic Society took over responsibility for blue plaques, this one scores a number of ‘firsts’. The first plaque to celebrate a novelist, the first to commemorate a philosopher and the first to exalt a Booker Prize winner. It is most likely that it is also the plaque with the most name recognition and could well be the most conspicuous, visible head-on to anyone driving across the Downs towards Westbury. We are convinced its position at the school gate will ensure it will be seen by all students and serve as an inspiration to them.