I’m delighted to say that the blue plaque for Josephine Tey is now in place on Castle Street in Inverness!
I’ve been researching the life of Beth MacKintosh (Tey) seriously now for over a decade, in order to write my biography “Josephine Tey: A Life”. I’ve always believed that she deserved wider recognition for her achievements as a writer, particularly in her home town, and I’m so pleased that she is now being marked in this way.
Thank you very much to everyone that has supported me during the application process for the blue plaque, including those of you who have got in touch with me through this website. I would like to particularly mention the support of the Inverness City Heritage Trust (who manage the blue plaque scheme in Inverness), and HHA, the owners of the building, who have both been enthusiastic and helpful from the moment they first heard of the idea. I’d also like to mention the helpful and friendly site manager and builders on the site (many of whom I’ve spoken to as I pass the location frequently!)
I have received support from Josephine Tey fans from Inverness, Scotland, Europe and even as far away as Australia. It’s clear, as I argued in my biography, that her books have had a wide and lasting impact on both readers and other writers.
Josephine Tey (1896-1952) was an author and playwright, best-remembered today for her crime novels such as “The Daughter of Time”, “The Franchise Affair” and “Brat Farrar”. She was also a popular dramatist under the pen-name Gordon Daviot, creating plays which starred actors such as John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, as well as writing for Hollywood through Universal Pictures – all from her home in Inverness. Her books have been adapted for radio, television and film, perhaps most notably by Alfred Hitchcock, and translated into many different languages. Her work has inspired many other writers, and the Crime Writers Association once voted her book “The Daughter of Time”, which features a unique mystery based around the true story of Richard III, as being ‘the best crime novel of all time’. New editions of three of Tey’s crime novels have been republished only this year by Penguin. My own biography of Tey was first published in 2015, and republished in a new edition in 2021.
Josephine Tey’s real name was Elizabeth (Beth) MacKintosh. Her father Colin ran a well-known fruiterer’s business on Castle Street in Inverness, and the MacKintosh family had a long association with Castle Street. When Colin died, he left the Castle Street buildings to his daughter Beth (Tey) in his will. Ultimately, Tey decided to sell up – probably to focus on her successful writing career, though, sadly, she was overtaken by her final illness, dying of cancer in 1952.
The idea of a blue plaque to mark Tey’s achievements was first mentioned to me some years ago, by a gentleman who attended one of the first talks I gave about Josephine Tey’s life and work. He did a considerable amount of groundwork, looking first at criteria for the ‘original’ blue plaque scheme in London (all other blue plaque schemes across the country are based on this), and then speaking with me to identify possible sites both in Inverness and elsewhere. Due to ill-health he later gave all the information he had gathered to me. (He’s asked to remain private, which is why I’m not mentioning his name, but I wanted to acknowledge his input).
I followed up some enquiries about possible sites in Inverness, but with little success until the redevelopment of the Castle Street location, site of the MacKintosh family fruit shop. I had always been aware of this site, which is centrally located in the city, on the road leading up to Inverness Castle. It is an ideal place for a plaque, as it is regularly passed by both locals and tourists. The Castle Street site, a listed building, had fallen into disrepair and was no longer in use. It has now been sensitively restored by HHA, who worked with local contractors to create eight much-needed homes for the city, as well as a commercial unit.
The idea for a blue plaque was mentioned in a news article by journalist Susy Macaulay in the Press and Journal, and from that moment on the campaign gathered speed, with a huge amount of support expressed for the idea, and many people contacting me to ask about it. I then put together a detailed proposal, featuring contributions I had gathered from readers, writers, librarians and other interested parties, and the information I already had. The Inverness City Heritage Trust and HHA, the owners of the building, were receptive to the idea right from the start. The overwhelming response was that Josephine Tey fully deserved recognition and acknowledgement in Inverness.
There was a large amount of administrative work involved in this project, and I had to speak to many different people. I compared different blue plaques across the country, and spoke with others about appropriate wording, taking into account the other blue plaques in Inverness and similar plaques for other writers. I pulled together information about the Castle Street site for HHA and the Inverness City Heritage Trust, working from the information in my biography of Tey. I collected statements in support of the project, and information to demonstrate why Tey deserved a blue plaque. Every step of the process was taken with care, and I’m very happy with the outcome.
I’m also pleased to say that Josephine Tey’s family members, who I am in contact with, are delighted with the support for the idea, and very happy that their relative is to be commemorated in this way.
Below please find some of the supportive quotes from the application for a blue plaque. Once again I would like to thank everyone involved. I am so happy that Josephine Tey is now recognised in her home town of Inverness with a blue plaque, and pleased to have played a part in raising her profile through the publication of my biography.
“For me, Josephine Tey, Gordon Daviot and Elizabeth MacKintosh are an inspiration, not just because their writing has brought me hours of enjoyment, but because the story of Elizabeth’s life showed me a new version of what was possible for a Highland woman. Her family came from a background of crofting and domestic service, and, through hard work and a belief in education, supported their daughters and encouraged them to aim high. Elizabeth went from Inverness Royal Academy to London’s West End, to Broadway, to Hollywood – and back again, to my home, to Inverness.” – Jennifer Morag Henderson “Josephine Tey: A Life” (Sandstone Press, new edition 2021).
A small selection from the numerous statements gathered in support of the proposal for a blue plaque for Josephine Tey:
“With her biography being thoroughly researched using a wide variety of archive collections including those which are held at Highland Archive Centre, Highland Archive Service supports the campaign to recognise and commemorate Josephine Tey’s achievements with a blue plaque in her home town of Inverness.”
– Alison Mason, Highland Archivist, Highland Archive Centre.
“The Richard III Society is fully supportive of the application for a blue plaque to commemorate Josephine Tey. The wonderful contribution this author made to the rich body of British literature is timeless and worthy of recognition. The novel ‘The Daughter of Time’ has, from publication, been cited by those discovering an interest in Richard III and the history of the time in which he lived as an inspiration and a driver to learn more. What more can a novelist achieve to underline the quality of their work than to inspire their readers to learn more of the fact upon which the fiction is constructed?”
– Richard III Society.
“Sandstone Press, as the publisher of Jennifer Morag Henderson’s fine, scholarly and fascinating biography of Josephine Tey (Elizabeth Mackintosh), whole-heartedly supports the installation of a blue plaque to commemorate this golden age crime writer, whose lively and well written novels are still widely read and enjoyed.”
– Sandstone Press.
“Josephine Tey was one of the most gifted exponents of detective fiction of her era, a writer whose elegant blend of character, setting, and storyline made for enjoyable mysteries which have entertained readers across the world for more than ninety years.”
– Martin Edwards, crime writer, President of the Detection Club and author of “The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators”.
“Thanks to the vivacity and originality of her writing, Josephine Tey has secured a place as one of the finest British crime novelists of the 20th Century. She was always concerned with truth in her writing – whether overturning injustices or reaching beyond stereotypes in her characterisations of people from minority groups under-represented in British fiction – and this helps to keep her books as fresh today as when they were written.”
– Jake Kerridge, Crime Fiction Critic, Daily Telegraph.
“I think it would be an excellent idea to have a plaque on the site in Castle Street. I think the city should celebrate its literary heritage and that given Josephine Tey’s huge success during her lifetime and the fact that her work is still cherished by readers of crime fiction the world over it seems an omission not to mark her strong ties with Inverness in this way.”
– S.G. MacLean, award-winning crime novelist, author of the ‘Damian Seeker’ and ‘Alexander Seaton’ mystery series.
“Recognition for Elizabeth MacKintosh in Inverness is long overdue and a commemorative plaque is an excellent idea. There are excellent descriptions of Inverness (thinly disguised) and of Highland landscapes in her writings, particularly in The Singing Sands. Her writing is unsurpassed and always a pleasure to read.”
– Norman Newton, retired Reference Librarian and local history writer and researcher.
“A blue plaque is long overdue for Josephine Tey – please add my name to the list of supporters.”
“I very much agree a blue plaque is overdue for her”
“More power to the elbow! Slainte!”
“I can’t believe Josephine Tey doesn’t have a blue plaque already. She’s overdue to get one!”
“What a lovely tribute to an amazing author”