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Postman's Park

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Under a covered gallery in Postman's Park, Little Britain - is a memorial. Erected to the Postman's Park, Clerkenwell, London. The Memorial can be seen in the central backgroundmemory of heroic deeds which ended in fatality. George Watts, a respected painter of the late Victorian era, attempted to garner support through The Times newspaper and many other initiatives, but received little interest. Undeterred, he championed the project over a period of 34 years, completing the memorial just four years before his death.

Postman's Park is so-named, because the site of the central sorting office of the GPO (General Post Office) bordered the former graveyard, and with open spaces within the square mile (City of London) being at a premium, the small patch of greenery was a popular place for local post office workers to unwind. Postman's Park is walled and against one of these walls, under a loggia, are the memorial plaques. The inscriptions are printed on Doulton tablets, with each describing some act that resulted in the person's death. The language employed is succinct, owing partly to the restrictions of space - but also manages to convey in its spare prose, how selflessly they acted.  

The transcriptions of two of the plaques - (with 8 tablets each)

First Plaque:

Top Panel 1

Sarah Smith - Pantomime Artiste - at Prince's Theatre.
Died of terrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion. January 24 1863

Top Panel 2
Robert Wright - Police Constable - of Croydon
Entered a burning house to save a woman knowing that there was petroleum stored in the cellar - an explosion tookThe Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman's Park, London. With a group of visitors reading the plaques place and he was killed. April 30 1893

Top Panel 3
Henry James Bristow - Aged 8 - at Walthamstow
On December 30 1890 - saved his little sister's life by tearing off her flaming clothes, but caught fire himself and died of burns and shock.

Top Panel 4
Joseph William Onslow - Lighterman
Who was drowned at Wapping on May 5 1885 - in trying to save a boy's life.

Bottom Panel 1
Arthur Regelous - Carman ("Little Peter")  - aged 25 who with Alice Maud Denman - aged 27, died in trying to save her children from a burning house in Bethnal Green. April 20 1902

Bottom Panel 2
Arthur Strange - Carman of London - and Mark Tomlinson on a desperate venture to save two girls from quicksand in Lincolnshire were themselves engulfed. Aug 25 1902

Bottom Panel 3
John Slade - Private, 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers - of Stepney
When his house caught fire, saved one man and dashing upstairs to rouse others - lost his life. Dec 26 1902

Bottom Panel 4
Daniel Pemberton - Aged 61 - Foreman L.S.W.R.
Surprised by a train when gauging the line, hurled his mate out of the track saving his life - at the cost of his own. Jan 17 1903.

Second Plaque:

Top Panel 1
Alice Ayres - Daughter of a Bricklayer's LabourerOne of the memorial plaques in Postman's Park - showing the Royal Doulton tablets which cost around £300 each in today's money, when produced
Who by intrepid conduct saved 3 children from a burning house in Union Street, Borough - at the cost of her own young life. April 24 1885

Top Panel 2
John Cranmer - Cambridge - Aged 23
A clerk in the London County Council who was drowned near Ostend whilst saving the life of a stranger and a foreigner. August 8 1901

Top Panel 3
G. Garnish - A young Clergyman
Who lost his life in endeavouring to rescue a stranger from drowning at Putney - January 7 1885

Top Panel 4
John Clinton - aged 10
Who was drowned near London Bridge in trying to save a companion younger than himself - July 16 1894

Bottom Panel 1
Godfrey Maule Nicholson - Manager of a Stratford distillery
George Elliot and Robert Underhill - Workmen
Successively went down a well to rescue comrades and were poisoned by gas. July 12 1901Tablet detail from the memorial plaque - honouring Robert Wright - a police constable

Bottom Panel 2
Soloman Galaman - Aged 11
Died of his injuries, Sept 6 1901 - After saving his little brother from being run over in Commercial Street. "Mother I saved him, but I could not save myself."

Bottom Panel 3
James Bannister of Bow - Aged 30
Rushed over when an opposite shop caught fire and was suffocated in the attempt to save life. Oct 14 1901

Bottom Panel 4
Elizabeth Coghlam - Aged 26
Of Church Path, Stoke Newington. Died saving her family and house by carrying blazing paraffin to the yard. Jan 1 1902

* * *

George Watts, came from a humble background - the son of a piano tuner and despite dramatically elevating his station in life, avoided the trappings of privileged society - twice refusing a Baronetcy. As early as 1866, he had suggested a memorial commemorating the bravery of ordinary people, to the The plaque commemorating Watts's contribution to the building of the memorialNational Gallery, but was unable to secure funding. Over the next 34 years, Watts persisted with his idea, which crystallised into the memorial which now stands in Postman's Park. During the Golden Jubilee year of Queen Victoria - he wrote an impassioned letter to The Times newspaper, asking the nation to devote a monument in the Queen's name, to selfless acts - entitled: "Another Jubilee Suggestion". Within the letter he cited the case of Alice Ayres (as quoted previously - Plaque 2, Top Panel 1), a servant who gave up her chance to jump to safety from a burning house. Instead, she pushed a mattress out of the window to cushion the fall, before running back into the house three times to fetch her employer's children. She dropped them from the window, onto the mattress and to safety, before being overcome by fumes and falling from the window to her death. The letter received some interest, but none of it culminating in action. Undeterred, Watts amended his will: prepared to channel all his worth into the memorial, in the event of his death.

After referral through a friend, the project was swiftly relocated from the proposed Hyde Park, to the graveyard of St. Botolph's, Aldergate, if the money could be raised to purchase the land. It duly was, and on 30 July 1900, Watts's memorial to self-sacrifice was unveiled by the Lord Mayor and the Bishop of London. Tragically, Watts himself, was too unwell to attend the service.

In 1904 Watts died - Mary Watts (his second wife) commissioned a memorial plaque from T. H. Wren, a student of the school of arts and crafts established by Watts in Compton. The relief shows Watts with a scroll marked 'Heroes', the caption below reads "In memoriam - George Frederic Watts -
Who desiring to honour heroic self-sacrifice placed these records here
." Mary Watts continued to oversee the addition of plaques until her death in 1938. The latest addition, Lee Tyler, was made in 2009 after a gap of 78 years.

While undoubtedly sobering to read how those that sacrificed so much, should so unjustly lose their life. Memorial Plaque to Watts, by T.H Wren - the inscription reads: It's worth reflecting on the magnitude of the contribution they made. Human beings, despite their well-documented flaws, are known to be the only members of the animal kingdom that will risk their life to save another, with no blood ties. The empathy is automatic and pays no heed to genetic or scientific objectivity. Why spend a lifetime promoting your bloodline, only to give it up entirely to exchange your life for another? The behaviour is much more a legacy to the society we have developed. Within it, there will always be those who value support for the less able - over and above the importance of their own life.

Two other heroes, who would undoubtedly refuse any plaudits, are George Watts and his wife Mary. His permanent memorial, demonstrates that there are people, that you may never come to know - who would willingly make the ultimate sacrifice to save your life. It also serves as a reminder that human beings are capable of immeasurable acts of selflessness. Moreover, this capability surrounds you on a daily basis - in the form of 'ordinary people'.


Postman’s Park, King Edward Street, EC1A 1HQ (approximate - you should see the entrance over the road)

St Paul’s Tube.

(If visiting the Museum of London - then why not pay a visit here too - it's just over the road from the entrance.)



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