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 1901
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 National 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. 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.)