A memorial of heroic deeds.
's larger green spaces such as the royal parks
are rightly well-known to tourists, its numerous smaller gardens are also a delight, yet easily overlooked. Tucked away amongst the soaring buildings and bustling roads, they provide refuge from the frantic pace of the city
for those who live or work nearby. Postman's Park
is one such place- a tiny patch of green near St Paul's Cathedral
. It particularly lends itself to quiet reflection, thanks to its memorial
to men and women who made an extraordinary sacrifice
, giving their life to save another. Its tales of heroism
are not drawn from battlefields, but every-day life; those honoured were the working class
, rather than captains of industry
. Several were children.
Alice Ayres, daughter of a bricklayer's labourer
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.
The park's founder, George Frederic Watts
, had suggested in 1887 that such a memorial would be a fitting way to mark Queen Victoria
's Golden Jubilee
. Unable to find any other backers, Watts (a notable painter and sculptor) created the park himself, choosing the site of a former churchyard (actually, two- those of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate
, which still stands at one corner of the park, and St Leonard, Foster Lane
which was ruined in the Great Fire
). The memorial takes the form of a 50ft loggia
on the wall of which are 52 ceramic tiles.
Frederick Alfred Croft, Inspector. Aged 31
Saved a lunatic woman from a suicide at Woolwich Arsenal Station but was himself run over by the train, Jan 11 1878
Each hand-painted plaque is dedicated to an individual who died saving others, giving their name and a description of the tragedy they averted. Watt commissioned the first 13 tiles; another 34 were added by his wife after his death in 1904, and a final five in 1930. Some of the tiles were made by Royal Doulton
; decoration ranges from classical
designs to art nouveau
flowers, in delicate shades of green and blue.
Elizabeth Boxall. Aged 17 of Bethnal Green
who died of injuries received in trying to save a child from a runaway horse, June 20 1888
Though the tiles contain but a few words, the stories they sketch are still poignant over a hundred years later. Whilst undeniably tragic, their messages of bravery, devotion or selflessness are also uplifting. Whilst some, such as numerous deaths by drowning or fire, are familiar tales, others provide an insight into Victorian
life- traffic accidents caused not by cars but 'unmanageable horses' or speeding carriages; or accounts of doctors succumbing to diseases as they sought to cure those originally afflicted.
Walter Peart, Driver, and Harry Dean, Fireman, of the Windsor Express
On July 18 1898 whilst being scalded and burnt sacrificed their lives in saving the train.
Watt was a social radical
and a philantrophist, who sympathised with the plight of the urban poor and twice declined a baronetcy
. The price of progress brought about by the industrial revolution
is illustrated by a selection of tiles detailing horrific accidents that claimed the lives of workers from factories or the railways.
William Freer Lucas MRCS LLD at Middlesex Hopsital
Risked poison for himself rather than lessen any chance of saving a child's life and died Oct. 8th 1893.
If you find yourself nearby and with an hour to spare, then Postman's Park is well worth a visit. Catch the central line
underground station and, using the right hand side exit, you'll emerge on Newgate Street. Simply head left and then take the first right (onto Edward Street), keeping to the right hand side of the road. Carry on past Angel Street and you'll find an entrance to the park. There's a signpost along the way, and a map of local streets at the tube
exit. For a google map
(the park is clear in satellite view), use the postcode
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 took place and he was killed April 30. 1893
The park also features in the film adaptation of Closer
- Natalie Portman
's character takes the name of Alice Ayres, whose tile is reproduced above.
Soloman Galaman, aged 11
Died of 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"
My own visit this Sunday, after a wonderful nodermeet the day before. The text from tiles given above is transcribed from photographs I took on the day.